In case you haven’t heard, Eve is back. One of the world’s premiere emcees, the “Who’s That Girl” rapper surprised everyone by taking an extended sabbatical from the studio after releasing her chart-topping Eve-Olution in 2002. Yet the star, who today has sold nearly 10 million records, was never really far away. Frequent guest appearances followed on tracks from Gwen Stefani (“Rich Girl”) to Alicia Keys (“Speechless”) as did a fashion line, MAC collaboration and a number of television and film productions including her self-titled sitcom and, our favorite, the Drew Barrymore-produced roller derby dramedy Whip It!
This week, the famously paw-print-tattooed icon strikes back, returning to the craft with Lip Lock, her first album in 11 years. On it, Eve has much to say, beginning with her eponymous lead single that serves as a bold re-introduction. “I’m E-V-E / I’m the chick they wish they’d be,” she declares. But if you think it’s a bit self glorifying, it’s not; it’s a reflection of a musician who’s finally come into her own.
“I wanted to make a confident record because that’s how I felt, it’s my state of mind now,” Eve says as we catch up over the phone. She’s on a lunch break in L.A. but all her focus turns to discussing Lip Lock with the instinctive excitement of a band doing their first promo interview. “I have a different hunger for my music now,” she says. “It’s been years and I’m coming back into such a new industry. It’s so different from when I started that it makes me feel like a new artist in a way. Although I’ve done a lot of this stuff before, at the same time I’m learning so many new things, like social media. It’s a different kind of passion now, and it feels good.”
Another thing she’s had to learn is how to be on the other side of the desk as a label head. Although Eve says she’s been recording this material for a “few years,” part of the delay in getting it distributed was struggles with her former label. So, instead, she created her own. “I’m the person who makes all the decisions now and that felt right for me,” Eve says of the From the Rib Music label, distributed through Sony RED. Although she admits, “I’m the one for years who said I would never do something like this,” she’s now mulling over expanding the roster to include new talent, perhaps as a nod to her own discovery by Dr. Dre at age 18 thanks to a mutual friend in her hometown of Philadelphia who setup an audition.
Although it didn’t work out with Dre, Eve soon found herself a new set of suitors and became the First (and only) Lady of the Ruff Ryders crew, which also included DMX.
“In the beginning, it was intimidating—lyrically at least,” she recalls. “I had to work equally if not harder than they did to prove myself, but I liked the challenge. After awhile I became baby sis, and they protected me.”
That included protecting her image in a industry often saturated with sex and objectification (see her recent comments on the Rick Ross pro-date rape lyric controversy). “I got really lucky with Ruff Ryders. If anything they were trying to cover me up more! That doesn’t happen a lot for other females in this field,” says the musician who admittedly is girl power. “I think people are just so used to seeing that super sexy image, a bunch of skin and half-naked girls. And that’s fine if that’s what the artist wants to do, but that’s not who I’ver ever been.” She references her early contemporaries Li’l Kim and Foxy Brown as examples. “That was the style they had, which was great for them, but it’s something I would never try to do.”
Growing up, the biggest influences for the practicing violinist/pianist/singer were the “tomboys”like Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte. “When I was really young I loved watching them on TV because they were one of the boys but also women, girly girls who held their own with the men around them. And that was something I have always admired.”
It was another person bearing these dualities that Eve chose to first partner with in 2001: Gwen Stefani. Her guest appearance on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” granted Eve exposure and credibility in the pop world and won the duo the inaugural Grammy award for Best Rap/Sung collaboration. “We had a lot in common starting with the fact that she was the only girl in a crew of guys,” says Eve who says ‘never say never’ on a possible third-time collaboration.
Working with Stefani then, and now with Cobra Starship’s Gabe Saporta on Lip Lock’s “Make It Out This Town,” has been a solid strategy, propelling Eve into a whole new crossover audience—but for the rap star it was intuitive.
“I’ve been a fan of No Doubt for a long time and it was my idea to put her on the record. Gabe was the same thing. I went to one of his concerts and thought he was such a talented artist. It’s probably not the normal thing to do, but I listen to all types of music and I love when I can collaborate.”
That includes her go-to hip-hop partners (Lip Lock features guests Missy Elliott and Snoop Lion and was produced by Pharrell and Swizz Beatz). Assuredly, Eve says she hasn’t tired of the scene even if she has some opinions on its current state.
“I think there are some people that are definitely holding it down but there’s a lot of stuff out there being called hip-hop that isn’t,” she says. “For me, I’m a lyricist and there’s a lot of people who are not saying much of anything. I definitely feel like it could be improved upon, but at the same time there is some really great talent coming out,” including her picks Kendrick Lamar, Azealia Banks and a young emcee named Nacho she put on her new album.
So what’s next for Eve? Possibly fashion (“I gave my line up to my partner but it’s something I want to get back into”); possibly acting (“I still read scripts all the time”). But for now, she says, “this music is my main focus,” along with another special project she just announced: an ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. “I like being able to lend my voice to help get awareness out of how important mentoring is and how much it is needed. There are still so many kids on waiting lists,” she says. “It’s an amazing organization and I’m happy to be a part of it. I want to do more and hopefully become a big sister to a kid … when I find some time.” Somehow, we think she’ll find a way.
Photo credits: Amarpail Kaliari