by Bruce Britt
Though her career only spans a brief four years, Faith Evans' biography already reads like some urban Dickensian novel.
The 26 year-old singer was widowed in 1997 when her husband, rapper Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G.), was slain in a mysterious drive-by shooting. The tragedy left Evans to raise the couple's son while simultaneously tending to her own career and her husband's legacy. Judging from her incandescent new album Keep the Faith, Evans is determined to become the master of her own destiny. Towards that goal, the singer almost entirely co-wrote and co-produced her new album. Her collaborations with Babyface, Puff Daddy, David Foster and others have yielded a resilient, hopeful recording; an album Entertainment Weekly says "blends gospel's range with jazzy innovation."
"Musically I've matured so much on this album," Evans says. "I put all the experiences and emotional changes I went through from the time I completed the first album to the new album. The whole team worked endlessly to make sure that it was really tight, and it is tight."
Keep the Faith is just the latest entry on Evans' expanding resume. The singer has written or provided background vocals for a variety of r&b acts, including Mary J. Blige, Pebbles, Tevin Campbell and Christopher Williams. She has performed a duet with the legendary Ray Charles and has co-written and produced songs for L.S.G. and Aaron Hall. Most recently, she was featured on Whitney Houston's hit single, "Heartbreak Hotel," and Eric Benet's "Georgy Porgy."
Evans cultivated her righteous vocal style in the churches of her native Newark, New Jersey. A high school honor student, Evans won a full academic scholarship to Fordham University, but the singer surprised her family when she prematurely left college to pursue a music career. Evans's bold move paid off almost instantly. Not long after leaving Fordham, the singer found herself composing and performing with Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige and others.
The singer's career got a tremendous boost when hip-hop producer Puff Daddy signed Evans to his label, Bad Boy Records. Evans' self-titled 1995 debut album showcased her gospel roots and neo-funk attitude, and was later certified platinum. In the midst of the hoopla, the singer was introduced to rapper Biggie Smalls. They were wed just days after their fateful first encounter.
Unfortunately, the union would be short-lived. Evans' son was only three months old at the time of Smalls's death. Evans transformed her grief into a heartrending hit single, "I'll Be Missing You." Featuring a refrain from the Police's 1984 hit "Every Step You Take," Evans' poignant tribute to her late husband became a global anthem of bereavement.
Now, as the title of her new albums suggests, Evans is wagering that her faith will result in fascinating new opportunities. "Just like any other human being, I went through an extremely painful stage," the singer says. "But, thank God, I was able to free my self from all of the bad aspects and look at it as another life experience."