Since releasing 2011’s Cats & Dogs, Grammy-winning rapper-producer Evidence has gone through the “biggest growing years” of his life. A lot of that is explored on his forthcoming solo album Weather or Not, which was released last Friday (Jan. 26) via Rhymesayers Entertainment. But making what could be his most pivotal project to date wasn’t easy.
“I made this record under pretty bad terms,” he explains to Billboard, while sitting inside of a serene studio in the back of his Venice, Calif. home. “I was in a fucked up place.” Part of that was due to a series of circumstances that changed his life. In Dec. 2015, he became the proud father to a baby boy named Enzo. Just months later, his girlfriend, Wendy, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, a fight she continues to this day.
Through all of this, Evidence has been working on the final installment of his Weatherman series, which began in 2007. “This one picks up where the last one left off,” he explains, “because that’s what a good series does.” It blends head-knocking production with clever introspection, but this LP is more than just an extension of his past; it’s also an evolution. “There probably is a lot of shedding of the skin,” he says of his evolution as an artist. “I feel like me for the first time.” Musically, that’s resulted in a body of work that’s gritty (“Jim Dean”), soulful (“Throw It All Away”), reflective (“Powder Cocaine”), enthralling (“10,000 Hours”), and moving (“By My Side Too”), all while being cohesive.
Before he unleashed his evocative new project, which includes contributions from DJ Premier, The Alchemist, Rapsody, Styles P, Slug, and more, Evidence sat down with Billboard to break down his growth. He spoke about his personal five-year plan, and his involvement with Dilated Peoples and Step Brothers, but also opened up about fatherhood, shaking demons, and the importance of resilience — revealing why he maintains a bright outlook on life, even through all of its storms.
You rap about becoming a better version of yourself throughout Weather or Not. What do you think you’ve learned about yourself since your 2011 album Cats & Dogs?
These years have been my biggest growing years of my life. Being introduced to Rhymesayers and touring with them changed a lot. I’m accustomed to loving the audio and being pleasantly surprised if the show’s good, but these guys are making a concert with artistic merit. It’s totally different. I like what I bring to the table, but what I’ve learned in everything else running with that camp has been huge.
It’s real showmanship and it makes me feel empowered when I go out on my own. In my personal life, I had a son and that changed everything. I think I’m getting close to appreciating money too, not just generating it, but understanding what it is. Starting to live smarter with that. You also find out who your friends are and I’ve had a lot of realizations with that.
How has fatherhood changed you?
I feel like I’m literally changing. I learned something crazy having a kid, which had never dawned on me before. He imitates me, walks like me, moves like me, and he’s gonna look like me, by virtue of being my son, but if I’m not there, he’s just gonna imitate somebody else. It’s showing me how much time is everything. I need to be his main influencer and if I’m not, and someone else is, then I fucked up bad.
The feeling of it not being about me anymore is crazy. I’m just thinking different, and in a lot of ways, smarter. I’ve been thinking about locking shit down in the future, making sure he’s good, which is going to make me work hard. I’ve been thinking about a five-year plan lately. When I was 20, someone asked me, “What do you want to be doing in your 30s and 40s?” I said, “Hopefully, I’ll have a kid and I’ll be in my studio in the back while he’s around and I’ll be living more of a producer life.” [Looks around.] And here it is!
What’s the new five-year plan?
I’m not doing it for the money. I wake up, walk here like I’m possessed, and go right to it regardless, but [the plan is] to kill it, stack up a bunch of money while Wendy’s health is getting better, give her time to recover. Then I could really get to that producer life I was talking about, after smashing hard in the next few years, dropping three to five projects, and really putting my foot down because I want to perform forever, I just don’t want to feel obligated to perform forever. That’s the goal.
I want to put this record out, follow up immediately, and then I want to do Step Brothers [with The Alchemist]. I really want to get into my production. This year, I produced Madchild’s [The Darkest Hour], Defari’s [Rare Pose], and Domo Genesis’ [Aren’t U Glad You’re U?]. Krondon’s album’s almost finished, and then I’ve got an instrumental album, so I want to continue that. It would be cool to be one of those known double-threats like RZA and El-P. That’s a big goal for me. I have stuff under my belt, but I’m starting over.
You and DJ Premier worked together again on “10,000 Hours.” How did that relationship start?
