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EvePhotography Bella Howard

Eve will still blow your mind

Now living in London, we catch up with the newly independent Philadelphia rapper as she returns with ‘Reload’, her first new song in six years

Back in 2001, I was secretly penciling claw prints on my chest with eyeliner, hoping my mum wouldn’t see. Eve had exploded onto MTV with “Who’s That Girl?”, a pulsing, dramatic entrance into the mainstream that posed the question about our own identity – asking it when most of my female peers were asking it about themselves –  and it hit a nerve with them, and me. Who are you? How do we manage the hard and the soft?

Claw prints on the tits seemed to answer one of those questions, at least. When I bring it up to Eve today, sipping a green tea in a pub in Notting Hill, close to her London home (she moved to the UK almost six years ago), she laughs. “Yeah, a lot of girls did that.” Sitting in oversized sunglasses, an all-black jumper and leggings, and slick blunt blonde bob, she is a million miles away, literally and figuratively, from the Eve of the late-90s, Ruff Ryders era – the bounding, electric early rap crew that saw her signed to Dr Dre’s Aftermath label and collaborating with the likes of DMX.

Though she’d already earned her ratings as a rapper as part of Ruff Ryders, for many, it wasn’t until the sensual, seismic power of “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”, written by Eve and performed by her and Gwen Stefani, that she became a global star. The video – where she and Stefani join forces on a Dre-produced beat, where she implores you to drop your glasses and shake your asses, where she causes chaos on motorbikes dressed in outfits that are still donned for sexy-girl fancy dress today – left us hooked. It was a smiling act of pop defiance, gleefully sticking two fingers up at a one-dimensional view of womanhood.

It was also an unlikely pairing, at least on paper. Stefani, at the time, was better known as a member of the rock band No Doubt, and Eve’s record label, initially, wasn’t into the collaboration – but in music, as in life, Eve pushed for what she wanted, and the result made history. She would go on to have a slew of successful records, a Grammy win, collaborations with everyone from Alicia Keys to Missy Elliott, a cameo in Glee, a spot on a hit TV talk show The Talk (which she still does), and marrying the man of her dreams which would take her out of America and into London.

Her London ear has been moulded by the city. When she talks about her love for Jessie Ware, Toddla T, and Giggs (the former two artists are set to appear on a forthcoming project, as are Jamaican star Konshens, who features on new single “Reload”, and UK production duo Mojam), it’s with a smile. “It sounds like I lived here, 100 per cent,” she says. “You can tell I’ve been here and not pretending.” You get the sense that Eve is the kind of artist that can’t not be in the studio – she calls it “getting the itch” – but for someone whose career has spanned over two decades, and given pop culture some of its most thrilling moments, you’re with her as she takes a chance on making the music she loves listening to. Whether you see her as iconic rapper, pop crossover darling, or even US TV host, she has always seen herself as an artist. I catch her mid-album, before it even has a title and we talk about life right now – new music, her love of Lizzo, and keeping her Timberland heels.

Did you always have a London connection?

Eve: When I started doing music and would come over for press, I fell in love – but never, ever thought I would live here. When I would come over, I would go to Brixton all the time. I would always be like, “Can you find me the darkest reggae spot, where I can sweat and dance and be crazy?”, and it would always be Brixton. Now, if I have time, then I usually go to Tape London, because I’ve known the owners forever and I love it there. It’s really embarrassing, because I’ll be in that bitch until the lights are up! 

When was the last time you listened to something from your own back catalogue?

Eve: Probably eight months ago. I was actually listening to some stuff in the car, which I was embarrassed about, because what if someone pulled up to me and saw me? (They’d be) thinking, “Wow she’s reliving her life.” I listened to “That’s What It Is”, I don’t know why. 

When I do hear old stuff, it’s almost a reminder, like, “Damn yeah, I remember!”, or, “Damn that’s right, fuck that!” It is still completely who I am. It’s so funny, people used to tell me that they would have to hide my music because I cursed so much. I’m like, “Yes. Yes I did.”

After six years out of the studio, how are you feeling about your new music?

