After 7 is a dynamic singing trio composed of brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds, along with friend Keith Mitchell. With the help of their popular brother, R&B singer/songwriter/producer, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the trio signed with Virgin Records without even an audition. They garnered hits such as “Heat of the Moment,” “Ready or Not,” “Can’t Stop,” and “Baby I’m For Real.”
However, disagreements over the direction of their career led to frustrations with their label, and despite three gold albums, the group broke up at the top of their game – only to pick up where they left off two decades later, with their first studio album in 20 years, “Timeless.”
EUR/Electronic Urban Report chatted with members Kevon and Keith about the group’s legacy, their new music and the After 7 brotherhood. Following Melvin’s departure from the group, his son Jason has been carrying the torch. Check out our Q&A with the guys below.
Talk a bit about the emotions or nostalgia that come with reliving your musical journey for an episode of UNSUNG.
Keith: Well, I think that it is an emotional presentation. I haven’t seen the final version, but it is an emotional journey to have your life, or a piece of your life, chronicled with your friends and family. All the people that have been a part of this, and to have a piece like this put together, it is emotional to a degree because you… the tenure and time in the business has taught us that it’s a privilege to do something that you love, to create something that you really didn’t know that you could do, then it happens and you’re successful at it, and then it touches people. So you get to leave something in the world that touched other people, that has a life to live beyond you and hopefully touch other people in the future. It is emotional. It is nostalgic. It is a story that we felt should be told. It’s not the end of the story so we kinda had some reluctances about doing it because we’re still carving a pathway in our career but at the same time it’s an opportunity for fans and viewers to see and get an up close and personal view of After 7 and the journey that we’ve had.
“Timeless” is your first studio album in 20 years, as you look back, are there any other moments or accomplishments that are as fulfilling releasing this new project?
Kevon: I think our debut album ‘After 7,’ released in 1989, that was a significant moment in our careers to finally, after many years as we had hoped for and aspired to do music, but the opportunity had not present itself until finally, after all that time had passed to have an opportunity presented to us in a way that opened the door that I don’t think would have opened anywhere else had it not been for the fact that my brother Face and L.A. got us signed to a production deal with virgin records, sight unseen. In a way, these things don’t typically commonly happen. For a group to be signed sight unseen — they don’t know what we look like. They don’t know what we sound like, and to get a record deal, and for that matter to go some twenty years later and to come out here and record another record and garner two top ten singles off of that record after being away for twenty years. So there’s a balance in there somewhere. I can’t really explain it other than it feels like these two, they fit. They’re like bookends.
Any challenges putting out this project, given this digital download age we are living, and R&B’s ability to be less commercial?
Keith: Of course there are challenges because we’re all in different places, we’re all doing different things. With the nucleus that you have here, Jason, Kevon and myself, we have been doing the legwork for After 7 for pretty much the last ten years or so. Melvin hadn’t been able to participate but we’re trying to perpetuate our legacy and the music. We didn’t plan on coming back. The opportunity kinda came out of Face preparing to do his project and creating a wealth and a body of music that all didn’t make his record, and so he had a couple of gold nuggets over there that fell on the floor and he got to talking to Kevon and before you know it, the idea came up to do a couple of singles. Melvin wasn’t there so that was the intricate part. We never would even think about recording an album without Melvin’s voice. It makes the sound of After 7, so if you don’t have that you won’t have After 7. So that was the pendulum piece and Face worked that out with Melvin. So there are challenges but it’s something that… we didn’t plan this, it’s kinda happened with the grace of God and pulling forces. We couldn’t have done this on our own. We know we have a fanbase, even though they may be older and they don’t buy records like these young kids do but I think they have starved for our brand of music, for Babyface brand of music, for Tyrese brand of music, Keith Sweat, New Edition… it’s coming back. The issue is, will it be supported by radio.
Talk about the brotherhood that’s formed when you’re a member of an iconic R&B group, especially for you Jason — you’re filling some big shoes. What does the After 7 brotherhood mean to you?
Jason: It’s amazing. To be able to do what you do with family, there’s no other experience I think that you can compare with it. This family is tremendously blessed. I remember Keith saying a little while ago that our parents — meaning my grandmother/Kevon and my father’s mom, and Keith’s mom, they were praying every single day, whether we were or not. So this whole thing is about timing and about God, cause even how After 7, how I’ve understood it, how it came to be was a God sent opportunity and so was the recording of this most recent album. So everything that we’ve done thus far has been about timing and staying prayed up and about being with family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Keith: What we’ve done couldn’t have been done without family. Long story short, it’s family, it’s love and it’s God.
It’s stated in your “Unsung” segment that you can’t talk about R&B music without mentioning After 7, so what does After 7 think about the current R&B landscape?
Keith: We feel like if the fanbase loves R&B, they have an obligation to support R&B music, and that goes with radio as well. I understand dollars and sense, but I also understand that when you saturate a market with 3-4 oldie stations, and they’re all playing oldies and those are the veins that our music can flow through but they only have a limited amount of songs that can play on their playlist, it makes it very difficult for SWV, Keith Sweat, New Edition, Fantasia… all of us are competing for a small amount of air space.
So as you ask that question, we really need you to ask questions in your media platform of the industry which is radio, and beg upon them and the fanbase to support it because it’s only dying because somebody’s not playing it. It ain’t dying because people don’t want it. But the people who buy R&B, typically their lives are so filled right now with just surviving and living day-to-day, they can’t do what they used to do when they were younger. So it becomes the adults who can take a…. if there are four stations playing oldie music in the city, one of those stations somebody should be not so scared to go out on a limb and say, “Ok, we’re going to be the first oldie/new music station in the marketplace.”
That station could play more new R&B music than the old. They can still play the old but what I’m saying is, if you don’t create a lane, if you don’t create the landscape, and we understand we can’t get to the mainstream masses now, but at least open up the lane so that the people who want to hear us can hear us. But if we’re all fighting for the same playlist, we can’t be played enough times at those stations to have enough saturation so we catch enough of our fans in their car at a time so they can hear the music.
Jason: I will say this, you’ve got artists like BJ the Chicago Kid, and the freshman of the R&B class, doing as well a job as they can to keep R&B alive and I tip my hat off to them, like Luke James and Bryson Tiller. They’re some guys who are definitely keeping the flame alive and they’re breaking the barriers of whatever that may be around the R&B lane itself. They are bringing the sound of R&B back. I don’t think R&B really went anywhere, however, these guys are doing a tremendous job at carrying the torch and helping people remember the emotional aspects to what R&B is supposed to bring.
What’s next for After 7?
Kevon: We’re planning to hit the road, we’re real excited about that. We’re thrilled about the fact that we have released yet another single titled ‘Runnin’ Out,’ and it’s doing well. It’s climbing the charts right now and performing well at this point. So we’re excited about what the possibilities are with regards to that single, and God-willing, there may be another single to follow. As a result of that, it gives way to an opportunity to have more work out there on the road and live performances which are what we thoroughly enjoy doing. It’s even nicer when you have music that is relevant and current in radio. So it’s a fulfilling experience for us. It offers us the opportunity to walk in our purpose. I think we’re called to share our gift with everybody who has an appreciation for the kind of music that we do. It hasn’t changed. We stay in our lane — we know what out lane is. We sing about love, life, and relationships and if that’s been missed in radio, we’re back again to welcome you back to what you’ve been missing.
Tune in to After 7 on the next “Unsung” tonight! Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 8 pm ET on TV One.