Like another “First lady”—Jackie Kennedy—Faith Evans has managed to survive some hard times: the assassination of her husband (Evans is the widow of the Notorious B.I.G.), endless public scrutiny, fair-weather friends and serious self-doubt. And although she prefers Roc-A-Wear to a pillbox hat, on her fourth album, The First Lady (her first for Capitol Records), Evans proves she’s one class act.
Lyrically, The First Lady offers plenty of revelations: First, we hear from the good-time gal on “Goin’ Out,” which features Pharrell Williams and Pusha T. “Me and my girls are goin’ out tonight,” a sassy Evans states on the number. “Tonight I’m hangin’ with my girlfriends / And I’m startin’ a new life.”
Next, she breaks all the rules on “Again,” offering a birds-eye view of her recent stint in rehab, admitting, “If I had to do it all again / I wouldn’t take away the rain / Cause you know it made me who I am,” then sagely deciding “Nobody knows what life may bring / It might make you happy / It might make you sad.” Hardly the topic you’d expect for a hit single, but Evans just might create the exception.
We get a glimpse of a fragile Faith on “I Don’t Need It,” when she croons “I’m here alone again / You know I’ll do what it takes to hold you down / But all this lyin’ to myself is starting to stress me out.” Later, on the ballad “Stop N Go,” she proclaims “I’m not super woman / So I can’t see what’s goin’ on in your mind,” before concluding “I know if I break down / I’ll be wanting more … I’ll be wanting a commitment from ya.”
Although Evans has managed to find love again, the song is a cruel reminder of the difficulties of being single in this day and age, juggling motherhood (she has three kids, including Biggie’s son, who was born in late 1996), a career, and her own insecurities without a dependable man to help shoulder the load.
Over and over again—singing atop dance beats, ’70s-soul riffs and punchy funk numbers—Evans examines her life, particularly the contrast between her early (i.e. poor) life and the complexities of newfound wealth. “Even though my money changed / I try my best to stay the same / But you know with more money more problems came,” she notes; a few songs later, she confesses “I’m not ready to trade in all my Kelley bags [or] take the Bentley back.”
In less capable hands, listeners would be rolling their eyes about the poor little rich girl—but Evans’ soaring, sorrowful voice and perfect control paint a powerful portrait of her difficult life. And just when you’re about to feel too sorry for her, Evans pulls out the delicious “Mesmerized,” a modern-day love song on par with the late Lyn Collins or hizzoner Soul Brother #1. A funky breakdown, spirited backing vocals and a righteous attitude—the sentiment on this cut is guaranteed to make her soul sisters shout.