1995 was a red-letter year for Bad Boy Records. Founded two years prior by Sean “Puffy Daddy” Combs, the venture birthed by Combs’ departure from the late Andre Harrell’s tutelage at Uptown Records was swiftly dominating the charts and named Billboard’s #1 rap label of ‘95. Early success was a man’s world, chartered by a roster of leading lyricists – Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G.; but beside every bad boy, there is a bad girl.
Enter, Faith Renée Evans. A church girl raised in the choir of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, Evans would often steal away to New York City for studio sessions. Captivating the ear of Puff Daddy during one of her sessions, who described her voice as “mesmerizing raindrops,” Faith was presented with a recording contract the same day.
In preparation for her own project, Faith began to lay the foundation for her career as a songwriter and background vocalist for artists like Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige, and a young Usher. In August 1994, after only two months of courtship, Evans married Bad Boy Records’ marquee star, Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, staking her position as The First Lady of Bad Boy. Following a distinguishable feature on B.I.G.’s platinum-selling single, “One More Chance/Stay With Me Remix”, Faith was ready.
Released on August 29, 1995, the eponymous debut showcased Faith’s honey-coated soprano and gospel roots with every song penned by Evans. The 15-song set placed personal entries of love, heartbreak, courage, and growth into a melting pot of rhythm & blues, gospel, and hip-hop. Featuring production by The Hitmen team of Puffy Daddy and Chucky Thompson with Herb Middleton, and Jean-Claude Olivier, Faith has since been certified platinum with 1.5 million copies sold and solidifies the presence of one of R&B music’s royal forces.
Faith has aged gracefully; remaining confident, romantic, rugged, and vulnerable. 25 years later, we celebrate by revisiting each track.
With a voice that seems to emerge from the clouds of heaven, Faith Evans sets the stage for what would be the testimony of her life both personally and professionally. A new dawn begins. “I have the faith that can move any mountain / Faith that can conquer anything”.
No Other Love
Like warm cognac, Faith’s vocals pour over a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By”, on a song written by Evans and produced by Combs. Wed to Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace on August 4th of 1994, just a little over a year before the release of her debut, we can’t help but assume Faith’s lyrics were about the love that blossomed in her own life. Faith approaches this endearing confession with a cool drawl that makes you crave more.
“You’re the only lover who can love me like no other / There’s only one man who can give me what I need / You’ve got me going crazy / Baby, give you’re lovin’ to me”.
Fallin’ In Love
Driven by one of the most beloved samples in Hip-Hop/R&B, Patrice Rushen’s “Remind Me” is on cruise control for a track that is as light, refreshing and sweet as a young crush. Produced by Tone and Poke of The Trackmasters, Faith rekindles an old flame and we are hopeful that second time around, it will last forever.
“It’s funny how things change / Not long ago, I thought my love for you would fade away / Your love gets sweeter every day / So in love with you, I want to stay”.
When you first hear “Ain’t Nobody”, you’re sure you’ve heard it before. Inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Let Her Get Away” (Dangerous, 1993), you are hooked by the smooth melody that sways over an infectious MPC 3000 drum machine. The lyrics of the album’s third single roll off the tongue easily as they feel cozy and familiar yet fresh. Faith is ready and willing to love unabashedly and we’re not mad at all!
“When you hold me in your arms / I get this feeling / Fill me with your love / Can’t nobody love me like you, boy”.
You Are My Joy (Interlude)
The first interlude is dedicated to Faith’s first child, Chyna, born from her previous relationship with musician Kiyamma Griffin. Three years old at the time of release, Faith love letter to her daughter can be easily mistaken as a gospel refrain.
“You are the love of my life / You are my joy / My child”.
Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
This is a moment that has yet to receive all the flowers it deserves. Faith takes on Rose Royce’s 1978 classic produced by Prince Charles Alexander. A duet with Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, the updated rendition nestles in a sweet spot that honors the original while showcasing what these two ladies bring to the throne. It is not competitive; instead, they bring out the best in each other. At the climax of the song, their voices melt together almost indistinguishably and triumphantly.
“You’ve abandoned me / Love don’t live here anymore / Just a vacancy / Love don’t live here anymore”.
It is still hard to believe that “Come Over” was only going to be an interlude. The fourth and final single released from Faith; the organs at the top of this groove transport us to a room where candles are being lit. Faith is on a romantic call; like so many of us during quarantine, she’s willing to risk it all to spend one night with an old friend.
