Kenny (Babyface) Edmonds shows little emotion as he sits in a Century City office and confirms for the first time publicly the breakup of what is arguably the hottest pop-soul writing-production team of the past decade.
“Yeah, you might say it’s the end for us,” he says, in response to a question about his partnership with Antonio (L.A.) Reid that resulted in such hits as Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and Boyz II Men’s phenomenally successful “End of the Road.”
Speaking guardedly, he adds, “the details of the settlement are being worked out.”
Clearly, Edmonds would rather talk about his new solo album, “For the Cool in You,” a collection of romantic ballads that’s hit the Top 20, than be grilled about the split--a hot industry topic since rumors surfaced in early July.
The breakup was sudden to some because there had been no outward signs of trouble. After a bit of a slump in the early ‘90s, the team, billed as L.A. Reid & Babyface, was on a hot streak again, beginning with last year’s “Boomerang” soundtrack and Houston’s “Queen of the Night” on the soundtrack from “The Bodyguard.” Last February, they shared producer of the year honors with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at the Grammys.
In addition, the pair wrote and produced Toni Braxton’s first album, which is in the national Top 20. It was released by the team’s Atlanta-based LaFace Records, which has on its fall schedule the R & B/rap group TLC’s follow-up to last year’s hit debut.
Reid has refused to comment on his relationship with the soft-spoken, extremely shy Edmonds, who may continue some business ties with his former partner.
“Just because we’re not working together as a creative team, that doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we have together,” Edmonds, 35, points out. “For instance, the record company can still function if we’re not a creative team. All this is being worked out now.”
Asked about the differences that led to the split, Edmonds would only say, “L.A. was more involved in the financial side of our affairs than I was. I was much more into the creative side and had more to do with that part of it. That’s the way I am. Maybe I should have looked more into the business side--I can’t say. But I’m where I am because of what I’ve done creatively. That arrangement worked for years--but nothing is forever.”
“There’s always some sadness in something like this, but I can’t say that I’m sorry that at least part of the partnership is finished,” he says.
Edmonds and Reid’s partnership started in the early ‘80s while they were members B group called the Deele. “We had a mutual respect for each other’s talents and we got along well,” says Edmonds, an Indianapolis native who can trace his devotion to music back to a Jackson 5 concert he saw in elementary school.
Edmonds joined the Deele as a guitarist, but soon began working with Reid as producer-writers of its albums. Eventually, they realized their future was in independent production. Their big break came in 1987 when they wrote and produced the Whispers’ hit “Rock Steady,” which lead to jobs with Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul and Pebbles.
“When we were working together this strong chemistry carried us along,” Edmonds recalls wistfully. “It was something you can’t explain. We complemented each other, filling in the blanks in each other’s creative process. That was fun. I’ll always remember that part.”
But now Edmonds is moving on, shifting focus to his crooning career, which has enormous potential. After a failed first album in 1987, his second--a 1989 collection of dreamy, soul-drenched pop ballads titled “Tender Lover” on Epic Records--sold 2 1/2 million copies, even without the support of live shows.
This time, Edmonds may tour. But that doesn’t mean he’s going all-out to be a performer.
In his soft monotone, he admits, “I’m not a star-type. I’ll do it to a point, but I love the behind-the-scenes part too much.”