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Meet "The First Lady" - Faith Evans
by Justin Lewis
Old Man Winter
It’s been said before and it’ll continue to be
said; if you bite the hand that feeds you, it’ll
be the last bite you ever take. Sure, Faith
was the First Lady of Bad Boy Records and
she was a key figure in making it the empire
that it became, selling millions and becoming
a prominent figure in the urban music
community. But Bad Boy Records isn’t the hit
making machine it once was and it seems as if the signed artists with
true talent are the most neglected, Diddy focusing more attention on
trying to turn the other mediocre acts into the next big superstars.
Which would explain why Faith has yet to receive the household name
status she rightfully deserves. She sets out to change that with her 4th
release, and first for Capitol, The First Lady. And it sounds like a step in
the right direction. Gone are the over-sampled, hip-hop heavy, albeit
good, R&B records that made Faith a hip-hop/R&B diva. In its place are
more subdued, original, and soulful tunes that paint a classier portrait of
Faith as a grown woman in control and anxious to prove just how
worthy she is of her title.

The most surprising thing about Faith's new album is her sound. Aside
from the Neptunes-assisted, club-thumper "Goin’ Out", the album has
much more of a soulful touch to it. Much of that has to do with Faith's
production team. Musiq stalwarts, Carvin & Ivan surprisingly produced
half of the album and worked hard to create the best soulful backdrops
they could that would really bring out Faith's talent. Lead single, "Again",
was a perfect choice since it's most indicative of the overall sound of the
album. The percussion, handclaps, bassline, and strings all meld to form
a “victory song” of sorts for Faith as she proclaims how all her trials and
tribulations have made her a better woman. The testimonial lyrics are
heartfelt, her vocals are on-point, and the overall sound really exudes
the sound of Faith in her true element. The perfect follow-up single
would be "Get Over You". It follows the subtly jazzy motif of “Again” but
has a little more energy and bounce to it that gives it a nice radio-
friendly quality.

The album has its fair share of other highlights - the throwback disco
shuffle of "I Don't Need It", the funk jam session, James Brown/Lyn
Collins tribute that is "Mesmerized", and the drunken love swirl of
"Catching Feelings" - but isn't without its mistakes. The most glaring of
which would be Faith's duet with the boring Mario Winans on "Ever
Wonder." Why is it such a mistake? Because Mario produced it and it
sounds EXACTLY like the last 377 collabos he did with other artists.
Imagine Tamia’s “Mr. Cool” met with Guerilla Black’s “You’re The One”
met with Diddy’s “I Need A Girl, Pt. 2” met with Mario’s own “So Fine”
and you have this record’s ingredients. There seemed to be a concept
but the overall lyrical execution doesn’t seem completely thought out. If
nothing more, this collabo was done to subtly spite Diddy because as far
as entertainment purposes are concerned, inserting a witty punchline
here would be a waste of breath.

However, the true standout moments come from different sets of
producers at different ends of the spectrum. "Stop N Go". Carvin and
Ivan's production is so precise with such a slow, swelling, push-and-pull
sound to it, that complements the theme well. The sincerity is there and
it couples with Faith’s voice to make the song succeed. Even better
would have to be the Jermaine Dupri-helmed "Tru Love." Continuing his
hot streak as of late, JD takes the formula that's made his last 133
ballads so successful and spliced it with a hint of something different to
make it unique. The overall structure of the song from the smooth
melody to the endearing lyrics to Faith’s pitch-perfect and controlled
vocal performance makes it much more understated and therefore, more
beautiful.

Vocally, Faith's at the top of her game. She's had pitch issues in the
past, and the kinks aren't all worked out, but I feel she's learned how to
control her voice a little more and trained it in a more proper manner.
Check the finale, her joint with Twista, "Hope", which showcases that no
one can lace a hook like Faith Evans. Lyrically, she's still the little engine
that could. You can glean from her past songwriting efforts that the
potential is there and that there's a lyrical masterpiece just waiting to
burst out of Faith yet, it's not found on this album. "Stop N Go" is
gorgeous but is almost ruined by the unimaginative
basketball/relationship analogized lyrics. "Jealous" is smooth and jazzy
in all the right places .

All qualms aside, this is Faith Evans’ best album. It’s her best simply
because this is the one she sounds most comfortable on. She sounds in
her element singing against these jazzy R&B motifs and her voice
sounds the most natural and relaxed. Instead of riding the beats like
she’s had to do with her past hip-hop/R&B cuts, she sounds more
relaxed flowing with these soulful soundscapes. Her lyricism isn’t the
tightest and she still has a bit of a pitch problem but this sounds like
Faith Evans’ most genuine and unaffected album yet. Indicating that the
whole R&B/hip-hop diva she was portrayed as on Bad Boy was more of
Diddy’s vision than the natural Faith. This may not be the album that
makes Faith a household name but it’s definitely a big step in the right
direction. Biting P. Diddy’s hand was probably the best thing Faith Evans
ever did.

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