Babyface: The Man Within

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds is a soft-spoken man. You have to press your ear into the receiver to hear his whisper, yet when he’s belting out his hits on stage he seems to be a completely different person. While being timid is part of his persona, being a smooth operator on stage is part of his alter ego—and we all know the ladies like to see a little of both.

Babyface began his musical journey writing songs, playing gigs with the likes of Bootsy Collins while he was still a teenager, and eventually joined with the funk group Manchild. He went on to join R&B group The Deele, teaming him with Antonio “L.A.” Reid [now the President of Island Def Jam]. Together Babyface and L.A. wrote and produced hits for the group like “Two Occasions” and “Shoot Em Up Movies”. They also wrote great songs for other artists, including Pebbles {“Girlfriend] and the Whispers [“Rock Steady”]. As the popularity of The Deele began to quiet, Babyface signed a solo deal and released his debut album Lovers in 1987. With a growing reputation as a top notch production team, L.A. and Babyface founded LaFace Records in 1989.

Over the years, Babyface had his hand in penning and producing hits for the likes of Bobby Brown, Sheen Easton, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, TLC, Toni Braxton, Usher, and Outkast – just to name a few. He was responsible for one of the longest-running number one songs in pop history - “End of the Road” performed by Boyz II Men.

With a career spanning two decades, Babyface is a man of few words, but he still seems to have that whip appeal on his new album Grown & Sexy. Alternatives caught up with him recently to discuss music, the new album, and a bit of industry politics. Alternatives: A question that everyone seems to be wondering about is: Do you

still have an investment in LaFace Records even though it’s pretty much defunct?

Babyface: We sold LaFace to BMG in its totality.

AHHA: So that means you don’t see any residuals for the projects you put out in the past like TLC, Usher, Toni Braxton … projects you produced or executive produced?

Babyface: No, everything was sold.

AHHA: I noticed L.A. Reid wasn’t at your recent listening event at the W Hotel in New York. There was news that after you were released from Arista, your relationship with L.A. had turned sour due to creative differences. How is your relationship with him now?

Babyface: Well, L.A. wasn’t at the W because he was on vacation, but our friendship is cool.

AHHA: I’ve been talking to a few people and we’ve been discussing how R&B music is somewhat disappointing primarily because there is a war going on, massive hunger and genocide, and all R&B artists seem to do is sing about love. How many different ways can one sing about love? I think the topic has been so overly exhausted. No even the artists you’d expect like

Alicia Keys and Musiq are tackling these issues. Where is the Marvin Gaye of our time, or better yet, do you think artists should sing about these things as they undoubtedly have the public’s ear?

Babyface: I don’t think people want another “We Are the World” song. I think Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” a hit because it had a catchy melody.

AHHA: So you’re saying the message was irrelevant?

Babyface: No, of course not. I’m just saying that the lyrics complimented the music really well. I mean, let’s face it, music is an escape and people just don’t want to be preached to. They don’t want to be schooled. They want to forget about the pain that life brings.

AHHA: Well, love is painful, and how many times do we hear songs about break-ups and heartache?

Babyface: This is true, but for some reason they don’t seem to carry the same weight. An artist that can really pull something like that off, singing about politics and really getting the people’s attention is D’Angelo.

AHHA: Obviously, you’ve had a long career. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Babyface: Luck and being blessed to have the opportunity to do songs with new artists like The Neptunes [“There She Goes”].

AHHA: What challenges do you face as an older R&B singer in a market filled with young blood … Do you feel like you have to go after a certain demographic now?

Babyface: Fortunately, I have an audience that has grown with me. I sing to the baby boomers and adults who grew up with R&B of the ‘80s. The people that listen to me still remember Jodeci and Johnny Gill, people who listen to classic R&B.

AHHA: Who would you like to collaborate with now whom you’ve never worked with before?

Babyface: I’ve hit all my dream-come-true artists. I’d like to work with Sting, as well as do some acoustic Soul stuff, Country and some Jazz.

AHHA: I know you’ve also been heavily into television production. What’s next for you on that end?

Babyface: Well, we’re going into the third season of College Hill on BET.

AHHA: So what’s the major difference between Babyface now, and say, the Babyface of five years ago?

Babyface: I’m grown and sexier.