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Babyface, 'Grown And Sexy'

ED GORDON, host:

Few artists have set the musical tone for a decade the way Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds did in the 1990s.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KENNETH "BABYFACE" EDMONDS: (Singing) People think they know me, working all day.

GORDON: With songs like "Whip Appeal," Babyface made a name for himself as one of music's best interpreters of a love song. Edmonds extended his creative reach, producing and writing hits for R&B rock and pop musicians. You probably remember this one by Johnny Gill...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNNY GILL: (Singing) You got me saying my, my, my, my, my, my, my, you sure look good tonight.

GORDON: ...or this from Eric Clapton.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ERIC CLAPTON: (Singing) I can change the world...

GORDON: His list of hits goes on and on. Combined, they helped form the soundtrack for the 1990s.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Now Edmonds is back with a new CD, "Grown & Sexy."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) Baby, I've been waiting on you forever. I'm not gonna (unintelligible) baby.

GORDON: While he's tailored his grooves for this decade, he didn't compromise the classic Babyface sound.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) We've got to make love tonight...

It was important that I felt like I stayed true to myself as an artist and didn't go somewhere where it felt uncomfortable, because I, too, as some fans might look at me about doing certain songs, they might say, `Oh, you shouldn't be doing that. That's not your vibe.' And I don't like the necessary pigeonhole, but I like singing about love songs or broken hearts and all that kind of stuff. So drama, love and relationships, that's my thing. But I knew that if I was going to do that, I had to package it differently, because when people come up to me and say, `You've got to write another "Whip Appeal,"' you know, and if I wrote "Whip Appeal" today just like it is, it wouldn't work the same. People hear differently, and the music is different and so it's like the one thing I felt like I needed to get out of it was the thing that makes "Whip Appeal" or any of the songs from the past that I've done--it's all about the emotion and the passion.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) God must love you, I said to myself, 'cause you're more beautiful than anybody else.

GORDON: To a great degree, modesty aside, you really, musically, owned the '90s. You had a whole lot of number one hits, and interestingly, you crossed genres. You went from pop to rock to R&B. What is it about music--because when you do that, I suspect you are a music lover, not necessarily a soul lover, not an R&B lover, but...

Mr. EDMONDS: Right.

GORDON: ...a music lover. Were you always that?

Mr. EDMONDS: Yeah. A musician is kind of like what it comes down to, and a musician should be able to play more than one kind of music. You know, you should appreciate all music, and for me growing up, you know, I went to church with my mom and then I'd sneak out of the church and go and listen to the radio station, AM station, so it would be like the rock stuff that was on the soul station. It was all gospel music, so I already got that inside the church, so when I would sit inside of my mom's car on Sunday, I would listen to The Beatles, I'd listen to Elton John or Jimi Hendrix, and I would love it. I just would love music.

GORDON: But now that you look back--and you span now decades--was this something that you ever envisioned that you would have this kind of career, this longevity?

Mr. EDMONDS: Not at all. I'm not sure exactly what I envisioned in the beginning. I can remember being in a young group in like eighth and ninth grade and we used to bet each other. There's a car coming down the street, and if you don't make it to the corner by the time this car gets here, that means you're never going to make it. And so we'd run like crazy trying to make sure we would make it one day. But we didn't know what making it really meant at that time. For me, I just kind of pushed at what just seemed to come natural and it was just music and writing songs from a very early age that it just kind of stayed with me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) One, because I'm grown and I'm sexy. Two, because I know much more. Three, you know I got what you're missing. (Unintelligible) for my number four. Five...

GORDON: You know what I find interesting about the title, the idea of grown and sexy, sometimes the industry doesn't allow you to connect those things.


GORDON: It's almost, if you're past 25, you can't be any of those things.

Mr. EDMONDS: Exactly.

GORDON: You have personified that for a long time. Was that also a statement to say, `Look, you know, you can be past 30 and still have it going on'?

Mr. EDMONDS: Definitely. No question. It's more--I think I should retitle it "Grown is Sexy," because the reality is, you know, when people 30-something, 40-something, 50-something, they embrace who they are, embrace their age, and because the truth is, it's, like, it could and should be the best time of their lives. The reality is if you embrace your life and enjoy it, that becomes very sexy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) God knows I don't mean to give it to you, so, girl, I'm sorry for the stupid things I wish I didn't do, but I do.

GORDON: How do you take drama? You mentioned that being a key component to a lot of what you write, but what's interesting I think of "Sorry for the Stupid Things"...


GORDON: ...on the latest. But I think of many of the songs that you've written over the years tell a story. They have drama. Yet, it doesn't lend itself to the kind of whimsical drama that we hear from a lot of songs or something that is a little bit over the top or, you know, the guy's just straight dog...

Mr. EDMONDS: Right.

GORDON: ...and the whole nine--how do you meld that middle of the road drama to make it real and believable?

Mr. EDMONDS: Make it a real-life situation where it's not your story but it's everyone's story. There are people that certainly write music that's very autobiographical, and when you do that, you do limit a lot of people. They can't share the same story with you. So you do have to keep pretty general, I think, in order to reach other people, so it can become their story and you ultimately, you know, through your works, you build kind of a soundtrack for people's lives, and that's kind of like why I kind of pulled back a little bit because I wasn't, you know, really happy with where I think music was going and where it's been, and I needed time to sit back and figure out how do I fit in this picture and how do I pull what I do and pull a little bit of the new and make it make sense for me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) Man, it's all about drama and love and relationships, and when the going gets tough, you deal with it, and you don't ever, you never walk away from it. You hold on...

GORDON: When you look back at everything, is there a particular song that you'd like to point to and say--maybe not your favorite song, maybe--but that's what Babyface is?


GORDON: Not Kenny, but that's Babyface.

Mr. EDMONDS: That's interesting. That is a really interesting question. I think the difficulty in answering that is because I've done so many songs for other people that part of my identity is with them as well, and going from so many different people, it's kind of hard to put one thing. I know if that was asked to some people, `Who is Babyface?' some people would go, `"Whip Appeal,"' you know? I'll just be happy that pieces of me were spread a little bit everywhere.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) Ain't about your pride, ain't about your pride, ain't about yourself, ain't about yourself, it's about the two of you and no one else and no one else. Ain't about the...

GORDON: Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. His new CD, "Grown & Sexy," is in stores right now.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) It's about the love that's supposed to last and never die. It's all about drama and love, relationships. Oh, baby, baby. And when the going gets tough--oh--you deal with it. You deal with it. And you can never, you'll never walk away from it. You hold on.

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDMONDS: (Singing) If you're somebody ...(unintelligible) baby. Don't let nobody...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.