Babyface all grown up in the game!
David Goodson | 11/13/2015, 1:03 p.m.
Nov. 29 at 8 p.m., when the hippest trip in America pulls into the last station, marked for “Legends,” exiting the transport this year will be Kenneth Edmonds.
His arrival at this destination was some 30 years in the making, a relatively short period, but his body of work can be marked now as timeless, thus making his coronation just. Edmonds, professionally known by his moniker, Babyface, was the recipient of the Legend Award at the Soul Train Awards taping this past weekend, held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
In accepting the trophy from longtime friend and business associate Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Babyface recalled how he felt when he received his first Soul Train Award 25 years prior in 1994 for the R&B Album of the Year, Male, with the album “For the Cool in You.” That year in particular also saw wins in the categories of R&B Album of the Year, Female: Toni Braxton, “Toni Braxton,” and Best R&B Single, Male: Tevin Campbell, “Can We Talk,” thus affirming that as a performer, producer and songwriter, he was at the top of the game.
Soul Train’s acknowledgement of that run, later augmented by the 1997 Sammy Davis Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year, albeit a little late, helped crystalize what Babyface was to music in the 1990s.
The journey began professionally with a group signed to SOLAR Records, a label founded by Dick Griffey and “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius, called the Deele. The group had moderate success with their first two albums, “Street Beat” (1983) and “Material Thangz” (1985), but hidden away were gems like “Just My Luck” and “Sweet November” on the respective projects—both compositions of Edmonds. 1983 also was the year of the song by Midnight Star called “Slow Jams.” These works, plus group politics, brought the inevitable to light.
Recalling a discussion with Griffey, Babyface told the LA Times, “He was responsible for getting my voice on the record. He said, ‘If they don’t want you to sing all the time, you should be doing your own thing.’ That’s how I ended up recording my own album.” That debut album, called “Lovers,” recorded while the group was between projects, while not an out-of-the-box smash, featured selections such as “Faithful,” “Chivalry” and “I Love You Babe” and gave significant hints of what was to come. The last Deele album that he was associated with, “Eyes of a Stranger,” gave birth to the group’s biggest hit, “Two Occasions.” It was also the signal to cut ties. It was time to embark on the Babyface era.
The first order of business was the establishment of the now iconic label, LaFace Records, with fellow group member L.A. Reid. Describing the label with the term “iconic” is a suitable adjective, as it served as the springboard label for TLC, Toni Braxton, Usher, Outkast, the Goodie Mob, Donnell Jones, T.I., Pink and lesser known talents such as Sam Salter, Az Yet and 1 Life 2 Live. The label also served as home for landmark soundtracks for the films “Boomerang,” “Soul Food” and “Shaft.” Within that time span, the list of artists that had songs written and/or produced by Babyface are too numerous to list—look to the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack as an example, as he produced and wrote the album in its entirety—and saw him haul in Grammy Awards for Producer of the Year for three consecutive years from to 1995 to 1997.
Back to “Soul Train.” In 2007, with the Stevie Wonder Award for Outstanding Achievement in Songwriting, the signal was given that maybe he wasn’t just a hot flash in the pan-type, but a great composer of R&B and soul music. That was confirmed once more with the aforementioned Legends Awards at the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards. The musical tribute is the highlight of the night. Trust. Tell you more about the show later.
Over and out. Got a plane to catch. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.