That’s one story that will haunt me for the rest of my life and I deserve it. You have to understand, he’s Superman to me, the poster on my wall when I sleep. When I was finding myself, Gang Starr was the group. So, [Dilated Peoples] got to open up for them and Rage Against the Machine [in 1999] for a portion of the tour…I didn’t really chill with him that much on the tour because I was young and nervous. I was like 15 or 16.
When I think about it, my father and I were having a beef right around that time so a lot of these people were probably like father figures for me too, which is crazy. So, I didn’t spend much time with him on the tour, but they had an altercation with a fan and cops came and we looked out for them. The details don’t need to be discussed but we looked out for them…and they were like, “You guys are ill. Respect.” But I never sat down and built with Premier.
Six months later, we were doing Coachella and they were there. I don’t know why I did this, but Premier walked off stage and I walked up to him and I [introduced myself]. “Hi, I’m Evidence.” I just wanted to make sure that he knew who I was, out of respect. He just looked at me like, “Huh? We were just on fuckin’ tour, dog. Are you playing me out right now?” I didn’t mean it like that. I was just hoping he remembered who I was, really! I’ve taken the brunt of that for a lot of years, rightfully so. We had to [introduce ourselves] for three years, as a joke…I played myself but out of the utmost respect and he knows that. It probably broke the ice, in a weird way. It probably made our relationship mildly different than the rest.
You mentioned Dilated Peoples. Is Dilated coming back with another album?
That’s a loaded question. I can definitely speak for Rakaa and I — how Babu fits into it, he’ll probably tell you different — but [Dilated Peoples] was two solo guys coming together to make something bigger than either of us could be as solo artists, to create this platform, to be able to do other things. But at Capitol Records, the solo deal wasn’t a reality like we planned for it to be. Signing a five-album solo deal on top of a five-album group deal is not the look, to be tied to one place for your whole career. Fuck that. It wasn’t even good money.
There’s a scale: if you do well, you get the maximum, if you underperform, [you don’t]…That’s how the deals are set up and this was the bottom of the scale so it wasn’t appealing. I don’t know if Rakaa got offered that as well, but I could say I did and it was not tight. So throughout our career, there was this [feeling] like, “Can’t wait to get this over so we could get to our solo thing,” for both us because Rakaa and I always had to find something for us to talk about because we didn’t come up together, so to speak.
That was always the challenge and I think we did great, but when I was doing the  Dilated album [20/20], I had this song for my mom [“I Still Love You”]. It would have just been weird on there so I said, “I need to do a solo record. I need to say things that aren’t going to fit that mold.” That’s what built my solo career.
So the plan was to do that, go solo, establish our identities and then come back together and people would have a full picture of who we were as individuals. We did that [on 2014’s] Directors of Photography but it didn’t perform how I thought it was gonna. Sales don’t indicate whether a record is good or not but to see how much time had gone by and to see it not automatically be a default…Dilated fans might have jobs now, Evidence fans that I’ve been nurturing might be a little younger, but then there might be younger brothers and sisters of the Dilated fans.
It was like, how do we link it all together? It didn’t automatically gel the way I thought it would. We worked it hard and promoted it for two years touring and it actually ended up selling pretty respectably for an independent record over time, which is fire, but to just jump back into another one of those right now, the synergy would have to be right. It would have to be like, if those guys were coming over a lot for some reason and we just made a record, but to obtain a new budget and have an expectation, to hook up three times a week from different locations, it doesn’t feel super natural to me right now.
Rakaa and I working together did [feel natural] on my record. He came over like, “Yo, you want me to be on your album?” For sho. Boom! Came over, kicked it, the beat was on, he wrote his rhyme fast and it felt natural. So it’s like a trick because it’s still the same exact people. It’s like a mindfuck. Once I figure it out, maybe, but until then, no. Dilated is still the crew though. Let’s not forget, this is still the plan coming to fruition. That’s why [Rakaa] is on the record (“Wonderful World”) and Babu is on the record (“Weather or Not”), and why we’ll be doing shows. You can’t say that because we don’t want to make another album right now, that it’s over. That’s not fair.
You’re a rapper, producer, and photographer. What’s the common theme that you find in all of those arts?
