As much as I understand how important it is to her legacy, I’m often frustrated with how much Faith Evans’ narrative is focused on being the widow of The Notorious B.I.G. That is not just limited to mainstream media outlets where a name that impactful all but assures some level of overshadowing. It often happens in hip-hop circles, too. The interviews may no longer be centered solely on her life with Biggie, but the subject comes up and occasionally dominates all the same. It’s frustrating because it tends to malign the singer-songwriter into Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday terrain.
It’s a pity because today, on the 20th anniversary of her debut album, simply named Faith, many tend to forget the most important fact about Faith Evans: she is one of the best of her generation.
I didn’t know her name at the time, but whenever I listened to Mary J. Blige’s groundbreaking My Life (my all-time favorite album), I certainly knew Faith’s voice. Her voice complimented, and in some cases, overpowered Blige songs like “You Gotta Believe” and “I Never Wanna Live Without You.” As both a singer and songwriter, Evans’ contributions helped make My Life what has since proven to be Blige’s greatest work. A year later, Faith struck out on her own.
The album, largely helmed by Chucky Thompson, is a gorgeously sung collection of mid tempos and ballads. Thanks to singles like “You Used To Love Me” and “Soon As I Get Home,” the album went on be certified multi-platinum.
As many will remember, Blige took offense to the handling of Faith Evans.
On that rift, Chucky Thompson said in an interview:
“When you got talent like Faith, she catches on and she can take it somewhere else. There was one time when people were comparing her with Mary. The thing that makes them different is that Mary knows the old school, she knows quietstorm; you can sit with her and she’ll tell you every classic song on the radio. Faith knows nothing about classic, but she knows all the gospel records, so her vocal background is gospel. I did the albums back to back with two different personalities. I was able to separate the two but yet it was coming from the same camp.”
In 2010, Faith herself said in an interview:
“My thing is from earlier on the fact that I worked heavily on that album before my album came out. I mean, you know, in terms of my vocals being there so there’s a concurrent sound so that when I did come out with an album, they might’ve felt like, ‘Okay, that sounds like Mary’s album,’ but it was because my voice was on there, too, probably.”
The end result was Mary J. Blige having her vocals removed from additional album printings of their duet, a remake of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” They may work together again. They may not. Regardless, even without Mary’s vocals on “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the revamped version proves that Faith never needed to pretend to be Mary J. Blige to get ahead.
When you listen to Faith, you can tell there is a shared core between Blige and Evans – soul – but not much else. Look to the jazz-influenced “Give It To Me,” the gospel background recanting “Thank You Lord” interlude, or the much softer brand of R&B found on “Reasons.” Faith has her own point of view and it was fleshed out excellently on her first complete body of work.
Faith is both one the premiere R&B records of the last 20 years and strongest debut R&B albums ever.
This is why future conversations about Faith Evans should shift primarily to how valuable she has been to the genre. Reviewing another Faith Evans classic album, her fantastic third disc, Faithfully, Craig Seymour wrote, “If Mary J. Blige is the hip-hop generation’s Aretha, then bell-toned chanteuse Faith Evans is its Minnie Riperton/Deniece Williams.”
The analogy is apt, only whereas Riperton and Williams offered classic songs, Faith Evans has offered us at least two classic albums. The First Lady of Bad Boy has been so good to us over 20 years. Treat her right.