They first sang together on the 1992 R&B/pop hit “Give U My Heart” from the “Boomerang” soundtrack. Now Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds have reunited for the duets album, “Love, Marriage & Divorce” (Motown).
Released today (Feb. 4), the 11-track set delivers a soulful treatise on relationships sensuously narrated by Babyface’s silky tenor and Braxton’s earthy, deep vocals. Their enduring chemistry has already spun off the top 15 R&B hit “Hurt You” and new second single “Where Did We Go Wrong?” Upcoming appearances for the duo include TV’s “Good Morning America” (airing Feb. 7), “Live With Kelly and Michael” (Feb. 7) and “Conan” (Feb. 11), a three-week guest stint together in Broadway’s “After Midnight” (starting March 18) as well as a concert tour later this year.
The duo is also teaming up with lifestyle site Gilt City to offer an exclusive digital download of the album tomorrow (Feb. 6). In addition, Braxton and Babyface will be curating local collections of their favorite businesses, experiences and inspirations in two of their favorite cities: Philadelphia and Atlanta. These will be featured on the Gilt City site and complemented by one-of-a-kind and limited-time offers.
Braxton, who got her start on the L.A. Reid and Babyface-helmed La Face Records, will also publish her memoir, “Unbreak My Heart” (HarperCollins) on May 20. Below, she and Babyface recount their journey through “Love, Marriage & Divorce.”
Billboard: Toni, at one point you said you were done with music. And Babyface, it’s been six years between solo albums for you. What coaxed you both back into the studio?
Babyface: Artists who have done a lot of albums can sometimes get to the point where doing songs becomes more about making sure you can get a hit single. And in that process you can you’re your love of doing music that just comes out naturally. Every artist gets caught up in that at some point. Then you find yourself being a little gun shy; worried about people’s opinions. You get tired of the game. It’s not fun.
So I got it when Toni said she was tired of it. But at the same time you owe it to your fans as well as to yourself to push beyond those feelings because you were given a gift. When you can touch people, you just don’t give up on it.
That’s what our goal was when we sat down again. Let’s go back into the studio, figure out what to say and do it in a way where it’s fun and feels good. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We could have gone after it and nothing could have happened. But it was the opposite. It clicked immediately.
Braxton: Kenny has been showing me how to stop thinking like an artist and just be who I am. He told me just sing the song and enjoy it. Don’t think just about the commercial part of being the artist. Think about the artist who loves painting by himself and draws this beautiful portrait. That’s how you have to think of music now. You forgot.
I would always try to get a Kenny song on all of my projects. But this is the first time we’ve worked together in a while. He’s my husband, really … my musical husband. We broke up and got back together.
Wasn’t it rumored early on that this would be a covers album?
Braxton: We talked about a lot of different ideas, including incorporating some covers and doing original duets. Pretty much for me I was moving in the dark, feeling my way around. But Kenny was guiding me through it.
Babyface: Covers … that would have been kind of predictable.
Braxton: At one point as we were talking about the project, Kenny said, “OK, Toni. Something’s going on. You’re not in a good space. Talk to me.” When I started talking to him about my life, where I was personally with my divorce, he said I needed to talk about it, to make this therapeutic. Then he came up with this concept.
And you both co-wrote the songs?
Braxton: Yes. Sometimes it was hard, I can’t deny it. He’s played songs and I’ve said, Kenny that’s a great song, that’s it. And he’ll say it’s not quite right yet. So he’s been helping me become disciplined in my artistry because I forgot how to do that.
But I’m also coming from a lady’s perspective and he’s coming from a guy’s. So sometimes we bumped heads creatively, of course. I’m like no, that’s not how women think. I’m sorry, Kenny, you have to have a vagina to understand that. That’s a penis way of talking [they both laugh]. We think differently, and that’s great. But it comes together. We complement each other well.
Babyface: Before, it was Toni, this is what we’re going to do. You sing it and we go. This was far more than that. Toni has grown a lot and had a lot more to offer in terms of writing and debating what the lyrics should or shouldn’t be and the structure of the songs. She gave her opinion and I rode with it. It helped tremendously.
What was your reaction when you first heard “Hurt You” on the radio?
Braxton: That was one of the first songs we wrote and recorded. When it came out, I’m like what’s it going to do the first week, the second week? I began thinking like a commercial artist again. But I learned when I first signed with Babyface and L.A.—and am learning [again ]—that it’s much more than just wanting to sing. You’ve got to feel the emotion in order to narrate the story and reach people. Since I’ve stopped thinking about it so much, it’s all been coming back to me.
Babyface: We’ve gone back and forth on some ideas. But I’ve let this be Toni’s record. Every key is her key …
Braxton: Yes, thank goodness.
Babyface: That’s why I’m talking like this [lapses into a deep voice as they both laugh]. But from the moment she sang her first note and everybody in the room heard her voice, we’re like “Oh, my God. There it is. We missed it.” It sent chills down our spines. The excitement was there from that first song. It was “We’re in the zone. It’s going to be OK. We just have to write a lot more songs.”
This could have been an anger-fueled missive a la Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear.” But the album is a balanced look at relationships.
Babyface: interestingly enough, we both have great relationships with our exes. Going through divorce can be rough, but you’ve got to get by.
Braxton: My divorce wasn’t final when Babyface and I were working together. Because I was angry and hurt, there were still some I-hate-you moments for me. But they were short-lived.
Babyface: We were going back and forth on one song at one point. Toni said it was too nice. But I said that’s who you are. We can show the hurt and painful sides but also the hope beyond. It’s not the end of the world. You can’t let that stop you from living your life, being the person you’ve always been or the artist you are. You’re supposed to embrace everything to help you learn the next steps to take. So the music has been therapeutic in terms of getting out what you need to get out or have a better understanding of how you should be thinking.
Braxton: We didn’t want this to be typical: the guy cheats on the girl and she’s devastated. Sometimes women have infidelity issues. Sometimes guys get stuck with alimony; sometimes women get stuck with the alimony. Sometimes women pay the bills and do everything. We wanted to talk a little about all of those things.