“Won’t you come over and make love to me / ‘Cause I haven’t seen you in a while / Really miss your smile”
The outro of this plush plea grows into a powerful refrain that harkens back to The Clark Sisters. Like church, Faith makes an invitational to come as you are but leave different.
Soon As I Get Home
A perfect song sets a specific location, defines the time of day, and expresses a clear mission. “Soon As I Get Home” is a perfect song. It is November. It is midnight. It is raining. Composed by Faith after she heard Chucky Thompson simply playing around on his piano at a 3 am studio session, she restlessly crafted the hook before dawn. Released as the second single, the result is a glossy ballad that is silky, sexy and sincere, which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. To this day, there isn’t a slow jams playlist that is complete without this song.
“Making love all through the night / We could hold each other tight / I can take away the pain / If you would only let me / Just forget about the past / ‘Cause I want to make it last”.
All This Love
Written five years before recording her album, Faith sings of sensual reciprocity. Inviting the listener into a comfort zone, we experience the intimate conversation of pillow talk. With background vocals by Quinnes “Q” Parker of 112, sometimes even a well-versed songwriter as Evans can’t verbalize the contents of her heart. When she can’t find the words, Faith simply coos, “La la la”.
“All this love you’ve given me / I know just what to do / I’ll take this love you’ve given me / And give my love to you”.
Thank You Lord (Interlude)
Composed by Daron Jones of 112, Evans and Jones shared an immediate musical connection that synergized into this interlude. Drawing gratitude from her beginnings in the choir, Faith and Daron exchange exaltations to deliver a total praise.
“I thank you Lord, I thank you Lord / Just wanna thank you for what you’ve done / Just wanna tell you that you’re the one / Thank you Lord”.
You Used To Love Me
Faith had previously been present through supporting vocals for other artists but “You Used To Love Me” was the first time that we heard her in the forefront. Released July 1995, the debut single was originally written for labelmates Total (who would release their album later that year). Bridging the gap between Hip-Hop and Soul, Evans confidently seizes her moment to shine; lacing her jazzy, dulcet tones over a bassy, nostalgic groove to lament on passion gone cold. She didn’t dance; she didn’t have to. She sang and we were sold.
“I gave you all my precious love / And anything you wanted from me / You didn’t hear me calling out / Calling for your warm affection after all this time”.
Give It To Me
In another lifetime, I imagine Faith flourished as the nightly headliner at a 1920s Harlem juke joint. The live instrumentation of this track’s jazz-infused horns embraces the chanteuse’s sultry, smokey timbre. Faith surrenders to unwavering feelings of infatuation. Reminiscent of a late-night “Hey Love” commercial on BET or an ol’ school red-light basement party, put a nickel on the record needle, and grab someone for a closer-than-close slow dance to this one.
“You don’t know what you doin’ to me / I can’t explain the way you make me feel / Your pulse is running high / And it’s so real”.
You Don’t Understand
A tumultuous relationship with B.I.G. was a place of pain that Faith poured into “You Don’t Understand”. We all know about the other “notorious” woman in his life. As we watched from outside, Faith lived it firsthand. Longing for fidelity, missing the springtime courtship of a new relationship, and praying for love after the war, we listen to a woman whose values won’t let her give up without a fight. Chucky Thompson recalls, “She was crying in the booth when she was recording this song.”
“I’m going crazy / Trying to do it by myself / But I really need your help / Baby, please listen to me / I’m down on my knees / Baby, please don’t walk away.”
Don’t Be Afraid
This smooth finale speaks, fittingly, to the courage of stepping out on faith. Evans is willing to give love another try, but her past causes her to proceed with caution. In those moments of fear, Faith focuses on what can be gained rather than lost; creates tools out of tribulations, and trusts God whole-heartedly. While she ministers to her beau, she ministers to herself.
“Since we’ve been together, baby / It hasn’t been too long / But I slowly feel myself / Falling love again / And I want to give you more of what I have inside / But if I open up to you / Baby, you’ve got to love me, too”.
Reasons (Bonus Track)
Although a bonus track, this is easily one of the best songs on Faith. “Reasons” is a true testament to the effect that your life experiences can have on the way you interpret a song you’ve heard many times before. My inexperienced ears that took this song for granted in ’95 now cherish its meaning. Uncredited but also worthy to be mentioned is Dave Hollister who stole away time during a simultaneous studio session with his then-group Blackstreet to lend background vocals. In the final quarter, the song transitions from a love song to a physical being into a love song to God.
“When I can’t seem to find my way / You brighten up my darkest day / Reasons to love you more”.
It is an indication that with Faith, the best is yet to come.
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