At this point in his career, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds has just one thing on his mind: feeling good.
“That’s ultimately what any musician or songwriter does,” declares Babyface. “We try to to make people feel good.”
The 11-time Grammy Award winner channels the magic of his storied career with Return of the Tender Lover (Def Jam, December 4, 2015). Featuring nine new original songs, Babyface’s first solo album in seven years is a nod to his RIAA triple-platinum album Tender Lover. That 1989 definitive breakthrough spun off four R&B/pop crossover hits, including the R&B No. 1’s “It’s No Crime” and “Tender Lover” plus “Whip Appeal” and “My Kinda Girl.”
But while Return of the Tender Lover revolves around love, don’t mistake the album as simply a trip down memory lane or an updated sequel. This latest project introduces a freer, less structured Babyface putting his stamp on a contemporary sound he describes as “unapologetic R&B.” The door was opened to this next phase with the critical and commercial response to his and Toni Braxton’s 2014 Grammy-winning album, Love, Marriage & Divorce. And also the influence of such live show stalwarts as Charlie Wilson and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
“This is a left turn for me, not a traditional Babyface record,” explains the singer/songwriter/producer/entrepreneur. “After the reaction to my project with Toni, I was ready to go deeper into doing whatever I wanted to do instead of trying to make today’s R&B. My songs have always been more structured rather than grooves to a melody. The latter is something I picked up while on the road with Charlie Wilson and Frankie Beverly. I saw and studied how their feel-good onstage is about getting people to feel the music right with you. That’s the kind of groove I wanted to bring to this process.”
He does just that on lead single “We’ve Got Love,” a vibrant global message about love. Babyface’s mellow tenor glides exuberantly over a refreshing track that brims with live instrumentation. As one of the first songs recorded, “We’ve Got Love” also doubles as the springboard for the entire project.
“The whole album is obviously based around love, which I’ve always done,” says Babyface. “But I think the positive sense about love has been missing for a minute—at least in terms of it feeling good. That’s why we led with this single. It’s not just a guy/girl song. It’s a song that works for everyone.”
As do the rest of the songs comprising Return of the Tender Lover. The soulful yet sophisticated mid-tempo “Exceptional,” the bright and breezy “Walking on Air” featuring El DeBarge and the sumptuous ballad “Our Love” quintessentially capture the newer grooves percolating throughout the album. On the upbeat declaration of love, “I Want You,” Babyface reunites with After 7, the R&B group comprised of his brothers Melvin and Kevon Edmonds.
“This wasn’t about the 808s or other sounds people are using today,” says Babyface. “It was about live music, musicians playing off each other to help create magic. The one thing about Tender Lover was its honesty about feeling emotion and love. But I wasn’t trying to redo the album. I just wanted Return to Tender Lover to carry that same organic honesty melodically and lyrically without sounding like 1990. That was the real trick. And I got lucky.”
Jamming alongside multi-instrumentalist Babyface, who plays on every track, are his touring band and special guests keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson) and bassist Nathan East (Quincy Jones, Daft Punk). On the lyric front, Babyface collaborated with longtime creative colleague Daryl Simmons and fellow writer/producer Kameron Glasper.
Music has always come first for Babyface. It’s the backbone of an award-winning, multi-faceted pop/urban career that includes the consecutive multi-platinum landmark albums Tender Lover, For the Cool in You (including such signature hits as “Never Keeping Secrets” and “When Can I See You”) and The Day (“Every Time I Close My Eyes”). As co-founder with L.A. Reid of LaFace Records in 1989, Babyface nurtured the careers of such megastars as TLC, OutKast, Usher and Toni Braxton.
Paralleling those achievements is Babyface’s extensive songwriting and production credits from the ‘90s forward. He has produced and written/co-written hits for everyone from Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson to Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, P!nk and Beyoncé, among countless others. That hit list boasts such smashes as Madonna’s “Take a Bow,” Clapton’s “Change the World” and Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You.” His most recent productions include collaborations with Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Ledisi, Colbie Caillat, Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande.
The prolific music man counts more than 125 top 10 R&B and pop hits, 42 R&B No. 1 hits and 51 top 10 pop hits (including 16 No. 1’s). In turn, those stats have generated cumulative single and album sales of more than 500 million units worldwide. And that’s not counting the numerous awards that Babyface has received. A triumphant first tour of South Africa with Braxton this year yielded a double-platinum award for the duo’s Love, Marriage & Divorce (featuring the urban AC No. 1 “Hurt You”). This brought Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds his 11th Grammy with this year’s win for best R&B album. That latest accolade joins a host of other honors, including the Soul Train Music Awards, BMI Awards, NAACP Image Awards, American Music Awards and BET Walk of Fame Award.
Music isn’t the only way that Babyface gives back. The passionate philanthropist is very active in supporting Carousel of Hope, which benefits the Children’s Diabetes Foundation and Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, and Larry Ruvo’s “Keep Memory Alive,” committed to improving the lives of patients and their families facing the challenges of brain disorders. He has performed at several fund-raising events on behalf of FasterCures and personally donates generously to VH-1 Save the Music. In addition to contributing to other worthwhile organizations, including the United Negro College Fund, Babyface is a former national spokesman for Boarder Babies and helped raise more than $500,000 for a transitional home, The Little Blue House, in Washington, D.C. He is also a dedicated supporter of the David Foster Foundation for organ transplant patients and the Mike Milken Prostate Cancer Foundation.
The hallmark of a true artist is the ability to reinvent yourself and still sustain the intrinsic essence of who you are. Babyface gives fans the real deal and more on Return to Tender Lover. He also hints at more feel-good grooves to come. “This project has re-opened a door for me creatively,” says Babyface. “It’s been fun, cool … I’d like to stay in this pocket and do more.”