Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds is pen goals. An R&B powerhouse with a superior discography and quality-rich chart toppers since the mid-80s too vast to count, that are now classics, the music mainstay reeks of magnificent staying power.
You know the second a track blazes if it’s been blessed with the Babyface touch. His honey-toned voice is cleverly mastered, the lyrics are soothing, the beats are intricately refined with unmatched songwriting ability, including 1995’s seven times platinum Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, written and produced (except for one track) solely by the man himself.
Ever since “Whip Appeal,” the songwriter has been a pillar of R&B royalty, with nostalgic songs hogtied to music lover’s memories of old, notably “Soon As I Get Home,” “Never Keeping Secrets” and 1993’s “When Can I See You,” when R&B possessed sensational production value and meaning as vocal art.
A time before social media reigned, followers and “Likes” were a validating mark of approval and iTunes was a millennial idea, Babyface made his mark on music as a whole, staying afloat with minimal tabloid drama and headlines. Releasing his 10th solo studio album last December, Return of the Tender Lover, a long-awaited sequel to his 1989 album, Tender Lover, the Indianapolis native stays true to form, sans trends, pumping out tracks that satisfies emotions, stroking R&B lovers delight.
Despite 11 Grammy Awards and a legion of other musical nods, the cucumber cool producer admits he still doesn’t exactly know the key to longevity: “I don’t know that I know what the secret is other than trying to always write things that are honest and hopefully touch an emotion in people.”
Elegant. Universal. Regal. Babyface is a quiet storm, despite time. The bar has been set, excruciatingly high. Artistry refined, the 56-year-old discovered the formula to vocal satisfaction decades ago, an uneasy feat. How he flirts with textures, word-play and fluidity, conscious of what the R&B lovers truly desire, Babyface is R&B, personified.
The Source caught up with the crooner, just before his string of Valentine’s Day weekend of Midwest concerts, as he dished on his music new and old, Toni Braxton‘s Lifetime biopic, his biggest regret in the music industry and more.
The Source: What was it like releasing a solo project after a seven year hiatus?
Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds: It was business as usual, I guess. I don’t think it felt any different because whenever I’d do any kind of record whether for me or for someone else it’s one of those things; you work on it, put the music out and cross your fingers that it works for people. And you go on.
Do you still cross your fingers after you release material after a three decade career?
Well you know, if it feels good to you than it’ll feel good to people as well, that you’ve touched someone with it and that’s all you could ever hope for.
What’s your song writing process like?
It varies, but sometimes I’ll get up early in the morning and write or I’ll have an idea that I’ll hum down then put it to the side then one day get to it. For the most part I kind of just make the move to sit in the studio and start brainstorming ideas.
Do you have a favorite song of yours you’ve performed or written for others?
That’s a little hard to say. I’m still trying to write that favorite song for myself, I guess. As it relates to writing for other folks it varies, it depends on what I’m listening to at the time. I’ll hear things I haven’t heard that I wrote in a long time and I’ll go, “Wow, that’s a really nice record!” If I turn on the radio and hear something after a long time, it’s nice in that way.
How did your duet album, Love, Marriage & Divorce, with Toni Braxton come about?
Toni was thinking about retiring and not doing music anymore. Long story short, I called her and said let’s do something together and we had nice success with it—won a Grammy. And actually we’ve been in talks about doing another duets record together.
You sing and write a lot about love, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?
In eighth grade, I ran away from home for love.
Wow, she must have been really special!
Yeah, I was pretty heart broken and I blamed it on my mom and I ran away from home. It’s a long story!
What happened at the end?
I got over it and came back home!
You’ve been in the game for over 30 years, in an industry full of one hit wonders and projects that never see the light of day. What’s the key to longevity?
I don’t know that I know what the secret is other than trying to always write things that are honest and hopefully touch an emotion in people. Love is a universal subject, so it’s always a safer route to go down. And love always seem to survive any kind of trend. No matter what, somebody somewhere is always going to want to hear a love song.
In your career, what has brought you the biggest disappointment?
That’s interesting. It’s kind of how I look at disappointment. Maybe certain songs didn’t go as high as I wanted them to or sell as many as I wanted to. But I don’t let disappointments bring me down, it’s a part of the journey and a part of the lessons you learn. So if something was disappointing, then you try to figure out what didn’t work about it, what did I miss on it and you use that as a positive to do better the next turn around. And that should be how you look at everything in life.
I just don’t dwell on disappointments so it’s hard to name the biggest one.
As you look back over your career, do you have any regrets, anything that you would do differently?
I regret I didn’t take pictures with people when I should have been taking pictures with all of the people I’ve worked with, so it just doesn’t have to stay in my head, and those memories I can actually look at in photographs. I was always respectful of people and their time thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to be a fan,” when I was clearly a fan. I didn’t take those moments like, ‘Hey, let’s take a picture or let’s video this,” because I thought of myself as a private person and thought of them as private, too and just didn’t push it. But in hindsight I wish I would’ve been like, “Nah, I’m taking the picture!”
You produced Lifetime’s Toni Braxton biopic, Unbreak My Heart, how did you think it all turned out?
I was quite impressed with the kid who played me (Gavin Houston) but I realize I got to work out a little more for him to play me (laughs), but he was very good. And nothing is ever exact, but the essence of the story was good.
Who would play you in a Babyface biopic?
Probably the same kid. I thought he was pretty good; pretty on it.
What’s one thing your fans would be surprised to know about you?
I watch everything on TV from Walking Dead to Vampire Diaries, I’m a big fan of Gossip Girl, so I can go from serious things to very not so serious.
So what’s next for you?
More of the same; doing some music for movies and some TV shows. Going back on the road as well.
Would you ever do reality TV?
I’ve guest starred on several shows, but I would never do a series all about me and my life. That’s not my thing.
Stopping in New Jersey, Chicago and Indianapolis for Valentine’s Day weekend, click here to see Babyface live!
Photo credit: Randee St Nicholas