Eve: I feel good, I guess. It’s weird. I feel excited, I feel apprehensive – I’d be lying if I wasn’t – but at the same time, I don’t feel stressed about it because it’s what I do. Music is my first love, so I always come back to it. I think I’m excited because music is so different right now, I’m experimenting on this record. Living here, a lot of it is kind of Afrobeats, kind of reggae.

Some of your collaborators are very UK, like Jessie Ware and Toddla T. What was that connection like?

Eve: My management has been incredible, they’re the ones who have been like, “This person might be dope,” about some people I might have heard of, but might not have said, “That’s right for me.” I say “Let’s go,” and if it sucks, no one ever has to hear it! (Toddla T) was dope as hell, I immediately felt like I knew him. He reminds me of old school dudes from New York, fully has that vibe.

Are you a fan of UK rap?

Eve: Yeah! I listen to everything. I listen to Giggs, I listen to Wretch, I have a whole playlist of just UK hip hop. I do have to say that UK hip hop has gotten so much better over the last seven years. I don’t think a lot of Americans were into it, because a lot of it wasn’t songs – it was more like battle rapping – (and a lot of it wasn’t) super hard, which (is what) I like.

Because you came from cyphers?

Eve: Exactly, I came from cyphers, so when I first started trying songs, they were like, “No, that’s not a song.” Just because I was going hard, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a story, so I had to learn about that. The great thing about the UK is that so many great stories have come out, and the sound is its own sound as well, and it doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be American.

“Because music is so different right now, I’m experimenting on this record. Living here (in London), a lot of it is kind of Afrobeats, kind of reggae” – Eve

Did you ever want to have a stage name?

Eve: I’ve never called myself anything other than Eve, because that is my actual birth name and who I wanted to show the world. I think the person I was back then was a lot of who I was feeling from Philly. My persona was being a part of Ruff Ryders. As far as my attitude, my lyrics, that was who I was.

On that note, how much do you think you reflect a Philadelphia sound? Or has that changed or evolved?

Eve: You know, I don’t know if I ever really have. For me, a Philadelphia sound is really, like, Jill Scott. That, to me, is very Philly, because that’s what I grew up on, but I never thought I sounded like that. I never took that road, apart from the one song I did with the Roots years ago. I never felt like I was the Philly sound – except for my accent, and that’s some shit you’ll never take away!

What was the last show you went to that you loved?

Eve: Lizzo in Paris. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. It was at this place called Alhambra, an intimate, dope ass venue. She’s so her. I’m the type of person who doesn’t just become a fan of the music, but a fan of the person. I said to her afterwards it was like church. It was so positive and really, really fucking nice. My friend started crying.

How much does she represent a new generation of artists to you?

Eve: It’s so dope, because she’s dressed so sexy and her dancers are amazing – and all of a sudden, someone brings out her flute, and she starts playing! It’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s nuts, but in the best fucking way. That’s why I’m excited about music (right now), because a lot of the time, especially in the genre I come from, you’re kind of pigeonholed, you have to stay in your lane – and I don’t think it’s like that anymore. I don’t think it’s been like that for the last few years. That gets me excited.

How different does it feel from what was happening early on in your career?

Eve: I think that there are a lot more women out there who are allowed to do certain things that we weren’t allowed to do. 

What kind of things weren’t you allowed to do?

Eve: There were times that I would get shot down. Like me saying, “Let’s try to sing on this,” or, “Let’s make this melodic.” They’d tell me that’s not how it works. I had one of my A&Rs from years ago actually call me and say to me, “I’m sorry for not listening to you more.” I was like, “Great, validation!” Ultimately, the reason to make your music, or make your art, or do whatever the fuck you do, is expression, and it sucks for someone else to get in the way. I think with a lot of the girls now, they’re so amazing at putting themselves out there, whether that’s emotionally, or whether it’s a movement of being exactly who you are. I think back in the day, it was less celebrated.

Can you tell me more about the Gwen Stefani story, because my understanding is that, at first, a lot of the label people weren’t on board.

