R&B/soul/pop vocal trio After 7 has reemerged onto the music scene with the same passion and integrity that made them household names over 25 years ago. The Grammy-nominated group, consisting of original members, brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds and Keith Mitchell, has just released a new single, “I Want You,” written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons.
Easygoing and still full of interpersonal savvy between them, the talented trio known for their smooth harmonies and emotion-drenched delivery went into the studio last summer with a clear palette but no direction. “There was no potential plan to reunite,” says Kevon, the group’s more vocal, velvet-toned member. “We thought we would test our hands and see what it was like to get back in the studio and do some recording.”
The threesome’s long-term influence was recently solidified when Grammy-nominated vocalist Jazmine Sullivan sampled their gold-selling, Top 10 ballad “Ready or Not” on her song “Let it Burn” from her 2015 album Reality Show. In no way did the singer’s newfound interest in After 7 spearhead the group’s reunion. “It put a little more relevance about After 7 back into the marketplace,” adds Kevon. “The two had nothing to do with each other. It was coincidental.”
The NAACP Image award-winning act followed the breakout success of their platinum-selling 1989 self-titled debut LP After 7 with two gold-certified albums, 1992’s Take My Time and 1995’s Reflections. They cranked out a slew of memorable singles like “Heat of the Moment,” “Can’t Stop,” “Nights Like This” from The Five Heartbeats, “Gonna Love You Right” from Sugar Hill, “I Care About You” as part of the male ensemble group Milestone, “Kickin’ It, “Can He Love U Like This,” “Till You Do Me Right” and two covers, The Originals’ “Baby, I’m For Real (Natural High)” and Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile.”
At the height of After 7’s success, they toured with performers such as Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, The Whispers, and Hammer. “When you’re in the studio layering and stacking vocals,” says Kevon, “it’s all about creating that final product that feels good and sounds good sonically. Our music speaks about relationships. It speaks about love and how we relate to one another: the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs”
There was never any particular formula in place to create the group’s sound, showmanship or image. Inspired in part by The O’Jays, After 7 prides itself on being consistent. “We feel out what the song is saying,” states Kevon. “It’s all about presentation for us. Our choreography is reflective of the lyrical content that we share. We’re not doing it because of the beat. We build our choreography around what the song is about.”
Originally from Indianapolis, After 7 was formed by each member performing together in local talent shows. Babyface, also Kevon and Melvin’s brother, used the three singers to demo some of his songs to be placed on other artists’ records following his departure from R&B band The Deele. Babyface’s innate ability to know After 7’s capabilities proved to be what spearheaded the group’s success.
Mitchell explains Babyface’s songwriting process in detail as it relates to After 7’s grown-and-sexy musical persona. “He’s able to take his knowledge from the past and his experiences from the current,” says Mitchell. “The music is relatable because of its content. It was natural to blend the two worlds together. That complement and that character created songs that are unique.”
Mitchell adds that listeners often can’t distinguish between all three of the Edmonds brothers’ similar vocal tones. “The concept of what we were and what we possibly could be started from that,” says Mitchell periodically joking with his group mates. “There was always that presence of their talent. Over the years as doors opened up, it was natural that [Babyface] knew what our skill sets were.”
Releasing new music to audiences after a 20-year hiatus, After 7 is working to adapt to a new musical climate. The group was originally signed to Virgin Records at a time when lots of money and strategic planning were being invested in the artist roster. They recorded “I Want You” this past July and released the single in October, the speed of which represented somewhat of a culture shock, especially to Kevon. “That’s just not heard of from our past experiences with three albums,” he says.
“We would record a record six, eight, nine months, and the setup might take three or four months. We turn around a single, and we’re in the Top 20 less than five or six weeks. It used to be if you didn’t have a video with the single, you wasn’t gonna sell any records. If you didn’t make MTV, you weren’t gonna crossover. Today, R&B artists that can’t get into the Top 40 are finding success.”
Kevon enjoyed some solo success with the 1999 release of his Grammy-nominated, gold-certified major label debut 24/7 and his independently released 2009 sophomore effort Who Knew. He says After 7 is grateful for radio giving “I Want You” a chance but are working to become acclimated to developing their digital presence.
“We’re trying to catch up with that curve,” continues Kevon. “We’re behind the eight ball with that. The industry is a different beast than what it used to be. We managed to cut through that, still maintain ourselves and hopefully still be well as we move forward.”
After 7’s latest addition is Melvin’s son, Jason Edmonds. Jason first toured with After 7 when he was 13 years old. He also sang background for both Babyface and Kevon, insisting that those experiences prepared him for group membership. Joking that he had been secretly practicing throughout his life, he proclaims that he is not replacing his dad. “I’m not filling his shoes,” warns Jason. “I’m just there being a family representative, hopefully still reminding you of the family’s sound and the vibe that my dad created.”
After 7 is slated to release its fourth studio album sometime in 2016 with Babyface at the helm of the writing and production. “Blessed” is a recurring term each member uses to suggest how fortunate they are to perform and make timeless music for their adoring fans. “We just want to continue to represent the way we were in the past,” says Mitchell. “We appreciate our fan base.”
Kevon concurs. “It’s been a wonderful journey,” he says. “We’re still here because it’s part of God’s plan. We’re handed a tremendous opportunity that is perceived to be creating some great music. We feel secure and blessed to be able to reemerge into the marketplace with this record.”
BUY After 7’s new single “I Want You” via iTunes