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Hip-hop—-its slang, its trends—-seems to change every six months. So it’s almost unheard of for a rapper to go a decade between releasing albums and still maintain some type of success. This became a reality for rapper Eve, who released her fourth album, Lip Lock, in May—-11 years after its predecessor, Eve-Olution.
Eve’s career wasn’t exactly dormant during that period, as the Philly native got into acting and released the occasional song just to remind everyone she was still a formidable MC. Prior to her show at the Howard Theatre tonight, I spoke to Eve about the arc of her career, her decision to release new material, and the overabundance of testosterone in hip-hop today.
Washington City Paper: 1999 was a good year for you.You were on The Roots’ “You Got Me” even though you didn’t get proper credit for it until later; you were on Ruff Ryders, Vol. 1 and then your debut album came out that September. Did that rapid early success surprise you?
Eve: Honestly, no [laughs]. I only say that because that’s all I dreamt about. That’s what I wanted. For me it was like, “Oh shit, it happened!” I think it’s what came after that that surprised me more than that first time success.
WCP: Right, and allow me to clarify what I mean: being with the Ruff Ryders, DMX was really the face of the clique. He had two No. 1 albums in 1998 and then within months of that, you became the group’s next star.
Eve: When something like that happens, you’re in it. So to you, it’s not a surprise. It’s more like excitement and happiness than it is a surprise.
WCP: In the moment, you have to just roll with it and think about it later.
Eve: Exactly. You don’t have time to think about it. Shit happens so fast, there’s just no time. I probably think about it more now as you think back on times and moments in your life. But when you’re in it, you don’t even have time to take a second to think about it.
WCP: When your second album, Scorpion, came out, “Who’s That Girl?” became an early Harlem Shake anthem and then you did “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” with Gwen Stefani which won the first Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2002. I know you were a fan of hers, but were you cautious about doing a song with her?
Eve: No, I was the only one telling people the shit was going to work. Everybody else was like “That shit’s not gonna work, nobody’s gonna believe y’all.” But we’re two of the same type of chick. She’s white, I’m black, but she’s a tomboy. She’s a girl in a group of dudes, I’m a girl in a group of dudes—-we have more in common than you all think. For me it wasn’t about her being white or anything, it was like “Yo, she’s a fly bitch!” She’s a boy-girl like me. I really had to convince people to let that happen, and thank God it worked, because it could’ve flopped.
WCP: Oh no, it worked very well. I saw that you did an interview with Peter Rosenberg and he was spot-on when he said that Dr. Dre‘s production and the overall execution of the song was perfect. I agree with that because it all had to be for the song to work.
Eve: There were so many elements that helped it work, as well. If we would’ve done that song with another producer, it wouldn’t have been that mastered. Having Dre on it and Scott Storch—-my homie from Philly that I’ve known since I was 15 years old—-there were so many elements that just helped it work.
WCP: It was an early crossover record that shaped where music went over the next decade. After your next album, Eve-Olution, you were a Grammy winner and you were in Barbershop. From there on, you really focused on acting. How’d you get into that?
Eve: I was getting scripts sent to me for a while, but I was sending them back. I didn’t get into music to get into acting; it wasn’t really my focus. Then my manager at the time was like “Why don’t you just go to acting coach?” So I went to an acting coach who told me everytime you do a video, you’re acting. Then I started learning ways that made me feel comfortable with it, and then Barbershop was the first movie I decided to go to a reading for I fell in love with the character. Once I did that is when I started really being into acting.
WCP: There was an 11-year gap between Eve-Olution and Lip Lock, but you were never really out of the rap game. You always popped up on something during that period. Did you ever consider putting rap on the back burner due to your success with acting? You had a popular show on UPN for a while.
Eve: You can’t really record an album and do a sitcom. The sitcom is your life—-it takes up your whole life the week that you’re shooting. If you have three weeks to shoot and one week off, you’re exhausted. So it wasn’t even really something that I decided to do, it kind of happened naturally. At first I did try to record, but I was falling asleep by eight o’clock every night. So it just naturally happened.
WCP: Did you ever consider quitting rap, or did you decide you’d get back to it when you had the time and the right situation?
