Evidence made a triumphant return in January with his critically acclaimed Weather Or Not LP. Its release was significant because his solo career had been on the figurative shelf for the past seven years. In the years since 2011’s Cats & Dogs dropped, he’s been busy working on group projects — Dilated Peoples and Step Brothers — and producing for other artists.

Following Weather Or Not’s release, HipHopDX got the chance to speak with Evidence at length about the new album and much more. In Part 1 of our conversation, the Dilated Peoples MC delves into his creative process — including the emotional and ongoing story behind “By My Side Too” — and explains why Rhymesayers Ent. has become the home for his music.

With the way things have changed now and how newer artists have to constantly be releasing music, can you tell me about your ability to stay relevant and have staying power in this age of streaming?

Well, I was blessed … not all of my friends got to experience it, but I was fortunate enough to be signed to a major label, so I got trained early on the thought of making a record and seeing it through. So, learning to live with your product and not learning to make it feel like it has to turn around so fast. Because you make a record, and then you mix a record, and then you master it. Then, there’s a big three or four-month promotion window. Then, you start getting out there and touring it. And every album, to me, meant a couple year process. So, to see it through took a year or two, just to make it fully come to life.

I think I still hold that mentality, whereas other people might have the more butterfingers syndrome where they share anything they make, just because there’s an availability to get it out to people. They might not be looking at the bigger picture of the importance of taking a little bit longer to shoot some more videos, to make packaging right, to drop vinyl on the same day as the album and not six months later. Like, attention to detail in other places that maybe I’ve been trained through a major to bring to the independence, whereas other people might’ve not experienced that.

I can really say to the people, “Hey, when you drop, you drop heavy,” versus somebody who drops light a bunch. I think there’s some power in that. And the other thing is, I haven’t been building the Evidence brand, per se, but if you follow me or you’re a fan of what I do, you can see I’m active just by what happens. Touring, Step Brothers record, Dilated record, production for other people, features. It’s obvious that I’m loving what I’m doing.

But I do understand if you follow Evidence, and I dropped off to do other things, it doesn’t automatically mean people are gonna follow you. So when it does come back like, “Hey, what have you been doing?” I never get mad at that. Because there’s a lot of people who know exactly what I’m doing.

As far as your solo career, you joined Rhymesayers when you were working on Cats & Dogs. What’s your time at Rhymesayers been like and how has it felt finding a label home you’ve been able to stick with for years now?

Well, I started on ABB Records, based out of the Bay – so much so that when Dilated dropped, people thought we were a Bay Area group because of all the records were out of that. But we’ve always been an L.A. group. And I was fortunate enough to have a deal with Capitol for many years. I got to experience Decon before it was Mass Appeal, with The Layover. And then that led me to Rhymesayers. And no disrespect to anybody else, ’cause those other people I mentioned all have their ups for sure, but Rhymesayers is the closest thing I found to being on Capitol — but also being independent. Really classy. It’s real thought out.

The artists taking their vision on tour and do more concert-driven things than just rap performances. Direct connection with the audience. They’re based out of Minneapolis and don’t have typical New York or Los Angeles attitudes. So, it makes for a different kind of person. You know, Slug’s whole thing is “God loves ugly.” It’s just embracing what you are, instead of always having to be perfect. They taught me a lot about that.

But then, the best part is, I started touring with Atmosphere a lot, Brother Ali a lot, and I was getting influenced by them – what they were doing, how their songs were connecting to the crowd. And when I went back to the studio, I was kinda messing around a little bit more in that direction, musical bluesy a little bit, kinda something like that.

And I talked to [Rhymesayers CEO] Siddiq and I was telling him about it and they were telling me, “Please don’t do anything. We love you for what you bring to Rhymesayers ’cause that’s original.” So when they did that, before I made Cats & Dogs, it really helped me finish that album out and just be who I am. And they value me as something that I bring to the table. So, that makes me feel like I have my own place there, which makes me feel original, which inspires me to keep creating.

And then, the business is good. It’s rare. I find myself breaking bread and doing okay. So yeah, it’s a crew, and it kinda blurs the line of the label. So I can see how it gets a little confusing, but what they’ve built is definitely unique, and I’m super happy to be a part of it.

When did you start working on Weather or Not, and can you tell me about what inspired this new album?

I started working on it … Well, I mean in “Throw It All Away” I said, “No son, but I’ll father this verse” [laughs]. I have a son, so that meant the girl that I had my son with, the mother of my child, she wasn’t even pregnant yet when I wrote that. So that came to be almost three years ago. I didn’t change that song for a long time. It sat as one verse and a hook. And that was the weird part about this album. There’s a lot of starts and songs that didn’t get fully executed that led to confusion on how to finish. You know, standing too close to the painting sometimes and a lot of stuff like that happened during this record.

So initially, there was nothing inspiring me for this record. My goal was always to be Dilated Peoples, for us to do solo records where you could learn about us as individuals, and then we would come back together and make another record after we had done all that. And we did that. Directors of Photography came out, and so here I am at the end of my creative sight that I thought of 20 years ago. And I was like, “Wow, I’m here now. What happened?”

