Someone had to say it: While the lineup for St. Petersburg's first Funk Fest is respectable, it's not exactly funky.
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds had no problem stating the obvious. Yep, the R&B hitmaker will perform Saturday, along with New Edition spin-off Bell Biv DeVoe, '90s trio SWV and beatbox innovator Doug E. Fresh. The only quasi-funky act on the bill is the legendary Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. Still, Funk Fest promises to be an old-school good time. So let's just drop the "k" and call it even.
Edmonds should be a big draw. The Billboard chart-ruler supplied the '90s with one sonic aphrodisiac after the next. Inescapable slow jams like Every Time I Close My Eyes, When Can I See You and Whip Appeal also helped resurrect R&B for Discman-toting youths. The songwriter and producer also churned out hits for other artists, including Boyz II Men's End of the Road, Madonna's Take a Bow and Eric Clapton's Change the World.
After a hiatus from the spotlight, Edmonds found himself back in headlines when he launched a new label, Sodapop Music, earlier this year. In addition to producing new artists Kristinia DeBarge and Asia'h, he's working a new classic R&B album of his own. He hopes to have it on shelves by September.
Edmonds, 52, called tbt* from his Los Angeles studio.
Which artist are you most excited about seeing at Funk Fest?
I'm not sure who's all there. I know Frankie Beverly's there, so in terms of funk — smooth funk, I should say — you can't get really better than Frankie Beverly.
Did you ever think you'd be in a Funk Fest in 2010?
Well, I think they're just calling it Funk Fest, 'cause I don't know if you can really — other than maybe Frankie Beverly. … I don't know exactly what the lineup is.
There's Bell Biv DeVoe, SWV …
Yeah, that's not quite funk.
What's the biggest difference between being an R&B singer today and when you started out?
In the '90s, the R&B singers were more pop singers. They had bigger pop careers. You can have R&B singers today that are straight R&B. It's not as pop anymore. It's almost like there's a separation at this point. It wasn't there as much (in the '90s). Bobby Brown, he was R&B, but he wasn't selling R&B numbers. I think that's the biggest difference. Like today, you have Musiq Soulchild, who is an R&B artist. For the most part, it stays down in that lane and just doesn't become as big pop, so to say, where a lot of the artists like BBD (Bell Biv DeVoe) and the whole New Edition gang, they had major success that went beyond. You couldn't just call them R&B.
Where is the strangest place you've heard one of your songs?
I forget where this was, but it was a small-town airport. I was in the bathroom, and then I heard one of my songs. That was weird, 'cause it was a small town. It was like, "Is that a coincidence, or did somebody see me and put it on the system?"
Which song was it?
It was Whip Appeal. (laughs) And I think this is not the kind of town where you were going to hear Whip Appeal.
Is there anyone out today with whom you'd really like to collaborate?
There's always people that I would like to work with if the opportunity came, but it's not like I have that lasting list anymore of, "Oh, if I could just work with them, then my life would be complete." I'm not at that point anymore.
Contributing: Carole Liparoto