It’s been said that true talent never dies. And in the midst of a classic R&B revival, the original group line up of platinum R&B vocal trio, After 7, makes a remarkably dynamic return with their unmistakable sound. Riding the wave of their new Billboard Adult R&B hit, “I Want You,” and reunited with esteemed Grammy winning producer/ songwriter Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons after a 20-year hiatus, After 7’s new single and forthcoming album marks a fine return to form a vocal group that adeptly distills the essence of soul.
Founded in Indiana by brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds along with friend Keith Mitchell, After 7 began as a trio intent on refining their live show at local venues. Some years following the group’s inception, Kevon and Melvin’s younger brother, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, began to take the R&B charts by storm with his unique and unparalleled musical prowess. As one half of a songwriting/ production duo, L.A. & Babyface, the younger Edmonds brother racked up a bevy of hits with new and established artists such as Karyn White, Paula Abdul, and Bobby Brown. “At that time, everything they touched turned platinum or gold,” recalls Keith. “But we never thought that lever would be pushed in our direction as a trio.”
However in 1988, fate was on the group’s side. After relocating to Los Angeles to join L.A. & Babyface, they scored a recording contract with Virgin Records and began work on their eponymous debut album. Released the following year, After 7 was an instant success. The album was eventually certified Platinum and produced two #1 Billboard R&B singles: “Can’t Stop” and “Ready Or Not.” The two singles subsequently reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and were both certified Gold. “We walked in the studio and we didn’t know who we were,” says Keith. “So it was a beautiful thing that we had them to guide us and help create.” Without question, the aforementioned lever had finally and firmly been pushed in After 7’s direction.
On the heels of their outstanding debut album, the group spent the better part of the next three years on tour with the likes of Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, The Whispers, and Whitney Houston. Along the way, they released a top 10 R&B hit with “Nights Like This,” a slice of throwback soul which served as the lead single from the soundtrack of the 1991 motion picture The Five Heartbeats. Yet, when they prepared themselves to return to the studio to record a follow up, approaches to R&B music production and songwriting had already begun to shift around them. In addition, L.A. & Babyface were preoccupied with starting a new venture in Atlanta that would become LaFace Records – a torchbearer for the city’s burgeoning music scene and stable for some of the industry’s future legendary artists. After 7 found themselves charged with the great task of commanding of their own ship. “It forced us to grow,” says Kevon. “We had to prove ourselves.”
The group went to Atlanta and enlisted the help of producers such as a then up and coming Dallas Austin to help shape their sophomore effort, Takin’ My Time. Released in 1992, the album proved to be a rite of passage for After 7. It required the group to strike a delicate balance between updating their sound to reflecting the times while maintaining their rich, soulful core. The group employed just the right blend as Takin’ My Time reached #8 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart and was eventually certified gold. The hip hop flavored lead single “Kickin’ It,” reached #6 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart while the follow up, “Baby I’m For Real/ Natural High,” – a reeling dual remake of two classic soul ballads by The Originals’ and Bloodstone – respectively reached #5. It was evident and clear that the trio had not lost their stride.
For their third album, Reflections, After 7 looked to the rear view mirror to map their direction going forward. With a refined dynamic and enhanced sense of purpose, the group was more in possession of itself than ever before. “For the first time, we kind of began to know who we were,” says Kevon. “It started to really crystallize for us and allowed us to reflect on the journey we’d taken. We were able to show the real contrast between the act that we were and the act that we’d grown into.” The album, released in 1995, spawned the lead single, “Till You Do Me Right.” Produced by Babyface and co-written by Kevon and Melvin, the song garnered the group a top 40 hit in three countries – including reaching #5 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.
After 7 realized that their reach was well beyond the music arena when they were honored with the prestigious NAACP Image Award for the integrity, respect and values they brought to the industry and to communities as role models. Nominations for both a Grammy and American Music Award were a salute to their talent and musical contribution to history.
