From 1999 to 2002, Eve was on a roll. One of hip-hop's most bankable female MCs, her first three albums sold 4 million copies and spawned five Top 40 hits, including well-received collaborations with Gwen Stefani (''Let Me Blow Ya Mind'') and Alicia Keys (''Gangsta Lovin'''). But after a four-year detour into TV, film, and fashion, the Grammy winner has run into some snags while trying to revive her music career. Her forthcoming CD, Here I Am, was initially due in August but has now been delayed until 2008. Meanwhile, her first two singles off the record have struggled to connect with listeners: ''Tambourine'' peaked at No. 10 on Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks chart on July 14, while its follow-up, ''Give It to You,'' hadn't charted at press time. But despite those setbacks, Eve, 28, tells EW she's still got more skills than a lot of male MC's tallying up record sales in the ''testosterone-driven'' rap game, and that she's going to wait until she's 100 percent confident in her new CD before she lets it drop.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What's going on here? Why so many delays with this album? Are you scrapping the whole thing and starting over?
EVE: No, I'm not completely starting over. I'm definitely gonna keep some of the records that I had because I love a lot of the stuff that I did. So I'm keeping a lot of it. I'm just going back in to kinda make it a well-rounded album. I think what kind of delayed us this time was that I went in and did two records that sound a lot like the Pharrell record the singing record.... I don't think the movement was right and I'd rather put out an album and feel 100 percent connected to it than just to put out an album, especially the way music is right now.
What do you mean by saying you put out two records that sound like Pharrell? Are you going in a different direction with the new music you're recording for the album?
Not really a different direction, but more of that direction. I don't even know what you would generalize it or call it.
I guess you can call it that, but I don't know because it's hard to kinda say that too, because some of the records that I'm keeping, like the rap records, are on that level, so it's kinda hard to say in any way.... I felt like it just wasn't a cohesive record. I felt like I needed to go back in and just make everything match.
Are you happy with the way that ''Tambourine'' and the Sean Paul single [Give It To You] performed?
Oh, I loved it. I think [they] did great. I think, honestly, although the Sean Paul record didn't get as big as we would like it to, the initial response to it was great. So I think that helps. ''Tambourine'' absolutely got the sickest response, so I'm happy with that.
Has it been difficult for you to remount your musical career after being sucked into a TV show and a clothing line for three years?
No, it actually hasn't been that bad. I mean, the response that I've been getting mostly from people is, ''We're happy you're back in music. I'm happy you're back in music.'' But I can't front and not say that there is a new movement of music the way a lot of the music is right now. But no, I think I've been received pretty well. And especially at radio stations and stuff like that, I'm really happy for just the love that I've been getting, the support that I've been getting from radio stations and TV stations that are like, ''Yo, we wanna help you out with this record.'' So that's a good thing.
Speaking of a new musical movement, how do you feel about re-entering a musical landscape that's getting overloaded with female vocalists in an era with virtually no successful female rappers?
In some ways, it's hard. But in other ways, it almost is like I kinda feel like it was when I first came out. Even though there were two females that were in the forefront, but at the same time, there was nobody I felt, in my opinion, like me that came out, so I feel like I'm starting all over. I feel like a new artist again.
What particular challenges have you faced in getting this album off the ground?
It's a lot. It's different. There was a time when you could put out a single and then put your record out five weeks after and you knew if the single did well at radio that told you how your album was gonna do. Nowadays, a single could play for weeks and weeks and weeks on the radio, it could be the biggest single, and the album sales don't match up. So, you know, it's a different format, and I don't even think that anybody has the formula to it now. So it's totally different. You definitely have to go about it a different way. You definitely have to take your time and think and come up with a good strategy, and that aspect is really different.
Has the success of artists like Fergie and Gwen Stefani made it harder for female rappers because they've come in and created a new, pop-friendly mix of pop, hip-hop, and R&B sounds?
I think what makes that hard for us is that they're not hip-hop, period. I'll never, ever be able to give Fergie or Gwen that title. I love them. I think they're dope. I think they make good music. But they're not hip-hop. They emulate hip-hop in certain things that they do, but they're not hip-hop. And I think that hurts hip-hop in a way because it's confusing the lines. I also must admit that hip-hop is the new pop. Like hip-hop five years ago, Soulja Boy couldn't get played on the same station that Fergie was playing on or that the Black Eyed Peas were playing on or that Justin was playing on. Or Justin couldn't be on an urban station five years ago. But now, all the lines have blurred. But at the same time, calling Fergie and Gwen hip-hop hurts females, I think. It hurts the female MCs.
NEXT PAGE: I think I'm better than half these dudes that's out. Some of these dudes can't rap. And I hate to say it like that. [Laughs]