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Babyface Gets Grown

R&B singer/producer celebrates mature relationships on his latest album

August 16, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds -- who's produced and written songs for Celine Dion, TLC, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Eric Clapton, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton, to name a few -- says his first release in four years, Grown and Sexy, is about maturing.

"Embracing who you are and your life experiences along with all the things you've learned, all the mistakes that you've made and learning from them -- that's very sexy to me," he says. "I think that's far sexier than someone walking around flossing how much ice they have."

Babyface believes the follow-up to 2001's Face2Face has recaptured the feel of his earlier releases, celebrating love and relationships as on the track "Good to Be in Love": "In the end at least you got someone/ Ain't it good to know that it's good to be in love." "The one thing that I did want to capture from the older records was the emotion that were in some of the older songs," he says. "On the last record I may have been concentrating on going in a new direction, but I wasn't capturing the passion and the emotion."

Grown and Sexy, though it debuted at Number Ten, hasn't quite conquered the charts, falling to Thirty-Four in its second week. But Face, who has 119 Top Ten pop and R&B hits under his belt, claims he doesn't pay attention to the numbers. "The chart stuff is cool but I guess I'm not a bragger. What's most important to me is whether people like the music."

With both his own work and the tracks of artists he produced hits for in the Nineties, Babyface believes time is the true test of a great song. "It's like wines: they have to mature to become fine," he says. "[My older music] used to seem dated, but now it's becoming like today's new Old School. I'm starting to get a lot of calls of people wanting sample clearances, and that's a cool thing. So when I hear Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Tevin Campbell, Toni Braxton or TLC, all the things that I've done, they now feel that much better to me. For a good while I wouldn't listen to those, but now I can appreciate them."

He credits those Nineties chart-climbers to his growth as an artist. "I'm always open to working with other people so I can learn more things and kind of add to my dictionary. That's the joy of it." Topping the forty-seven-year-old producer's list of meaningful creative collaborations are Stevie Wonder, and a recent session with Paul McCartney for a Maurice Gibb tribute album. "We did a remake of 'Too Much Heaven,' and I had the pleasure of going to London and recording with him in his studio. It was incredible -- I'm a major Beatles fan!"

While Babyface will head into the studio with artists from Philadelphia neo-soul singer Musiq to Rod Stewart, he also plans to make time for a tour later in the fall.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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