Faith Evans and The Notorious B.I.G.
The King And I (released May 19, 2017)
This album is really going to play with my emotions.
On one hand, if you frequent these parts regularly, you probably already know that a Faith Evans and Biggie collabo is my dream album – two of my favorite artists of all time finally coming together for a full-length project. Of course, Faith had worked with her ex-husband a few times before his untimely passing in 1997 but nothing of this magnitude.
On the other hand, posthumous albums are always risky business. Not only are their ethical issues at play (I mean, would Biggie even sign off on a project like this? We’ll never know.) but duct taping 25-year-old lyrics onto new tracks tends to be a bad look. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins, if you feel me.
That makes The King And I a perilous passion project for Faith, who has committed herself to upholding her family’s legacy. So it’s fitting that the album’s first proper track, appropriately titled “Legacy,” is the set’s strongest. Producer Stevie J blends Faith and Big’s vocals perfectly over the laid-back production. It’s appropriately nostalgic without feeling too dated and crusty.
The album’s vibe is probably its best asset. If you worried Biggie’s vocals would be layered over trendy trap beats or autotuned into oblivion, rest easy. An array of A-list producers, from DJ Premier to Just Blaze help this album feel like a Biggie project. Blaze’s “The Reason” specifically sounds like the type of track that I’d play to death in high school.
Yeah, playa, I’m old.
But, as fun as that nostalgia factor is, sometimes it’s to the album’s detriment. Hearing tracks like “Don’t Test Me” and “Tryna Get By” will make diehard Biggie fans say “oh, that’s the ‘Get Money Remix’ verse!” and “oh, those are the ‘Sky’s The Limit’ vocals,” immediately making the new tracks feel inferior.
And that, unfortunately, is the curse of posthumous albums.
It’s not all bad news, though. The album typically works best when Faith handles hook duty while Big reunites with old friends. “Take Me There” teams Big Poppa with Styles P and Sheek Louch and they effortlessly turn back the clock. “When We Party” with Snoop Dogg is a throwback West Coast jam that proves Snoop and Big could have made beautiful music together.
Oddly – or maybe not surprisingly – it’s husband and wife that lack chemistry throughout the project. On many of the tracks, like “Don’t Test Me,” Faith feels a bit handcuffed, unable to really let loose and let her vocals soar like we know they can. Other times, like on “A Little Romance,” she’s forced to engage in tag team rap-offs with Big, and it just feels really choppy (because, obviously, the vocals were chopped together). Too many tracks either fall into that trap or are little more than paltry remakes to superior songs. “Ten Wife Commandments” is especially cringeworthy, likely because we’ve heard this concept recycled a billion times in the past.
Though the album is unnecessarily long (clocking in at well over an hour of playtime), Faith should be applauded for structuring the tracks in a way that tell her family’s story – from her first meeting with Big, to marriage, and even the tumultuous times. “Got Me Twisted” angrily addresses Big’s well-documented infidelity, coming *thisclose* to becoming a diss track. Then, the heartfelt “Somebody Knows” relives the couple’s last hours together: “We never got to have a conversation … busy ignoring each other/We didn’t know it would be over in just a matter of time.”
The album’s sequencing and storytelling is so good they make the multiple interludes featuring Biggie’s mom totally unnecessary. They attempt to advance the narrative but merely eat up valuable time and drag down the album. 112’s interlude, though, is a keeper. We need a new album ASAP, gentlemen.
As posthumous albums go, The King And I is about what you’d expect – rehashed verses you’ve heard a billion times before, a few good cuts, a lot of so-so cuts and some surprising novelties (I NEVER thought I’d see the day that Lil Kim and Faith would team up on “Loving You For Live”).
But the best part about the album is that Faith finally gets to tell her story of her marriage HER way.
If you don’t know, now you know.
Best tracks: “Legacy,” “Somebody Knows,” “Take Me There”
3.5 stars out of 5