Eve: Yes, that was one of those things that I said would be amazing, and they were like, “No.” I was at Interscope. I don’t think it was out of hate, but it was just so different that they didn’t think it would work.

Gwen was so down to do it. We didn’t actually meet until the video. I remember talking to her on the phone and saying that she can change her lyrics to the chorus if she wanted, and she was like, “I love it!” For me, that was such a big deal – I wrote the whole song! I remember being like, “This is so dope, she doesn’t give a fuck.” We were the same tomboy chick in a group of dudes who didn’t have much time to hang out with girls. That was the situation. When you’re in it, you’re in it. It only hits you after, like, “Damn, that was a big moment.”

Are you on a label now?

Eve: Nah, independent. It’s amazing. I’m used to the machine, but the machine can fuck you. It’s better this way.

Did you feel like you had enough ownership over your femininity? Or was there corporate pressure to look more or less like a ‘tomboy’?

Eve: No, I had that hair in high school. Girls in Philly all have that hairstyle, there’s a tonne of chicks with short hair. I didn’t think about hair until I got into the industry. Like, maybe I should put some hair on, or you would have a hairstylist who would suggest some shit. I think it was just a natural evolution of being a woman. I started so young in the business, and I was just trying things out. My hair is like jewellery. My husband is always teasing me. When we first got together, he thought I was high maintenance, but I was like, “No, I’m a black girl.”

“(I’ve always been) a tomboy girly girl. I would do cyphers and be wearing baggy jeans, but my hair and nails were done every week” – Eve

You mean he’s never seen someone sleeping in a silk scarf?

Eve: Never! The first time he saw me in a shower, I had scrub gloves and I had a shower cap, and he was like, “Why do you have a glove and hat on?” He just had no idea. I was like, “I’m scrubbing my body and protecting my hair!” Now he gets it! Even silk bonnets and scarves took a minute.

Has living in London made you think about your own blackness differently? The African American identity doesn’t really exist in the same way here…

Eve: That’s true. I think when I go to the hair shops, it’s more like ‘Afro hair’. In the US, that’s something we don’t say at all. Those words are definitely different. But it’s not something I think about. I’m black every day, and as soon as you see me walking down the street, you know what I am. I think in the States, it’s become more of a conversation than it’s ever been. I think we had a moment in history during the 60s/70s where people were like, “I'm black and I’m proud,” and then it got swept under the rug with racism and all that shit. When I was growing up in high school, we never talked about our history, but with Trump and all of that, there’s a lot of racism that’s been bubbling up. In some ways, while it’s horrible, it is amazing because of the conversations.

Was your husband always a fan of you?

Eve: No! It’s funny because he only knew the pop shit and the crossover shit.

If he listened to them, do you think he would think that was a very different Eve, or would he recognise that part of you?

Eve: I think that now that he knows where I come from – because he’s been home with me to Philly, he’s met my family, he’s seen that part of my Philly – he definitely would get it. If he hadn’t, then he would be confused. It’s still so different, and (there are) even times when I’m just like, “Woah, how did I get from here to there with this person?” Back then, we wouldn’t have crossed paths. It would be interesting to see what he thinks, to be honest.

Are there any standout outfits that you love?

Eve: I took a lot of chances in the 2000s. It was all excess. More make-up, more jewellery, more clothes. I’m trying to think of what award show I’m at (MTV Video Music Awards 2000), but my hair was red and kind of spiky, and I had this choker, and this fur which I think was purple, and then the toga was gold and black. I had a stylist who was the one who refined me and was like, “Nah bitch, we got to pull this back.” 

Do you have a safe or something with old outfits?

Eve: My mom still has tonnes of stuff. I have a pod that I have loads of shit in, in LA. Recently, I went through the pod and I found those old Manolos that were like the Timberland boots, and I had, like, one hundred pairs of those shits! I won’t throw them away, I don’t know why. I feel like they’re always who I’ve been – a tomboy girly girl. I would do cyphers and be wearing baggy jeans, but my hair and nails were done every week. That was just the juxtaposition of who I was.