Following an astonishing six year run at Virgin Records, the group entered into a hiatus as Kevon embarked on a solo career – releasing two albums: 1999’s 24/7 (RCA Records) and 2009’s Who Knew (Make Entertainment).
They reunited – not in the studio but on countless stages- and over the past 15 years performed nationally and internationally to thousands. While absent on the radio waves, they continued to bring their signature sound, style and live energetic performances to the many fans who continued to welcome and embrace them.
But as the years rolled on, it was apparent that something was indeed missing from the R&B charts. While the tides in musical trends had ebbed and flowed in their absence from radio, true R&B fans remained hungry for After 7’s patented formula of silk & soul that they could personally possess. And the catalyst for their imminent return to the studio to make that happen was the same person responsible for their introduction: Babyface. “The primary creative forces behind this are none other than Babyface and Daryl Simmons,” says Keith. “I have to tell you the most honest part of this is that a year ago at this time, none of us were contemplating recording an album. “ But as Babyface entered a prolific creative period while preparing material for his own upcoming solo release, his thoughts drifted back to his brothers’ group with every composition. And after Kevon, Melvin, and Keith heard some of the songs he had in mind for them, that missing element was clear and apparent: After 7. To shore up After 7’s vocal prowess, a somewhat familiar face was added to the family affair: nephew Jason Edmonds.
“When we were out on the road, Jason would come out there with us on the tour bus as a little kid,” Kevon recalls. “First of all, we had no idea that Jason sang! Secondly, we had no idea he was taking notes! So it’s a beautiful thing that here he is all these years later as part of the group.” After 7 entered Babyface’s Los Angeles recording studio, Brandon’s Way, in the summer of 2015 to begin work on a few tracks with the intention of only releasing a single. The result was “I Want You,” a smooth uptempo groove and an unshakable testament to a group whose vibrant vocal performance has consistently engaged fans over the decades.
“It’s about wanting and accepting every part of that special person,” says Keith. “It’s that inspiring; it’s that energetic.” The group began shopping the tune around to several executives in the industry. But the response to their plans of securing a singles release deal were rejected in favor of a very unexpected series offers. “They said, ‘You’re After 7. People are going to want an album from you guys,” Kevon says. “And that was a shocker for us.” With the favorable renewed interest in their reunion in hand, the group returned to the studio to begin work on their upcoming album. In the meantime, the independently released, “I Want You,” began to make waves at radio stations across the country – helping the tune reach #20 and continuing to climb toward top 10 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
This was confirmation that the group’s audience was eagerly anticipating a new After 7. As a follow up and contrast to the lead single, the seductive, “In And Out,” bears the mark of a classic Babyface slow jam which showcases the group’s tradition as robust balladeers. “It’s about not giving up on love,” Kevon says of the tune – which features Jason on co-lead vocals. “You’re going to fuss, fight, and go through changes. But we can’t keep running in and out of love.” Keith confirms, “But because what we have is so strong, we keep coming back.” Offering a delightfully surprising change of pace, “Loving You All My Life,” finds the group challenging themselves vocally while effortlessly delivering in the vein of a tender love.
“It’s probably the most different of any song that people have heard from After 7,” affirms Kevon. With work on their new album nearly complete, the group’s new material is certain to be rooted in the old while adeptly referencing the new. Their November 2015 stellar performance at the Centric Soul Train Awards, was one of the most notable comebacks of the coming year. It was followed by fans voting them “Best Comeback of 2015” by SoulRnB magazine. There’s no doubt that the R&B/ soul world-at-large has undoubtedly been primed for the return of their classic sound. Planned for a 2016 release, the album promises to repatriate the group to its rightful place as R&B royalty in a musical landscape yearning to be refreshed. “Historically, Babyface and Daryl Simmons have a lock on the ability to take raw talent and guide it in the proper direction,” Kevon says with confidence. “With their guidance, we’re taking every diamond, pearl, and precious stone that we have in terms of creativity and putting it all into this record. The moment is now.”