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— by Shaheem Reid

For the past 10 years, Faith Evans has simply been one of the best in her class. The singer may not have always had the blockbuster sales of some of her contemporaries, but she has shown consistency and has always possessed an unparalleled voice.

During the last decade, it seems like we've witnessed all of Evans' changes, from her marriage to Notorious B.I.G. and its breakup to the controversy with Tupac Shakur and her ups and downs with Bad Boy CEO P. Diddy. Through it all, Faith has kept the faith and even sings about not changing a thing in her life on her new single, "Again."

And Evans has just embarked on a new chapter in her personal life and career. She and her husband, manager/producer Todd Russaw, have moved their family from Atlanta to Los Angeles, where Faith keeps in step with Cali's physical-fitness penchant and is in the best shape of her life. Musically, Faith stays in tune with the man in her life and put together her latest album, The First Lady, without any input from her longtime executive producer, P. Diddy. In fact, Evans isn't even on Diddy's Bad Boy label anymore.

Evans reveals how recording on her own differed from working with Bad Boy, why she switched up some of her formula on The First Lady, and the ways that her family protects her.

The First Lady

MTV: Did you use the same ill process to make this album as you did your last album?

Faith Evans: My husband and I pretty much did approach it the same way as the last album. The only difference was that I'm not on Bad Boy, and as opposed to having an in-house team of producers who supply most of the album production for me, we were more able to just totally have creative control and really pick and choose what we knew were the good songs that my core fans wanted to hear, and the best records that would enable me to reach people that may not have really been on board, that may not have really understood what's special about my music.

I've been studying, just listening to so many more artists. Every week, I get a box set, trying to just broaden my knowledge of the genres, listening to the Mamas & the Papas, Waylon Jennings — everything, not just limited to urban music and hip-hop. That's what helped me. When I wanted to do this record, I knew that I wanted to talk about certain things and put a fun twist on it.

Me and my husband come up with concepts a lot of the time in the morning when we're drinking coffee. ... He was like, "It would be real ill if you do a song with you 'fessing up to being jealous. Nobody ever admits to doing all the craziness." ... I was like, "If I do talk about being the jealous one, I don't want it to sound like an angry record. Let's make it fun." Something about [the track "Jealous"] just sounds fun and young. ...

I just wanted to cover things coming from a different angle. We all go through the same things all the time, so nobody can say they're the first one to talk about this or that, but I could approach it differently than I normally would. I tried to do a lot more of that. Listening to country music has certainly enabled me to tell stories better, because they'll be like raw, just putting it out there ... keeping it so real. I wanted to do that and not alienate my core fans.

 Faith is the female James Brown on "Mesmerized"

 Faith's husband inspired the track "Stop N Go"

MTV: I want to talk about "Mesmerized," the old soulful Faith.

Evans: [Producer] Chucky Thompson sent me that track ... two years before I really picked it out. I was just going through CDs, and I was like, "How could I have overlooked that?" I totally wanted to approach it as if Aretha Franklin was singing a James Brown record, so what I did was think, "I'm like the female James Brown." Then I thought about Lyn Collins, who was pretty much James Brown's sidekick. I put in her CD, just listened to three songs probably. I just wanted to kind of get that attitude without totally redoing a Lyn Collins song or without totally taking her approach to it or her ad-libs. I kept it more on an Aretha vibe with the ad-libs, and the whole attitude, just real gutsy and raw, was inspired by Lyn Collins. ... When people say, "This is James Brown or Lyn Collins or Aretha Franklin," it is definitely all of the above.

MTV: Did you work with your husband on "Stop N Go"? There are a lot of basketball references on that track.

Evans: Exactly. Actually, when I did "Stop N Go," I heard the hook and I told my husband about it. My husband is a sports almanac, so it was a no-brainer — as soon as he heard "crossover" and "Michael Jordan," he was like, "You definitely got to do that one. All the fellas are going to appreciate that one." If I ever had a problem getting through to him that would be why — "SportsCenter" stays on the screen all day. So, yes, that song was definitely inspired by my husband and people like him — probably like yourself.

MTV What is it like to do business with your husband?

Evans: When we do business together, actually, I'm still more the student. I've certainly learned a lot from his experience in the industry. The fact that he came from the opposite end of the spectrum, working for a label, he had a lot more insight on how we can maneuver things and do more business, handle our own projects and have more input in every aspect of it. But he keeps the fire up under everybody, including myself, so I'm certainly learning a lot from him still. I'm willing to definitely speak for myself and let it be known when I disapprove of things, but that doesn't usually happen anyway. Usually, he handles it and there's not a problem, but sometimes he gets stressed and needs a break, so I might get on the phone and say, "Hey what's going on?" But I learned it from him.

MTV: How was your move from Atlanta to L.A.?

Evans: My kids adjusted way quicker than I did, way faster. My husband is from L.A., so it was inevitable that we were going to live there one day. The kids have been playing sports and are heavily involved in the parks and recreations every season, so they've been busy the whole time. They are totally enjoying it, living by the beach, waking up to the palm trees — they're not complaining anymore. When we first moved, they thought they would miss the pool and the big yard and all that stuff, but they just walk around the corner to the beach now. It's enabled me to do more and to be able to go on auditions for TV casting calls and stuff like that, so it's certainly for the better.

MTV: You've got the acting thing piling up?

Evans: I don't want to jinx it, but hopefully I'll get a callback, because I recently went on a reading for "CSI." I'm actually developing a sitcom idea ... but until I really get the idea firm and worked out, I'm not going to put it out there. But you can certainly look for it. I believe it is going to happen within the next year, something sort of loosely based on my life, but not quite autobiographical.

MTV: A lot of you is gone since we'd last seen you.

Evans: When I moved to Atlanta, I had a trainer down there for a couple of years. Actually, I started working with her prior to my last album. Since that time, I relocated and got even more into fitness and dropped a few more pounds. I guess the more weight I lost, the easier it was to see my physique. I've been at it for a couple of years. It wasn't easy.

I'm more fit than I've ever been in my adult life. Losing weight and being fit are totally two different things. I'm actually working on a motivational fitness DVD. That'll be out soon. It will cover everything: how I eat, going to get veggie juice before I work out. I run these stairs in L.A. where a lot of people are known to go work out. I also do my own tailored version of the workout that I used to do with my trainer at home. I do a ghetto workout: tie a band to the doorknob, make up exercises and stuff. I want to show people how I maintain it. Of course I haven't been documenting the whole three years since I embarked on trying to get to the weight I'm at now.

MTV: Has it changed your performance?

Evans: One of the biggest performances — since I've been this size, this fit — was a couple of weeks ago. The funny thing is, they were telling me to cut my show. I ended up performing for an hour and 15 minutes. My energy was going. I totally noticed a difference. I'm dancing more, doing moves I wouldn't normally do, squatting down on the stage, and I'm sure the newfound athleticism has something to do with it.

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Photo: Capitol/ MTV News

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The First Lady

"Never Gonna Let You Go"
Keep The Faith
(Bad Boy)

"Burnin' Up (Feat. Missy Elliott and Freeway)"
(Bad Boy)

"I Love You"
(Bad Boy)

"You Gets No Love"
(Bad Boy)