The same way you hit play is the same way you go click. It’s artistic shit. It’s just something that clicks, when you do it. My mom was a photographer. Her wanting, probably, for me to do that, and as a kid, not wanting to do what your mom wants you to do, then you get older, she’s not here, and it becomes something. For me, there was more of a reason than the average person [to take up photography]. That doesn’t mean I’ll take a better photo, but I wasn’t doing it, at the beginning, for anything else. You’re doing it for just a pure motive. All the other shit is not attached. With that, anything you do in life with a pure motive, it will reward you at some point later. It just fucking works like that.
On “Powder Cocaine,” you talk about shaking “the demons” of your mother in the hospital. What inspired that line?
That’s an MC Lyte line. She said, “Better than before, as if that was possible/ My competition, you find them in the hospital” [on 1989’s “Cha Cha Cha”]. The same way I sample music is how I sample vocals. That’s how I learned so much shit. I didn’t know that this rapper was quoting another rapper, until I heard the original, and then it’s like, “Oh shit!” That’s the best shit because it links everything together. I flipped it, of course. I say, “Better than before, as if that was possible/ To shake the demons of my mother in the hospital.” I was saying that I was sitting here, really just trying to take my mind off of that. So, by virtue of that, you’re gonna work a lot and you’re gonna get better. It’s not always the reason you’re trying to get better, it’s just a distraction, but then you’re touring, and you’re building a fan base, and so on. That was just reflecting on staying busy so I didn’t have to think about that shit.
“By My Side Too” is the most personal song on this album. It deals with your girlfriend’s battle with cancer. How did the song come together?
It’s crazy. There were tears. I was just pouring tears writing that, so hard. I hadn’t done that since I made “I Still Love You” on Christmas [in 2006] by myself. I remember that … I cried doing that. At that time, I wasn’t smoking weed…and this time, I’d been smoking a lot, just staying numb. That shit just broke all of that. While I was recording it, I was just freaking out. It was weird. I didn’t go in the booth, I just sat here with the mic. I didn’t even put the pop screen in front of it. I was just saying it.
I didn’t care if it was recorded well, or EQ’d good. It didn’t matter. I took a nice breath, felt some really good closure after making it and I remember playing it for Wendy afterwards, which was amazing. Since that happened, it’s been a year and a half and we’re back at it again, fighting again, which is crazy, because now, that song means something else to me, which is not what I planned for it to be.
The crazy part was I didn’t write it to that beat. This beat is on Alchemist and Budgie’s The Good Book … I rap on it, and the song’s called “By My Side.” But for some reason, that instrumental came up on iTunes and that frantic singing just felt like what I was going through. I didn’t even think about it. I just dragged it into ProTools and said the rhyme, just one-taked it, and that was that. I don’t know if it’s perfect or not and it doesn’t matter. I said, “I’ll call it ‘By My Side Too,’” because her whole family is there and I’m one of many who are by her side. That was it.
What did she say when she heard it?
She heard it, her family heard it, and everyone was moved by it. Her father doesn’t speak perfect English, he can’t grasp every single word, but he caught the vibe, and he’s a tremendous musician so he could feel it all regardless. Putting Enzo at the end was just the way to do it … I wanted him to know what he’s done.
Right. You let him know that he saved her life on the track.
This is what’s fucking me up. She had a later stage of cancer that doctors never caught for some reason or other. It’s not like she was negligent, she was always getting checked. Then, I’m not sure I can have a kid, I’ve never had a kid, but then [Enzo’s born], and then, he’s trying to breastfeed and that’s not working, so they take her [to a doctor] and they find out what it is, and they say, “You’re right at the cut-off. If it was a little later, 3-4 months, we wouldn’t even be able to operate.” You know? And he was born on Christmas. I’m just like, “What the fuck is this?”
What kind of weird plan, or I don’t know, sign of some sort? I don’t know. Some people believe in that shit. Some don’t. Some say it’s all written, some say you’re controlling your own destiny. I don’t fucking know. But that’s weird. You know? It’s just like, wow. And that’s what gives me so much hope. It’s like, Why is this happening like this?
Now, I’m just trying to make him proud. I’m not gonna change who I am for him. I want him to find out who I actually am. I don’t want to be one of those parents who has an alternative life and they act like somebody else for their child. He’s never smelled weed. That doesn’t go in the house. I keep him away from some things, but besides the weed, I want him to see everything that’s going on … I know he knows what’s going on … but he’s so loved. It’s pretty amazing and she has an amazing, big family. It’s definitely showing me the power of family being more important than money.