Producer Chucky Thompson recalls crafting Faith Evans’ debut album, Faith

Coming off a successful string of debut releases from Hip Hop artists Craig Mack and the Notorious BIG, Bad Boy Records released Faith on August 29, 1995. Upon the release of Faith Evans‘ debut album, she was quickly dubbed as the heir apparent to the throne of the brand new genre Hip Hop/Soul.

During this juncture, there were a plethora of women looking to make their mark on the industry as solo acts and breakthrough. She capitalized on the momentum laid down by her Bad Boy brethren and seized the moment. The young, upstart label was ushering in fresh talent to cultivate in its own image. Evans became the first lady of Bad Boy after being signed by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs in early 1994. He clearly saw something in the young songstress and his gamble paid off decisively. Her debut offering delivered an unprecedented amount of success to the artist and label alike.

This album would introduce Evans as a strong contender in the expanding field of R&B artists. Her presence was felt on the music charts due to her unique styles of arranging and harmonizing her vocals to fit each individual record. Each of the 15 songs on the album highlighted her extraordinary vocal capabilities. It would also showcase the production talents of up and coming Bad Boy Hitmen producers, Chucky Thompson, Herb Middleton, The Trackmasters and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. All of these elements proved to be combustible once the album hit stores in the late summer of 1995.

At the tender age of two, Evans began singing in her hometown church in New Jersey and by the time she reached high school, she was performing with various local jazz bands. After studying at Fordham University for a year, she left school to pursue her singing aspirations. It was during this time where she began writing songs and singing background vocals on records for Al B. Sure! Mary J. Blige, Usher, Pebbles, Tony Thompson and Christopher Williams. At one of these performances, Evans caught the eye of executive, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. As the story goes, Evans signed to Bad Boy Records as the first female solo act in 1994, but wouldn’t release her album until a year later.

Between the months of November 1994 and May 1995, Faith was recorded at the Hit Factory studios in New York, New York.

SoulCulture recently sat down with co-producer and writer Chucky Thompson to discuss how the album was constructed from start to finish.

Thompson recalls how he first met Evans and how he was chosen to work as a collaborator for the project.

“To be honest, I didn’t really have a vision for her,” says Thompson. “When I first met Faith, she was known as “Faye” to me. She just came to the studio to work. She would be dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. She was just a grinder. Her daughter Chyna would always be with her while she was there. She would handle her business and bounce. I really didn’t get a chance to know her until she started working with Usher. We were working on a couple of different projects at that time. I was working with her while working on Usher’s song “Think of You.” She and Donell Jones wrote that record for Usher.

When I heard what she did to that song, I said to myself this girl has what it takes. Shortly after that, I guess Puffy had a quota to meet with signing new artists to his label. From the work she was doing with me and Usher, he realized that he needed to sign her as an artist. She was in the right circles being around the Uptown label and then the Bad Boy transition. Puff put two and two together and decided to make her his new artist.

He continues. “I got word that he signed Faye. I still didn’t know her name was Faith,” he laughs. “I said, ‘Why did he sign Faye?’ I’m thinking about at that time the image of how she used to come dressed to the studio, but then I thought about it and it made sense. I knew the talent was there, but I didn’t see the full artist part of her yet. I just knew that she was dope.

At the time, she was in a relationship with a producer by the name of Kiyamma. They were going through their issues and there came a point where she had all of these demo records that they completed together. She told me she had some songs she did with her boyfriend. She asked me to redo all of the songs they had written together. Everything was starting to formulate once Puff signed her to the deal. She was on the list and a major responsibility for the new label.”

Thompson remembers the studio atmosphere and creative influences behind making the album.

“At the time, we were still working on Mary J. [Blige]’s My Life album,” says Thompson. “Faith would pop up now and then and tell me how dope of a producer she thought I was. She would always give me credit and show so much love because I had these gospel influences. Faith actually grew up singing in the church. She was one of those people who went to church every Sunday and her mother was very involved at their church. As opposed to me, where I would attend here and there, but pick up influences from various visiting choirs at my mother’s church. I played the keyboards, drums, and bongos.

“By the time I met her, I’m playing these bits and pieces I learned in church and when we started working together these bits and pieces I played fit perfectly with her singing style. I played in a lot of the street bands in Washington, DC and I had this kind of street gospel sound working back then. It was crazy hearing what we created in the Bad Boy studios.

As a keyboard player, I was into a lot of jazz music. I listened to a lot of Chick Corea and Miles Davis. Right before I came up to NY to sign with Puff, I was hanging with Michelle Johnson now known as Meshell Ndegeocello. She played in a couple of the go-go bands I used to play with here in DC. We would ride home together and she would tell me that I needed to take my street jazz sound to another level.

