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‘Keep The Faith’: Behind Faith Evans’ Grief-Stricken Response To Biggie’s Death
In Depth

‘Keep The Faith’: Behind Faith Evans’ Grief-Stricken Response To Biggie’s Death

Recorded in the aftermath of her husband’s murder, Faith Evans’ second album, ‘Keep The Faith’, was a cathartic step into her own life.

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Faith by name, faith by nature. Faith Renée Evans has included her first name in no less than five of her eight solo albums, and it was never more aptly used than on 1998’s Keep The Faith. Representing her strongest auteur statement – Evans wrote and arranged virtually the whole album – Keep The Faith was also a reaction to the death of her husband, The Notorious B.I.G.. The hard emotional context of the album lay on a bed of soft soulful pop, creating an enduring classic of 90s R&B.

Listen to ‘Keep The Faith’ here.

The backstory: “Go on, girl! Sing that song!”

Faith Evans, as she revealed in her 2008 autobiography (also called Keep The Faith), first remembers singing for an audience at three years old, at Emanuel Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where she grew up. “‘Sing it girl,’ someone said,” Evans recalled. “I saw some random hands flying up in the air. ‘Go on, girl! Sing that song!’” Little Faith sang the Fifth Dimension song Let The Sunshine In because she had seen Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, from The Flintstones, perform it. She got a standing ovation, and her performance was so strong that the church immediately wanted her in their choir, despite her very tender years.

As she got older, Evans developed chops and confidence. In high school, she sang with several jazz bands while also appearing at local festivals and singing contests, and as part of the group The Spiritual Uplifters. As her 20s dawned, she began working as a professional backing singer. Her bright-eyed hustle eventually led to a meeting with Sean Combs – then known as Puff Daddy – and a deal with his Bad Boy Records label in 1994.

The love story: “Me and Big holding hands, bustling through the club”

The connection with Combs kickstarted Evans’ career in style. She appeared on albums by Mary J Blige and Usher, and released her own debut, Faith, in 1995. It was also through Bad Boy that she met the man who she was to marry: Christopher Wallace.

The first night they hooked up, Evans knew how magical it was. She had just seen Biggie perform and, despite being swarmed by people desperate to talk to him, his attention was only on her. “It’s one of my favourite memories,” Evans has written. “Me and Big holding hands, bustling through the club with all eyes on us.” Mere days later, Biggie asked Evans to marry him, and they tied the knot in August 1994. “These were heady, intoxicating times,” Evans has said.

Yet the relationship was turbulent from the beginning. “Maybe she won’t admit it, but I will,” Biggie said in 1996. “We should have got to know each other and then got married.” Biggie’s constant infidelity – first discovered by Evans a mere month into their marriage – left her feeling hurt and humiliated. His long-term, semi-public relationship with Lil’ Kim was an especial source of ongoing distress to her. And then, when Biggie’s hated rival Tupac Shakur claimed to have slept with Evans on his 1996 diss track Hit ’Em Up, Biggie too felt that sting of betrayal. The couple became estranged, even as Evans was now pregnant with Biggie’s child.

Writing the album: “I don’t tamper with the creative process”

One of the key aspects of the artistry of Faith Evans is her control and vision. She is singular in how she approaches her work, striving to find herself, no matter what modern trends may be. “You know, I really don’t tamper with the creative process,” she said in 2010. “I’m never influenced just by what’s current or what’s on the radio. Because I don’t really think it would make sense for me to try and do anything other than Faith Evans!”

When the time came to start her second album, Keep The Faith, Evans’ writing was maturing, and her life experiences, from child prodigy to turbulent marriage, had given her plenty of material. As a Christian, and someone who “talks to God a lot”, Evans also started to incorporate more spiritual themes in her writing, and early songs for what was to become Keep The Faith began developing.

The tragedy: “I’ve thought a lot about why I didn’t go over and speak to Big that night”

During 1996, Evans began work on Keep The Faith. She also gave birth to her son CJ in October of that year, which brought Evans and Biggie (briefly) back together again. Though this reunion did not last, Evans knew that “we had a bond that could not be ignored – no matter how hard either of us tried”.

At the start of March 1997, Biggie was fatally shot while in Los Angeles. Evans and Biggie had been at the same party earlier that evening, though they had studiously avoided one another. “I’ve thought a lot about why I didn’t go over and speak to Big that night. Part of it had to be pride – I’ve got a lot of it,” Evans has recalled. She went to the hospital after the shooting, but Biggie passed away before Evans got to see him.

Pausing her work on Keep The Faith as she reeled from her husband’s death, Evans recorded I’ll Be Missing You with Puff Daddy and R&B group 112 in tribute to him. Released as a single, and subsequently included on Puff Daddy’s debut solo album, No Way Out, the song became an enormous worldwide hit a mere two months after Biggie’s murder.

The album: “I know that was my destiny”

Faith Evans had said I’ll Be Missing You was necessary for her to process the immediate aftermath of her husband’s death. Keep The Faith, which she resumed work on following I’ll Be Missing You’s success, was how she dealt with the longer term effect of her loss. “I have had several times in my life that were not happy times,” Evans said in 1999. “But I know that was my destiny, to go through the storm, before I could be happy again.”

And while – particularly on Lately I – Evans’ mood is dark with grief, elsewhere she finds shafts of hope. On Keep The Faith’s title track, Evans looks forward to joy following sorrow; Sunny Days tries to step into happiness; and Tears Away wrestles with the desire for someone new to “wipe the tears away”. If I’ll Be Missing You was pure shock, the songs on Keep The Faith find a more complex path through loss and mortality.

The album also featured two enormous pop jams, in the shape of Love Like This and All Night Long. Both walked between retro disco (Love Like This masterfully using a Chic sample) and modern R&B, and the tracks still sound fresh today. The pop grooves of Keep The Faith work alongside its contemplative moods, and feel nothing less than the sound of a woman finding her own strut once more.

The legacy: “I really trusted in God to carry me through”

Released on 27 October 1998, Keep The Faith was a deliberate act of processing for Evans, and from that point on she explored different creative avenues, including writing her memoir, appearing on reality TV and acting. Always seeking control, she also established her own record label in 2010.

In hindsight, it feels as though Keep The Faith was the first step she needed to take in order to live her life to the fullest, truly growing into her name. “I just always felt like I really trusted in God to carry me through those situations,” Evans reflected in 1999, as she considered the impact Keep The Faith’s creation had on her. “And he did. Thus, faith.”

Buy the vinyl reissue of ‘Bad Boy Greatest Hits Vol.1’.

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