Babyface on Current R&B: "We've Gone for the Trend... Just Keep Giving the Same Thing"
Now 53, Kenneth Edmonds is working on a new album by Aretha Franklin. And this weekend, he'll be headlining the Jazz in the Gardens festival, alongside Ne-Yo, New Edition, Charlie Wilson, Monica, and Earth Wind & Fire.
So we spoke with Mr. Babyface about being named by Bootsy Collins, as well as Trey Songz, Chris Brown, Frank Ocean, and the current state of R&B.
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Crossfade: Was Bootsy Collins really the first one to call you "Babyface"? That's like being nicknamed by the God of Funk.
Kenneth Edmonds: This is true. [laughs] It was an honor.
How did you finally get the handle?
Sometime between 1984 and '85, our band, the Deele, was between albums. And in the meantime, we were going around helping out with doing demos. So we got into the studio with Bootsy in Cincinnati. He would always grab new talent, mess around with them, and see if he could come up with something. And that's kind of what was going down.
I wasn't really that involved. I was just one of the guys in the band. But one day when I walked into the studio, Bootsy, out of nowhere, yelled, "Yo! What's up, Babyface?" And everybody started cracking up. It was a joke. So I didn't like it.
Back on the road with the Deele, Dee [Darnell Bristol] would introduce me and say, "That was Kenny Edmonds! Give it up for Kenny Edmonds!" And everybody would be like, "OK." But then one night, he decided to pull a joke on me. So after I finished the song, he goes, "Scream for... Babyface!" And after that show, I had a whole collection of girls coming back to find Babyface. And so it stuck.
After 30 years, working with legends like Bootsy and Whitney and Aretha, what do you think of the current scene? From Trey Songz and Chris Brown to Frank Ocean, how would you rate the latest generation?
I think it's getting better. But there was a point in the history of R&B when you could name more than three people. And there just aren't a lot of current artists that you can't use to make comparisons. So the scene has got to grow.
In general, though, music is changing and improving. It happens in different genres too. You've got the Lumineers, which I love. And Fun., which I love. And then Alabama Shakes, which is incredible. These are artists who are coming for real. They're dead serious. Nothing trendy about it. Just straight music. It might be a little old school. But it doesn't matter where it comes from, because it feels good.