“Things started to formulate once we got into the studio together. Back then, Jodeci was hanging around plus Mary, myself, and Puff was also into gospel melodies so we had all of these factors working in our favor. It was like young, street church in the studio,” he laughs. “We were all hood, but we had this Godly thing happening at the same time.”

Thompson recounts the duo’s mindset during the making of the album; “It didn’t take long for us to record the songs… The chemistry between us was crazy. She could literally take my crap and turn into something special. It has always been that way between us. She is like my sister and my cousin. We are that close.”

Thompson recollects how the first single “You Used to Love Me” developed in the studio.

“At that time, Puff had a quota to fill so he was signing artists, says Thompson. “When I first signed with Puffy, he only had the Notorious BIG, Craig Mack, and another artist named Q. Later on, he signed Faith and Total. We sat down and talked about Total. He was giving me his ideas for the group. He told me that they were supposed to be like the average girls you would see at a mall. He needed some fly music for them. I actually came up with the music for the song “You Used to Love Me” for Total.

I met them and I knew they had this swag about them. We were digging in the record crates for ’70s music back then. I went into the studio and zoned out. I picked up a guitar and starting messing around with it to see what I could come up with. I gave the tape to Puff and I never heard back from him. One day, I hear Faith putting down some ideas in the studio. She had three or four different hooks for this song. This one hook she had was crazy because it sounded off. She sounded real lazy with it and it ended up being the hook we went with for the song. It sounded weird, but it ended up being hot. It was the first single off of her album.”

“You Used to Love Me” went on to peak at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart and #42 on the UK Singles Chart. It helped to build anticipation for the follow single.

The second single to be released from the album would be the heartfelt ballad, “Soon As I Get Home.” It peaked at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #3 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart.

Thompson tells a fascinating story of how the song was put together.

“When I was in the studio with Faith, I was goofing around on the piano and I played one of those songs I played for Meshell,” says Thompson. “It happened to be the melody for ‘Soon As I Get Home.’ So Faith lost her mind when she heard it, but I didn’t know that because I was supposed to leave. I had a flight booked to leave around 6 o’clock, but I had time to kill. I ended up going to the studio around 3 o’clock to just chill and then I get this phone call from Puffy saying, ‘Yo, I don’t know what you played for Faith, but I’m going to tell you like this; I need that record done before you leave today.’

It was already three o’clock and I was in mid-town Manhattan and my plane was scheduled to leave from LaGuardia. Puff said, ‘Look, I don’t care what you tell me. I already have a studio session booked for you upstairs right now. Please go take care of that for me.’ I go upstairs and I’m pissed because I was ready to leave. I didn’t even know I had to do this record. I told the engineers that I had flight to catch at six o’clock and I asked them what time do I need to be in the car for me to catch this flight. They told me the time and we went from there. They put the tapes up and I ran through the ideas for the track and put them down. I made my flight,” he laughs. “I never touched that record again. Faith called me later on that night when I made it home. She told me to call her back and listen to her answering machine. She had the hook to the song on there.”

The next single to be released from the album would be “Ain’t Nobody.” It peaked at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #14 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart.

Thompson breaks down how he borrowed from other ideas to create this record.

“I thought about the Michael Jackson album, Dangerous,” says Thompson. “The song ‘Can’t Let Her Get Away’ was one of my favorite records from that album. I took some pieces from that record, but I took from the soul vibe that we had going on at Bad Boy. The crazy part about this song was I was using this new drum machine device which is called a classic now, but it was the MPC 3000. I found myself trying it out and ended up creating my first beat with it.

“I’m one of those types of people that decide to let the beat run forever and then I’ll drop it on the tape. This was when we were still using the 24 2 inch tape machines. I made the beat, but then I had to track it. I didn’t track it, but then Puff came into the studio and said it was hot and to track it. Right after he left, the plug came out and the whole song was erased,” he laughs. “So I had to put the track back together in the same way he heard it. I would sample sounds for the moment. It wasn’t like I had a whole library of sounds to choose from. I would do things on the fly. I had to go through the whole process of putting it back together. Trust me, the first version of the record was way better than the version you ended up hearing on the album.”

The final single to be released from the album would be the passionate “Come Over.” It peaked at #56 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart. Thompson briefly speaks on the various influences that inspired the record.

“This song started out as an interlude because I felt that Faith’s whole vibe was straight from the church,” says Thompson. “She used to sit with me and play records from the Clark Sisters. I just felt that altar call vibe and sensation with her whenever we were together in the studio working. The song came out as combination of gospel and Guy-like influences from the R&B side of things. Faith was the one to say she needed the interlude to be turned into a full song.”