So the beginning was I guess I’ll just go back into the booth and start recording ’cause I haven’t done Evidence in a while. That’s next in line. It was really something like that. But what did inspire me was that “Throw it All Away” song. It was the one verse and the beat. I sent it to Siddiq and I said, “I’m recording again.” And just hearing that one verse and the beat, they opened the budget and sent it to me.

So, I was like, “Okay, we’re onto something,” but I didn’t quite know where I was going. And with personal things I’ve taken on in my life — having a son and then dealing with the mother of my son, my girlfriend, she’s fighting really hard to battle breast cancer – it was a lot of times when I just could not get on a roll. I would get one day in and I just couldn’t … Life was getting a little bit in the way for a minute.

That was a little confusing. So, I started producing a lot. I just started making beats for other people and started doing Madchild’s album, and I did Defari’s album. And I was like, “I’m not gonna let this all mess each other up. I’m just gonna stay working through it.” I started watching documentaries about writer’s block, and MF DOOM and will.i.am talking about it. I mean, I was Googling shit. I was like, “What does this do?” Because everything I was writing was depressing. It wasn’t that my pen wasn’t moving, it just wasn’t writing what I wanted it to write.

So, I just worked through it. And eventually, it starting shaping. I started getting a groove. And the best part was when I started bottling it up with a lot of records, I brought it to Alchemist. I played it for Siddiq. I played it for my filters. And even though I wasn’t feeling like it was ready, everybody was telling me, “You’ve done it. This is it. Please don’t fuck up. It’s time to go.” So, I listened to the people who I trust most, and they helped me bottle this up and put it out.

So about the emotion behind this album, the closer, “By My Side Too,” is one of the most heartbreaking but inspiring songs of your career. Can you talk about putting it out publicly and the difficulties of making a song like that?

Well, so the backside of the story is there’s a gospel album by Alchemist and the producer Budgie called The Good Book. They’ve done two of them. On Volume Two, Budgie asked me to rhyme on his beat and I called it “By My Side” and put it out. And that’s out already. It’s just a regular rap with me rapping over the same beat. I don’t mean a regular rap to demean myself, I just mean it’s not about any one topic, it’s just spitting.

I was going back through my instrumentals and that instrumental happened to pop up before I had written to it, and the way the voice was speaking to me was just touching me in a real way. So, I just wrote the first line because I probably had just come back from that, and “My lady’s losing her hair. I go to sit with her to sit in that uncomfortable chair.” And then, I think Madchild or somebody was over, and I told him the first line and he said, “Don’t do that.” That’s what he said. “I don’t wanna hear that.” And I said, “Okay.”

So, I put it away for a while and didn’t even look at it again. But, I kept pulling it back up for some reason when I was alone and adding another line to it. It was just so easy. I didn’t have to write it on paper. I just totally could see within, just telling the exact story of what I’ve been seeing. So, it was emotional. I was legit crying. When my mom passed, I made a song called “I Still Love You” for her on my first album. And when I made that, I wasn’t smoking weed. I was really sober, clear. I was totally in touch with a lot of my feelings.

But this time, I’ve been high as shit, just in a bubble. So, I’m really trying to be numb — robot mode — to handle everything I’ve been going through. And yeah, this song just totally broke that. I was doing that uncontrollable cry where your teeth chatter. You know what I mean? It’s that real one. I didn’t have the end on it yet where I talk, but I just showed it to her at that point and she cried. And I was like, “Whatever, I just wanted you to hear that.”

And she said, “What are you gonna do with it?” And I said, “I have no idea.” And she was really adamant about how people should hear this. So, I put it out because she said to do it. It’s a delicate thing … To try to market and sell sickness is disgusting. There’s gotta be a line or somewhere where people have to really understand the genuine sentiment that you’re doing. It can’t be fake in any way.

Wendy has been fighting hard. Send her your love here. 🙏🏽

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And then I produced “Last Call” on The College Dropout and Kanye talked that record out at the end where he talked for like eight minutes, or six minutes, or whatever it was. He just told the story of his life I remember when he did that, he was saying, “I can’t rhyme this. This is just … this needs to be told. There’s no way to make it better.”

So, because I was a producer of that song, I didn’t feel like it was biting. I just felt like, you know, I’m gonna do the same thing and talk my record out. Just explain to everybody what’s happening. And then, put my kid’s voice at the end and really just make it positive on the way out, so it does end with hope. I’m glad that it comes across that way because if it didn’t, it would really be a disservice to the whole situation.

But what’s really fucking me with this song now is that I wrote it when she was in a state of remission, and now she’s battling it again. So, it’s a little bit fucking with me. It didn’t come out like the victory I wanted it to, but I really feel like — God willing and everybody putting so much strength going in her direction — eventually this song will represent that again.

Check back soon for Part 2, which includes Evidence’s grand plans as a producer and why Dilated Peoples are on the backburner for now.