From ‘Waiting to Exhale’ to the Weeknd: Babyface on 20 Years of R&B
On the one hand, it’s impossible to imagine what it would be like to live Babyface‘s life. Kenny Edmonds is, after all, the songwriter-producer who defined Nineties R&B; besides scoring his own mega-selling solo albums, Edmonds crafted hits for Boyz II Men, TLC and Bobby Brown that would become ingrained in the minds of anyone old enough to own a Discman.
Babyface has worked with pop royalty, from Michael Jackson to Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston to Carole King. In 1994, Madonna told Rolling Stone that his songs were like Rolls-Royces: “The design is classic,” she said, “the ride is smooth, and they’re built to last.”
And Babyface, originally nicknamed by Bootsy Collins, remains relevant. He kicked off this year duetting with Ariana Grande at a Grammy tribute to Stevie Wonder — he produced the star’s 2013 debut, Yours Truly — and was credited by Nathan Sykes as having helped the ex-Wanted heartthrob write the most emotional song he’s ever written.
But on the other hand, it is possible to imagine the Babyface lifestyle, because Edmonds is so humble in person. “You don’t walk around saying, ‘I’m a Grammy winner,'” he shrugs. (For the record, Babyface has won 11 Grammys.) “It’s just one of those things where you appreciate [success] as it happens, and then you get back to work.”
Edmonds has a lot to be pleased about right now. He’s about to receive the Soul Train Legend award; his new solo album, Return of the Tender Lover, is out December 4th; and December also marks the 20th anniversary of Waiting to Exhale, a film that’s best remembered for its multi-platinum Babyface-produced soundtrack.
Here, the veteran artist reveals his thoughts on current R&B stars like the Weeknd and Sam Smith, recalls working Whitney Houston on the Exhale soundtrack and tells us why women are more interested in love than men.
Congrats on the Soul Train award.
Thank you! It’s 25 years since I got my first Soul Train award — it was Album of the Year for Tender Lover. I was shocked. It was not something I expected at all, so I never had an acceptance speech; I forgot everyone’s names. It was surreal at the time, and I think throughout it all, being not so much a reluctant artist but a reluctant star — when things happen, you appreciate it, but you don’t fall for the hype and think that it’s you.
Does working behind the scenes helps you keep balanced in that respect?
I think it’s just who I am, because I know plenty of producers that are on all different pages — that’s just what they do, it’s part of their personalities. Not to say that’s a negative. Especially today with social media, the louder you are — and if you’re the right kind of loud — then that can turn into money for you. So, it depends.