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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.
So pleased to welcome the first lady of hip-hop, Faith Evans, back to this program. She joins us tonight to discuss her new album. It’s called “The King and I”. The project celebrates her life with her late husband and the rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. Before our conversation, here now some of the video from “Legacy” from “The King and I”.
Tavis: This is you and Biggie together in a way that I could never have imagined. The idea for this comes from where?
Faith Evans: I was inspired when I heard Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable”.
Tavis: With her father, yeah, yeah.
Evans: Yeah, and I remember telling Miss Wallace that would be really great if I could do that one day. She’s like, “You should”, but I didn’t move on it back then. I just kind of thought it would be great to do until a couple of years ago. My attorney [laugh] reminded me.
Tavis: Yeah. There’s a project, Faith, that’s got your name on it. How did you find the doing of the project? Was it therapeutic? Was it painful? Was it inspiring? What was the experience like?
Evans: Well, to be quite honest, because, like you said, in a way you never could have imagined, although I thought it would be great to do, I never imagined how, when I did get a chance, how I would do it. But every day when I came out of the studio, I was just so thoroughly surprised. Like, wow, it’s really dope.
I didn’t feel any way but happy and excited to be able to have the chance to do it. Then probably one time when I thought I was done recording toward the end of recording a project, I had an emotional moment, but it was more pride.
I felt like I really felt B.I.G. tap me on my shoulder. I literally went around the room and thanked all the people that were in the room that were on the album. I was like, “I think he just told me to do that.”
But it was more in retrospect playing the album back and just seeing everybody respond to it. Because I heard about it, but I never knew what to expect. So just feeling like, wow, I think I did a pretty good job and I think he thinks so too.
Tavis: When you say you did it, you really did it because nobody does 25 tracks. 25 tracks on this thing.
Evans: Well, you know what? I didn’t know exactly what I was going to have to work with when I went into this deal. And as it started coming together, you know, the thought came like let me really take it back to how we did it.
I’m sort of known for my interludes and stuff, so that’s when I started to put the story together and kind of add in those interludes and the Miss Wallace pieces and stuff like that to help complete the story. So it did end up being, you know, quite a longer album than expected.
The label actually was like maybe we should put out a short version. But I’m like that wouldn’t really tell the story. You know, we figured out a way to fit it in the time it needed to be to fit on that disc. That was the biggest concern.
Tavis: Well, the fans are going to love it because it does in fact tell a story, and I think you’re right. It takes time sometimes to tell a story, which leads me to ask what is the story that you’re telling on this project? What’s the story that the audience is going to hear through the music?
Evans: Well, I would say “The King and I” is my — you know, I’m taking people on a musical journey. I feel like it’s a musical movie and it sort of chronicles our relationship loosely from beginning to end and thereafter some way. That was full of a lot of highs and some lows and some really serious blows as well, but the fact is that I am able to be here to do this project.
Back when I said it would be great, it wasn’t like I had a plan, a blueprint or anything like that. But so much has even happened since that time that it was certainly in many ways very therapeutic. You know, I didn’t expect it to be, but I guess me not being such — I try not to be so deep. I’m not a big crier, you know.
Maybe that moment I had in the studio was something I really needed because I’ve held things in and had to keep things going for so long. You know, I hope that people, when they listen to it, they kind of get those same emotions, you know.
So far, people that have gotten a chance to hear it — I’ve listened to it with a couple of people who I haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years — I saw them cry. I saw them laugh when they were listening to things, and that’s really what I want.
Tavis: What’s your relationship — this is gonna sound strange. I’m gonna ask it this way for a particular reason. What’s been your relationship with Biggie since he passed away?
Evans: Well, I feel like our bond is something that no matter how much time passes it’s gonna still feel the same in many ways. There was just something about the fact that I knew he always knew he could depend on me.
And I’ve tried my best to uphold that, you know, after his death. I wanted to make sure that the people that I felt he would want to make sure were taken care of, you know, especially right after his death, I tried to do things to make sure those things were in place.
You know, I don’t know if I can really describe the bond, but our relationship has certainly — I don’t feel any less love for him. I don’t feel any less regard for the moments we had. For example, 20 years later and I’m sure 40 more years, all of his close friends and I, we still have the same relationships.
That’s just a testament to the person he was and the fun we all had together, the moments we shared and knowing that he wanted to — what he was trying to do by bringing all these people along with him for his ride. Those are people that I built relationships with from him and they still remain thereafter.
