Babyface - Biography

By Marcus Kagler

The small city of Indianapolis, Indiana is probably best known as home to Super Bowl champions The Colts and their ever-popular American football franchise. Yet a 25 mile stretch of Interstate 65 that runs through the city isn’t named after The Colts uber-famous quarterback Payton Manning, it’s named after Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Granted, the highway was christened in 1999, well before Manning became the city’s superstar, but nonetheless, entire highways aren’t just named after anybody. By the year 1999, Babyface had established himself as an unstoppable force, not only within the music business, but also within just about every facet of the entertainment industry. He lent his savvy business sense, prolific songwriting skills, and production work to big name artists like Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Boyz II Men, but the quiet storm crooner also made quite a name for himself throughout the 90’s with his own string of urban contemporary radio hits. When the definitive history of soul music is written, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds will probably be best remembered for breathing new life into a smooth soul genre left stale, predictable, and nearly lifeless by the end of the 80’s. Babyface, arguably, rejuvenated R&B in the early 90’s by going back to basics: strong soulful melodies, tear-stained ballads, and smooth vocal harmonies. His influence on the evolution of soul even spread to a younger generation of acts signed to his lucrative LaFace label, which released high profile albums by neo-soul acts like Toni Braxton and TLC. Today neo-soul has enjoyed a prolific renaissance, with artists all over the globe going back to the basics laid down by the legends of the 60’s with massive success. But it was Babyface who kept the spirit of soul music alive a generation earlier, and he remains one of the most respected artists within the genre.

Kenneth Brian Edmonds was born on April, 10, 1958 in Indianapolis, the fifth of six brothers. Edmonds combated debilitating shyness as a high school student by dabbling in songwriting. Still in his teens, Edmunds secured a short-lived stint playing with funk icon Bootsy Collins, who first dubbed the young musician “Babyface” on account of his boyish appearance. In 1977, Babyface joined the disco-soul group Manchild, who enjoyed minor chart success with the single, “Especially for You.” The group was short-lived and Babyface entered the 80’s as a member of the funky R&B outfit The Deele, where he met longtime business/songwriting partner L.A. Reid (born Mark Rooney). The Deele released albums throughout the decade despite lackluster success, and by the late-80’s, Babyface and Reid began making a name for themselves as a successful songwriting team for bigger name artists like Pebbles and The Whispers. The Deele went on indefinite hiatus in 1988 when Babyface and Reid turned their attention toward their fledgling R&B label, LaFace Records. Characterized by Babyface’s smooth high falsetto croon, his solo debut, Lovers (Sony), was largely ignored upon its release in 1986. In contrast, Tender Lover (1989 Solar/Epic) was a huge commercial success spawning two Top 10 singles, “It’s No Crime” and “Whip Appeal,” eventually going double platinum.

During the next four years Babyface redirected his energy to penning successful hits for Whitney Houston (“I’m Your Baby Tonight”) and Madonna (“Take A Bow”), amongst other. In 1992, Babyface hit a career high with Boyz II Men’s signature track “End of the Road,” which spent a remarkable 13 weeks at the #1 slot on the Billboard Charts, a feat only matched by the King himself, Elvis Presley. Babyface also played an integral role in developing the popular high- energy New Jack Swing genre of the late 80’s, writing songs for genre staples like Bobby Brown and Paula Abdul. Inspired by the New Jack Swing energy, Babyface released the remix album A Closer Look (Solar/Epic) in 1991. During this time LaFace was also taking off, releasing Toni Braxton’s self titled mega hit, Toni Braxton (1993 LaFace), which went platinum 8 times over, TLC’s Ooooooooh....On the TLC Tip (1992 LaFace) and the unstoppable CrazySexyCool (1994 LaFace). Babyface returned to his solo career in 1993 with the triple platinum hit, For the Cool in You (Epic), spawning the hit singles “And Our Feelings,” “For the Cool in You,” and “Never Keeping Secrets.” But it was the intimate acoustic Top 5 hit, “When Can I See You Again” that catapulted solo artist Babyface to superstardom, garnering the vocalist a coveted Grammy for Best R&B Vocal.

In subsequent years, Babyface and the Grammys would become inextricably linked, with Babyface winning three consecutive Grammys for Producer of the Year in 1995, 1996, and 1997, making him one of the most influential and lucrative producers in the world. Not content to be the ruler of contemporary R&B, Babyface turned his attention toward the film industry in the mid-90’s. His first Hollywood soiree was writing, scoring, and producing the soundtrack for Waiting to Exhale, which spawned another Whitney Houston hit with “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).” The following year Babyface co-wrote the hit “Change the World” with Eric Clapton for the John Travolta film Phenomenon, and released his fifth solo full length, The Day (1996 Epic). Packed with high profile guest artists like Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Wonder. The Day was another Top 10 smash, spawning his biggest hit single to date, “Every Time I Close My Eyes.” Babyface continued his Hollywood dalliance by establishing his own production company, Edmonds Production Company, and releasing the moderate hit films Soul Food and Josie and the Pussycats respectively.

Babyface remained relatively quiet in the latter half of the 90’s, only releasing the live album MTV Unplugged NYC 1997 (1997 Epic) and the obligatory holiday release, Christmas with Babyface (1998 Epic). The solo artist fulfilled his contract with Epic Records in 2000 by releasing the greatest hits compilation, A Collection of His Greatest Hits (Epic), choosing to release subsequent solo material on Arista, home to business partner L.A. Reid. After a five year absence, Babyface returned with the exceptionally strong neo-soul effort Face2Face (2001 Arista), which found the quiet storm crooner incorporating subtle elements of funk and hip-hop into his sound. Babyface returned to the smooth acoustic soul sound that made him famous for Grown & Sexy (2005 Arista), his first solo release to break the U.S. Top 10 since The Day nearly a decade earlier. Babyface subsequently switched to the re-vamped Mercury label for Playlist (2007 Mercury), an album of classic rock and folk covers featuring only two original compositions, “The Soldier Song” and “Not Going Nowhere.”












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