Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds is the 11-time Grammy-winning genius behind some of the most iconic R&B songs of the late 1980s and onward. From his own hits, such as "Whip Appeal," to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and "I'll Make Love to You," which he wrote and produced, to production on the Waiting to Exhale and Prince of Egypt soundtracks, he has created the playlist to your love life for more than two decades.
The multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer has penned or produced 125 top R&B and pop hits and was one of the creators of new jack swing in the late '80s. He cofounded LaFace Records in 1989 with L.A. Reid, signing such hitmakers as Usher, Toni Braxton, OutKast, and TLC.
Edmonds has produced and written for icons such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, and Madonna. His most recent Grammy win was for the collaboration album Love, Marriage & Divorce, released in 2014 with Toni Braxton.
Last year, he released his 10th solo studio album, Return of the Tender Lover, which he has called "unapologetic R&B." (But where did the tender lover go?)
Babyface is headed Sunday to the Keswick Theatre in Glenside. I spoke with him before his show in Dallas.
What's a Babyface show like?
It's turning out to be like the soundtrack to people's lives. I produced and wrote a lot of things for people. I go through a medley of songs, and that's become one of the favorite parts of the show. I still don't do everything that I've done, but it still always takes people back.
I'm sure people are always surprised by the number of songs you've had a hand in.
For the most, I'm surprised.
Time has gone by so fast, and there's been so much work that's been done. . . . You don't remember every moment.
What was the last song that made you say "Wow, I did that?"
A concert I'd done in Florida with Dru Hill. They started playing a couple songs, and I thought, "This sounds familiar." And I realized it was two songs I did with them. I had totally forgotten.
That's how you know you're a legend, when you can't even remember all the songs you've played a major role in. How have you seen R&B change?
R&B always changes. It was different in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. It's always changing to whatever the kids are listening to.
So, it will change again. You can't quite put a finger on what it's going to change to. As time has gone by, you really start to appreciate the music created in the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
How would you describe today's sound?
It's a lot of different varieties, so it's hard to put a finger on it. I would say R&B is very connected to hip-hop today, and then you have people that are true to the old-school R&B, like Judith Hill. I think it's nice that the variety is there.
That has a lot of R&B purists concerned.
Hip-hop has become one of the most important genres of music within the last century. It's influenced the world, one can't deny it. R&B has, as well.
In general, when you think of how effective black music is, way back to the blues, to the Motown era, Philadelphia International, our music has influenced the world. R&B is just another piece of it. You can't be such a purist to not acknowledge and try to understand what feels good about it and what makes it work.
Are there any artists out that have gotten your attention?
There isn't one in particular.
I did a concert with Judith Hill, and I heard her for the first time and her voice - what an amazing voice.
We don't have a lot of that today, people who are really soulful and have a certain amount of integrity to their art. It's promising to see a young artist that has that in them. It inspires other artists.
I was listening to some of your music last night, and it got me in my feels. That doesn't always happen for me with R&B now.
Today's R&B is kind of, like, it's emotional, but hard emotion. Not really vulnerable.
Going back to the O'Jays and the Temptations, it was about a man not being afraid to be vulnerable. But you also have someone like Sam Smith, who wears his emotion on his sleeves. We shouldn't be afraid to embrace the world that we created. It takes the right kind of young artist to embrace it again, and you'll see it.
Is that something you think about when you're making music?
I think of life. I look at people. You get inspired by life in itself and remembering when you first fell in love, and you get your heart broken. They don't go away. It's in your DNA.
With your immense success and the longevity of your career, it seems you have the Midas touch. What is the secret?
I've just been very lucky.
You think you've been lucky?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I've been very lucky. I've been blessed, no question. It's not like I know the answer all the time.
All you can do is write something that people can feel and that connects. Sometimes you hit it, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes favorite songs are the ones that didn't become number ones. You never know.
So there's no formula. What are you working on now?
I did the music for this upcoming [BET miniseries about] New Edition with Jimmy [Jam] and Terry [Lewis]. The kids are really talented, and it's going to be very cool.
And I was just in the studio with one of my bucket-list people, Johnny Mathis, which was a lot of fun. When I get off the road, I'll keep working on that. I've been writing a lot and working with a lot of young artists. You can always learn something.
Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds: 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. Tickets: $49.50-$69.50, $52-$72 day of show. Information: 215-572-7650, keswicktheatre.com.