Eve: Definitely, especially when there were other things going on in my life that I actually enjoyed. I’m the type of person that has to be inspired to go into the studio and write. My music is like a diary. When I go to the studio, I have material; there’s shit in my head and my heart that I actually want to get out. I needed to be inspired again to write. I went through a lot of legal shit—-I went through a lot. I honestly think that’s why it took so long for me to put another album out. An album was supposed to come after “Tambourine” [in 2007] and that’s when I started having label issues. After that I was like “Well fuck it, I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m done.” But my music is my first love, so I decided I wanted to do it again, but I wanted to do it on my terms. And it took this long [laughs].
WCP: That’s how it goes sometimes, you have to be in the right situation. When you reach a certain point in your career, you aren’t just going to do anything.
Eve: I’m doing it for a different reason now. When I was younger, I was doing it to probably prove to a lot of people in my world “Yo, I told you I was going to do it.” Then there’s the fame or whatever, but now my music more of an enjoyment. It’s back to being excited about being in the studio, not pressure to be in the studio. Once you’re in the studio and you’re making music on top of music and you’re on a major label, you crank it out like a machine. Now I enjoy getting in the studio and being with the musicians I get to hang out with and it becomes an experience. I just do it for a different reason now.
WCP: What made you decide that 2013 was going to be the year you put Lip Lock out?
Eve: That was a natural situation, too, because the album was ready to go a year before, and then the year before that, I was in a bad situation. I was signed to EMI with the same kind of deal I have now with RED for distribution, but I decided not to put it out because I just didn’t like EMI’s politics. So I waited and then the RED deal happened so quick; I got in the studio with the people I needed to get in the studio with; the songs got cranked out and it was time. I don’t try to make things happen in my life; whatever is supposed to be will be. When it’s time, it’s time.
WCP: R&B artists can take several years off without putting out new material because their fanbase will always be there. Take Maxwell, for example. Were you ever concerned about adjusting to rap in its current state or how you might be received?
Eve: Yeah, it was definitely scary. I’d be fronting if I said “Yeah, I knew I was gonna be good.” It’s a gamble, but that’s what life is. I knew that some of my fans that loved me from my Ruff Ryders days would know this is not Eve-Olution, this is not the Ruff Ryders’ First Lady album—-this is not any of those albums. But I was confident that some of my real fans that I grew up with would be like “Damn, that’s still my girl.” There’s a different tone to this record, but I’m a lyricist regardless. I’m an MC first. With this album, the tracks might be different, but that ill chick is right there. She’s there. I also think I gained new fans because there’s a generation of fans that have heard me through their mom or their aunt that are listening to this album and that makes me feels good.
WCP: Rap trends are constantly evolving. Did you worry about adapting to them at all?
Eve: I don’t follow trends. I never have, I never will. Music obviously changes all the time, but for me, the way that I deal with it is doing little remixes here and there on beats that I like. As far as writing, I can’t write any other way than how I write. That’s just it. I can’t do anything other than me; I can’t pretend, I’m not going to try to pretend, I’m not trying to compete with anybody that’s out. It’s not like I need to change up who I am. I think people are either going to fuck with it or they’re not, and if they don’t then…they don’t. I can’t do anything about that.
WCP: Does it bother you when people ask you how you feel about the current state of “female MCs,” as if women that rap are a different subgenre or species?
Eve: [Laughs] I’ve never heard it that way, but it is annoying. It’s funny you say it like that because it’s true. I do get asked that question a lot, and I never thought about it in the way that you just said it. Yeah, I guess it does, but there’s no balance right with hip-hop—-there’s so much testosterone that’s out. There’s so many dudes out rapping about the same shit who are basically not saying anything at all. They either rap about the same thing, or they aren’t saying a thing. I also think there’s a lot of females that are bubbling underground, but for some reason, they’re not making it to the front. We keep hearing about the same three chicks not at this point: there’s Nicki [Minaj], obviously; there’s Azealia Banks and there’s Iggy Azalea. Underneath that, I love Angel Haze, I mean she’s dope. She should be blowing up. There’s so many dope females. I’m hoping in the next year or two that because of these females are there and bubbling that they’ll be right there and getting the shine they deserve because I can’t take all these dudes [laughs].