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The Spotlight Becomes Her

Faith Evans is moving on with her life as an R&B singer and mother after the death of her husband, the Notorious B.I.G., last year.

October 11, 1998|Soren Baker | Soren Baker writes about hip-hop for Calendar

Faith Evans has endured some of the most painful experiences imaginable, but don't expect to hear her complaining.

The best-selling R&B singer's marriage to rapper the Notorious B.I.G. was by most accounts a disaster. Her husband's infidelity was well-documented in hip-hop circles--as was the public friction between Evans and another woman in B.I.G.'s life--rapper Lil' Kim.

Any hope of a storybook reconciliation was eliminated when B.I.G. was shot to death in Los Angeles by an unknown assailant in the spring of 1997.

Along with Puff Daddy and the R&B group 112, Evans recorded "I'll Be Missing You" as a tribute to B.I.G. shortly after his death. The song, with its instantly familiar riffs from the Police's "Every Breath You Take," was one of the biggest hits in years. It spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the national pop charts and won a Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group.

But instead of being the exclamation point on a public sympathy campaign, "I'll Be Missing You" was Evans' only official comment about her husband's death.

Rather than grieve during interviews, Evans dealt with the loss of her husband privately, for the most part.

Even now, she tends to downplay the drama in her life.

Evans views herself as an average person with average problems.

"I've gone through everything that every normal person goes through," she says in one of her first interviews since her husband's death. "I'm no different than anybody. I don't think I'm a heroine because tragedy . . . or the loss of love . . . didn't [destroy] me."

About her silence after B.I.G.'s death, she says, "I just chose not to deal with that in the media. That's my own personal pain that I'm going to have to deal with and I know nobody can help that. Therefore, I wouldn't use the media as an outlet to spread what I'm going through. That's not real to me. I just chose to deal with my feelings between me and God."

Evans may just be returning to the pop spotlight, but she already seems comfortable in it.

The 25-year-old New Jersey resident seems neither fragile nor reserved as she relaxes in a chair in the lobby of the L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills--and it isn't because of the plush surroundings.

Evans, wearing a stylish white jacket and white pants, has already settled back into the fast-paced world of pop.

Despite a brief period of mourning and a break to give birth to her third child, the singer--who lives with the father but wants to keep his name private--has found time to work on a variety of musical projects. They include a guest vocal with the R&B group LSG on their platinum album, "Levert.Sweat.Gill," and one with rapper DMX on his current R&B hit, "How It's Goin' Down."

Most of her studio work over the last year has yet to be released. This includes writing and producing tracks for R&B singer Aaron Hall as well as duets with Ray Charles and Whitney Houston.

But the bulk of her time and energy has been spent recording the long-awaited follow-up to Evans' self-titled 1995 platinum debut album, a ballad-heavy series of songs that spent more than six months on the national pop charts.

The new collection, "Keep the Faith," is due Oct. 27 from Bad Boy Entertainment and is described by Evans, who wrote most of the tracks, as "a testimonial" of her life. The album, which includes one song by Babyface, touches on inspirational and spiritual themes.

And yes, she acknowledges, the music was at least partially inspired by B.I.G.

"People know that they are going to feel her feeling and that they'll be able to relate to her," says Sean "Puffy" Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, the owner of Bad Boy Entertainment and B.I.G.'s best friend. "Everybody's lost somebody and everybody's had tragedy. You can definitely feel it in this album."

Pouring out your heart isn't new for Evans. It may have been her ties to Combs and B.I.G. that drew attention to her when her debut album came out, but it was the deeply rooted and convincing emotion in such singles as "You Used to Love Me," "Come Over" and "Soon as I Get Home" that struck a chord with an R&B audience.

The message of those songs was obvious: Here was an artist who was not afraid to share her loss and yearning.

"People want to hear what she's going to come with, especially because there's so many young singers out now and they don't really have that much substance," says Minya Oh, associate music editor of Vibe magazine. "She's established that she [is someone] that people can rely on."

Evans credits her family, friends and religion (she was raised Baptist) as she explains why she's been able to bounce back from her troubled marriage and B.I.G.'s death.

Born in Lakeland, Fla., she moved with her family to Newark, N.J., at a young age. It was there she began singing in church at age 4.

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