Tavis: Did you have any pangs or any second thoughts about being so open about this relationship?
Evans: I did not. No, I didn’t have any…
Tavis: What’d his mama say?
Evans: I was gonna tell you [laugh]. Well, you know, Miss Wallace is on a few of the interludes and when I told her I used some of your interview stuff and put music, you’re on the album, and once she got past wanting to know was her publishing on there [laugh]…
Tavis: I like that, I like that [laugh].
Evans: She’s like, “Am I getting published?” So when I sent her a copy and then she heard some of the stuff, she was like “You’re a brave one.” But I think, you know, she was speaking in regard to that candor. But I think so much about relationship is documented, you know, and some of it not accurate. You know, some of it semi, but there’s nothing wrong with coming through with your truth.
You know, it was just a way to be creative as well, so I think all of those things go hand in hand. It didn’t feel, you know, like there was any pressure or anything because I’m just talking about things that people probably already know or heard about.
Tavis: Track Number 19 is a powerful song. Busta Rhymes is on this. First of all, you got a lot of great collaborations on here.
Evans: Thank you. Shout-out to all of those people.
Tavis: A lot of great collaborations on this thing, yeah.
Evans: This is on the love.
Tavis: Yeah. Snoop Dogg is on here. As I mentioned, Busta Rhymes is on here. Lil Kim is on here. A lot of good folk on the project. But this track, “Somebody Knows”, we get a chance to hear you musically and with these interludes tell the story of the night that Biggie was shot here in L.A. outside the Peterson. You all were here together here that weekend, but you weren’t really talking.
And you really kind of tell the story of — I mean, just tell me what that weekend was like, tell me what making this record was like, tell me how you process looking back on that weekend. You were in the same building at the same party, but you weren’t talking.
Evans: No. B.I.G. and I, I mean, we were obviously very young and so much happened so soon. We just had a sort of rebellion with one another, you know. I ran into him in passing a few times that weekend and, you know, probably didn’t say anything.
That particular night, I remember when they came in the club and I was already there. My friend’s like, “Oh, you saw B.I.G.?” I’m like, “Yeah.” They came over a few times. “What’s up, babe? You all right?”
I’m like I know he sent them over there. You know, at some point, it was my plan to make my way over there in the vicinity of where they were sitting without looking like I was pressed to try and go see him [laugh].
Tavis: Of course not [laugh]!
Evans: But I think, throughout the night, I ended up seeing so many people I knew and we were having fun and it just never happened. How this song came about, Salaam Remi who produced it, I went to Miami a few times to work with him and I would send him updated material that I didn’t record with him throughout the process.
He was like, “I’ve been listening and I got my finger on a few things you don’t have on the album yet.” You know, one was a song with a reggae feel. He immediately played the music and then he played me the whole Biggie acapella from “Who Shot You?”
So the music, you know, obviously is a total opposite of “Who Shot You”, the record feels like. I said, “You know what? I think I want to do it different. All I want to take from his song is “Who Shot You” and make this song about the case or about his murder.”
And as we got into writing, I borrowed a couple more phrases, but it was initially about, okay, I think I wanted to a song about it to some extent, but not really knowing from what angle. Initially, my thought was to try and get Jay Z and Busta on it just because they were both Brooklyn and people B.I.G. respected. I just wasn’t able to get in contact with Jay in time enough to make it happen.
But when I talked to Busta after I finished my portion of the song, he heard it, we had about a two-hour conversation. He’s like, “I’m scared of what I’m gonna say.” He recounted what he went through that night and people he ran into and little people that was saying funny stuff.
He was like — but I was like, you know, just say what you want to say. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna come across exactly how it should. After our conversation, I think by the time he went in that booth he kind of did his own, you know, tactfully honest edit [laugh].
Because when I heard it back, I heard all his emotion. It’s like it’s Busta, but, you know, it’s a different feel for him. But it’s still very heartfelt and it’s like he kind of held that roar back to the very end. You could just hear it in his voice, like I want to just — you know, I felt all the emotion and I was really pleased with what he did with it.
Tavis: Well, I think you’ll be pleased too. It’s creative, it is innovative, it’s powerful, it’s honest, it’s Faith Evans. Faith Evans and The Notorious B.I.G., “The King and I”. Faith, congratulations on a wonderful project. I know people are gonna love it just like we love you. Thanks for coming to see us.
Evans: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.
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Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.