Faith Evans – “Come Over”:

Thompson provides insight on how the remaining songs of the album were birthed from an artistic standpoint.

“On ‘Faith (Interlude)’ I was coming up with little interludes for the album,” says Thompson. “This is how I would normally start doing my songs. I would come up with these little parts. So I’m in the room coming up with ideas. I see Daron and this was before he was signed to Bad Boy. I wanted to show him how to put together a track. I told him to start playing a couple of chords on the piano and he started to play. I told him to go here and here kind of like how a conductor waves his magic wand to his orchestra. He played a couple of chords and it ended. So I added some more stuff around it and tricked it out with the music and added some bell sounds on it. This ended up being the intro to her album.”

“‘No Other Love’ and ‘Fallin’ In Love’ were Tone and Poke records from The Trackmasters,” says Thompson.

“On ‘You Are My Joy (Interlude)’ I was working with another artist in DC named Frankie Jackson,” says Thompson. “When I was working on stuff with him, I wanted to try out some different things to see if they would work. The vibe I tried with Frankie I tried it on Faith. I just did the interlude and she wrote the song about her daughter. I would provide her with a canvass and she would take it from there. This song ended up being the result.”

“All This Love” was one of the songs she had written with her boyfriend at the time,” says Thompson. “I re-did the music for it, but this song was written five years before I met her.”

“On ‘Thank You Lord (Interlude)’ Daron from 112 did this interlude for the album,” says Thompson. “Faith fell in love with him when she first heard them sing back in Atlanta for Puff. I walked in on them doing this interlude at the studio and I thought to myself this sounds really good. We were all a family back then so if I wasn’t around she would grab him and this is how this interlude transpired.”

“On ‘Give It to Me’ we were in this whole soul vibe back then,” says Thompson. “I was in the studio messing around with different ideas and then Puff heard the beat I came up with and then Faith wrote her lyrics to it. This is how the song was developed.”

“On ‘You Don’t Understand’ keep in mind, her and BIG’s relationship was brand new,” says Thompson. “He’s on the road and she was just going through it. It started out that he was on her then they got married and then the roles reversed and she was missing him. We actually recorded this song in Washington, DC. She stayed at my house and I booked a small studio to record the song in. She was crying in the booth when she was recording this song. There’s one part of the song where the mic got distorted, but because of the performance I said we had to keep it. Those lyrics really were a part of where she was in their relationship.”

“Like I said before, as I would work on interludes they would turn into songs,” says Thompson. “One time we were at the Hit Factory Studios and I was messing around with three or four chords on the keyboard. I was a huge Teddy Riley fan so I was in there acting like I was Teddy. I put this one part together and Faith said that she was going down the street to the Chinese food place on the corner. I told her to take a copy of the CD with the idea I just laid down and for her to listen to it while walking there.

She came back saying she already had a hook for the song. Blackstreet was recording upstairs in the same studio. I never knew who Dave Hollister was, but she would always talk about him. She told me she wanted to get him on one of her records. She booked the studio time and I put those chords together. She ended up getting Dave to record with us. It was her and Dave Hollister on the hook of that song. The song was entitled ‘Reasons.’

“I made it short because I wanted to make people mad that the song ended so quick. Teddy was looking for Dave in the studio and he walks in on him and Faith recording the song. I wasn’t even in the studio because I had gone down to the same Chinese food place. Teddy comes downstairs and outside to talk to Puff while he was out there. He basically told him you need to make that interlude into a whole song. Puff calls me and tells me to make it into a song. I added some new parts to it to make it into a song. Dave Hollister was singing the background vocals as well.”

Faith peaked at #22 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and #2 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart in the early autumn of 1995. The album went on to sell more than 2 million units worldwide. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the signature albums to be released from a female R&B artist during the decade of the 1990s. Her debut record signaled that the future of R&B songstresses would continue to churn out high quality material. Faith holds its weight among other classic albums from any other female vocalist in any generation of music proving this album will endure through the rest of time.

Thompson expresses his feelings on how the album should be viewed by music fans.

“I’d like people to understand the legend of that record and that period in music history,” says Thompson. “This record is one of the reasons why many people felt like I ran the 1990s. I ran into Maxwell back in 2006 while I was working with Nas. We had MaxwellFaith album. It showed the diversity of my work.”

Faith Evans – Faith
Released: August 29, 1995
Label: Bad Boy Records
Buy: iTunes US / Amazon UK / Amazon US

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