The last time R&B chanteuse Faith Evans spoke to her late husband, rapper the Notorious B.I.G., the two were on the phone arguing about the hip-hop star’s infidelities. B.I.G.—who was born Christopher Wallace but went by Big or Biggie—said, “I ain’t even dealing with this…” Evans shot back, “Whatever, Big. You ain’t gotta deal with nothing.” Then they hung up on each other. A few days later, B.I.G., 24, laid lifeless at Ceders Sinai hospital in Los Angeles after being shot outside of a music industry party. Evans, then 23-years-old, collapsed into a chair in the hospital waiting room, crying for the man who she loved through countless ups and downs and who was also the father of her newborn son.
This is just one of many stories Evans shares in the riveting Keep the Faith: A Memoir, written with entertainment journalist Aliya S. King. The book is a rare gem of a celebrity tell-all, not only because of Evans’ crazy ride of a life, but because she tells her story in such an honest, unapologetic, and conversational way that it feels likes she’s revealing herself to you, one on one.
Though born in 1973 to a black teenage mom and a white dad, Evans was raised by a couple of staunchly religious relatives in Newark, NJ. Her early days consisted of church, school, and listening to gospel music around the house. But as a teenager, Evans learned about other facts of life (sex, drugs, hip-hop) by hanging out in the surrounding streets. By the time she met B.I.G. in 1994, at age 21, Evans already had given birth to a daughter, regularly smoked marijuana, and carried a chrome .22 in her purse. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was…a little church girl who couldn’t handle her business…,” Evans writes.
The core of Evan’s memoir is her rocky marriage to B.I.G. and how she dealt with his incessant cheating—cutting up his clothes, pummeling women she suspected he slept with (including a beat-down of B.I.G.’s protégé Lil’ Kim when Evans was eight months pregnant), and sometimes having extramarital trysts of her own. (The book also lets Evans speak out on some of the more controversial moments in her life: her alleged affair with B.I.G.’s nemesis Tupac Shakur; the time in 1997 when Atlanta police pushed her through a plate glass window outside of Club 112; and her 2004 arrest in Atlanta for drug possession.) But equally as interesting are the tales Evans gives us about so many current superstars (Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Missy Elliott) when they were still hustling to make names for themselves.
Evans, whose hits “You Used to Love Me,” “Never Let You Go,” and the B.I.G. tribute “I’ll Be Missing You” helped her sell millions of albums, belongs to a pioneering group of artists who, in the 1990s, singularly changed the tone of black popular culture. Where acts of the Motown-era—and their direct descendants—positioned themselves as polished ambassadors to the world, the hip-hop generation of rappers and singers brought the world to the ‘hood. This context imbues Evans’ story with a sense of importance. But the intimate way she conveys her journey gives the book its soul.