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Two years ago the career of rapper Eve Jihan Jeffers appeared to be on the cusp of something great. Jeffers, now age twenty, started performing when she was still a teenager; she had put in her time competing in high school talent shows, and was paying her dues playing local clubs in her hometown of Philadelphia. She even stripped for a short period to pay the bills. But after an audition for famed rap producer Dr. Dre resulted in a recording contract with his Aftermath Entertainment, stardom seemed imminent. Jeffers moved to Los Angeles, cut the single "Eve of Destruction" with Dre for the Bulworth soundtrack, and began writing material for her debut album. Eight months later, however, she was dropped from the Aftermath roster (budget cuts, they told her) and she returned to Philadelphia.
"It just wasn't a good situation. They didn't have a direction for me at the time," Jeffers says of the short time she spent working with Dre. "It just wasn't my time yet."
After moving back to Philadelphia, though, things started to swing her way once again, as she teamed up with DMX's Ruff Ryder crew for the compilation Ruff Ryders Vol. 1 and contributed vocals to the Roots album Things Fall Apart. Both projects displayed Jeffers's impressive range: She could hang with hard-core rappers such as DMX and the Lox, as well as chill out with alternative hip-hop groups like the Roots. In fact her vocals on the Roots' "You Got Me" were so soulful and spiritual, she was mistaken for Erykah Badu.
After a successful tour with DMX, the Lox, and Jay-Z, Jeffers finally released her first solo album, Let There Be Eve, and it surprised even her when it debuted at the top of the Billboard charts last month, becoming the highest-selling debut by any female rap artist. Yet Jeffers, who is currently fielding scripts for her acting debut and writing material for a second album she hopes to begin recording in January, says her experiences with DMX and his crew have helped prepare her for stardom.
"Being around them and watching DMX -- the things he was doing, his shows, his stage persona, and how he acted in public -- has really helped me," Jeffers says. "When I was onstage for that little bit of time with him, it was my show. It was like, this is my concert now, and now y'all are here to see me. I couldn't wait until I was rocking thousands, and it has happened so fast."
Jeffers, who did some modeling as a child and played basketball in high school, has always balanced the masculine and feminine sides of her personality. That comes through clearly on Let There Be Eve. One minute she's crooning about growing up as a latchkey kid ("Heaven Only Knows"), and the next she's talking trash with the boys ("Dog Match"). But Jeffers says being a woman in the male-dominated rap world hasn't been as difficult for her as one might think.
"At one point I was a tomboy," she admits. "Then I started giving in to my feminine side and wearing makeup and stuff. I'm comfortable around guys, but I don't want to be a tomboy, because I know when to sit and bat my eyelashes. There were maybe three or four other females in Philadelphia who were rappers when I started out. It wasn't difficult; it was fun, because I got more attention. Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Salt-n-Pepa weren't really role models for me, because I never really wanted to be like them. But I enjoyed their music a lot and the fact that they were all in the same business, but so different from each other."
While Jeffers says she wrote all the lyrics for the album, at least part of her success is owed to the crunchy rhythms provided by producer Swizz Beatz. For the single "Gotta Man," he lays down a track of rattling drums and chiming strings that's more infectious than a nursery rhyme. Jeffers says she knew she could do something special with the music the first time she heard it.
"When he played it for me, I just went crazy and knew I had to have the song," she says. "I told him, 'That's my song,' and he said, 'Well, start writing.' Originally, somebody else was supposed to have it, but they didn't come through. So I took it, rewrote it, laid down the vocals, and it was mine. You can't get it out of your head; that's why I loved it so much. I didn't even know the words, and I was humming it. I knew it was a song that everyone was going to want to sing."
In the equally catchy "Love Is Blind," perhaps the best song on the album, she sings about a friend who can't escape an abusive relationship. Enraged, she imagines enacting a vigilante murder, shooting and killing the abusive boyfriend.
"It's about my best friend, who went through a bad relationship with her baby's father," she says. "The last verse is not real, 'cause she doesn't die, and I don't kill the guy. But I still have rage against that guy, because she was so hurt. It hurt me, too, because I consider her my sister, and I wish I really could have got somebody to kill him."