It must be tough being Faith Evans. It’s been about a decade since her husband Notorious BIG was shot and killed, and still she is better known as his widow than as a recording artist in her own right.
There are probably a number of reasons for this. The first being the fact that being a gun-toting bad boy of rap involved in some kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry is infinitely more interesting than being the wife of a gun-toting bad boy of rap involved in some kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry.
Secondly, when Biggie met his maker, Evans headed straight from the funeral to the top of the charts with the Police sampling I’ll be Missing You. She was the widow of the moment, and with a hit that stayed in the charts for eons, it was always going to hard to escape the considerable shadow of Mr. Smalls. Finally, it’s just possible her material is just not really up to much.
If you’re going to title your album The First Lady, it’s a fairly safe bet you’ve got ego problems. Evans seems to be issuing a warning shot to female RnB artists that she’s back and she intends to be re-instated as the First Lady of hip hop. Of course being First Lady also implies a kind of strength and an outlook that other women can look up to as a kind of role model.
Faith Evans has certainly had her problems, most of them well documented, so here on Again she does her bit to set things straight. A fairly laid back track, she details her drug problems and the troubles associated with press intrusion. It’s supposed to give hope, proving to the world that she bounced back: “If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t take away the rain, ‘Cos I know it made me who I am” she sings in that damaged little girl voice.
As a show of strength, Again would have been a lot more impressive if the first verse didn’t allude to how all Faith’s troubles were associated with having “mo money”. That’s a role model these days – depressed millionaires. Try having no money and a husband who can’t work Faith, then come back to us with a song about how you have to take four cleaning jobs to make ends meet. I’m pretty sure RnB used to mean Rhythm and Blues – not Rhythm and Business.
For all the bluster on these songs there’s little heart. The production knocks the edge of the live instrumentation, while there are few (if any) floor fillers to match Beyonce‘s Crazy In Love.
Stop N Go is a lazy jazz-ballad that mixes up clumsy basketball analogies and winds up being relegated to the bench. Mesmerized, however, promises much, freeing Evans’ voice up and allowing her to explore the role of Diva, while a sturdy James Brown groove pumps away in the background. It’s the best thing on the album by some distance.
Tru Love is an understated love song, and it allows Evans to show off an impeccable timing in her delivery. Sadly there is little weight or edge to the song and it fails to impress. This is something of a motif for The First Lady. Occasionally Ms Evans’ voice can really electrify, but what lets her down is the strength of her backing tracks. They are little more than tiresome jazz workouts or funk tracks that have been kicked squarely in the trousers. Even the most gifted singers would have trouble setting these songs alight.
One wonders just how much concession has been made to her new label since jumping ship from Bad Boy (the label that released her first three albums). There’s little in the way of fire or grit here. Evans may well have been the first lady in line for a paycheck when contracts were handed out but she obviously forgot to turn up when they were handing out tunes. There’s not much here for people to look up to, but as an example of how things can go horribly wrong, there’s not too many better examples.