The moment Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds steps out of his shiny silver Range Rover and strolls into his new studio in central Hollywood, there’s no denying that everything about him is kind of cool.
The way he walks is cool — slow strides with just a hint of that ‘70s pimp step. The way he blushes when talking about himself — something he doesn’t like to do — is cool, too. The guitars that line the walls of the hallways leading to his sound booths are really, really cool; as are the gold and platinum records, signs of his success as a singer, songwriter and producer.
And the fact that Edmonds — someone who has the rep of being notoriously shy — was totally forthcoming about his recent divorce, his success, the risks he took in recording his new CD that drops on Sept. 18 — was totally cool as well.
“Playlist,” Edmonds’ ninth solo album and the first for Island Records, is not your typical let’s-put-the-Babyface-CD-on-and-see-what-happens-nine-months-later kind of groove. Rather, it’s the 10-time Grammy winner’s personal tribute to the songs he knew and loved as a kid. The songs he used to sneak out of church to go listen to on the car radio. It includes eight cover tracks and two original songs.
Among the oldies but still goodies are: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Please Come to Boston,” “Diary,” “Time in a Bottle,” “Fire & Rain,” “Shower the People,” “Longer” and “Wonderful Tonight.”
“Those are the songs of my childhood, you know? And those are the songs that would like kinda hit me,” Edmonds said in a voice so soft that it was hard to hear him. “Those are the ones I kind, you know, grew into.
“But I wanted to make a really honest record at the same time. I didn’t just want to just say I’m going to do a record of covers. I think for me the process of doing this record was inspiring because it was like revisiting music and being a musician and learning some of these chord changes that I hadn’t really studied before.”
Babyface gets personalThe other two tracks on “Playlist” are personal. “The Soldier Song” is Edmonds’ homage to the men and women fighting in Iraq, and “Not Going Anywhere” was written especially for Edmonds’ oldest son Brandon, because of the difficulty Brandon was having adjusting to his parents’ divorce. Edmonds was married to film and TV producer Tracey Edmonds for 15 years. Their divorce was finalized last spring and Tracey is now engaged to Eddie Murphy.
“It’s been hard for my son and it’s still not real easy,” said Edmonds, who also has a younger son named Dylan. “But the one thing he’s got going for him is that Tracey and I are like really good together. You know, we’re really cool and hopefully it’ll help the process since she’s now engaged to Eddie Murphy.
“I just needed Brandon to know that his dad wasn’t going anywhere.”
“Not Going Anywhere” is actually one of the best tunes on the CD and exemplifies the essence of Edmonds who is at his best when he’s writing about personal situations. When it comes to love songs, he’s a true master.
“Well, I think that every now and then, if you can, you can beam in on that emotion and if you can put it on a record and it’s real, then people can just feel it and they can see it,” Edmonds said. “And we’re not any different from each other. Everybody goes through the same emotions.”
Additionally, it has often been said that Edmonds and/or his music, is personally responsible for about half of the babies born worldwide in the past two decades.
“I don’t know that for a fact,” Edmonds said with a slight grin. “I heard that but I think I didn’t have that much to do with it (laughs)! It’s a cool compliment, but I don’t take that stuff too seriously.”
Still in awe of his heroesEdmonds doesn’t take himself too seriously either. Even though he’s on par with Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Lionel Richie as a songwriter, the Indianapolis native is not overtly enamored with his own skills and success. Wonder, McCartney, Michael Jackson, Prince and Bruce Springsteen are the dudes he looks up to.
“I don’t think about my success,” Edmonds said quietly. “It’s hard to measure success. And I’m in a business where I work with people who are far more — in other ways — far more successful. They make a lot more money, they’re more famous — you know more of a celebrity. So, for me to ever like have an ego or anything like that… You know I can go into the studio and somebody might put me in my place and say, ‘You ain’t that large.’”
According to some of his fans, however, he is.
“He’s a genius,” said Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx. “He’s just one of those cats who always keep you in the flow musically.”
Actress Vivica A. Fox concurred.
“Who doesn’t love a Babyface song?” she said. “Come on now. He’s a master musician. He writes timeless songs that you’ll still be listening to 20, 50, 100 years from now.”
But it’s not just about him. Edmonds, who has been writing songs since the sixth grade, has penned and/or produced hits for artists such as Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, Madonna, Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Katharine McPhee, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Williams, Celine Dion, Phil Collins and countless others.
“I like doing what I do,” Edmonds said. “I like being a musician. That’s the coolest part, being a producer and writing but on top of that it’s all a part of being a musician. I think that’s the coolest.”