Babyface and Toni Braxton take on Love, Marriage and Divorce together at the Borgata

Songwriter/record producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, singer Toni Braxton.
Songwriter/record producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, singer Toni Braxton. (ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ / Getty Images)
Posted: July 12, 2014

The divorce album is one of pop's strangest quasi-traditions, treating the rights, wrongs, and ruin of a personal relationship with the arts of the pop love song. Marvin Gaye did it with Here, My Dear, Bob Dylan with Blood on the Tracks, and husband-and-wife folkies Richard and Linda Thompson made one together in Shoot Out the Lights.

This year, producer/songwriter/singer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Toni Braxton, a singer he has produced two albums for, made one of the best duet records in this line, titled Love, Marriage & Divorce. (Babyface divorced Tracey Edmonds in 2005, and Braxton let go of Keri Lewis in 2013.)

"No matter when it happens, how many years pass, you never forget," Edmonds says, softly, of the pain. Edmonds had started coproducing Barbra Streisand's duets album (reportedly featuring partners such as Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Beyoncé) when Braxton called with the divorce-album concept. Of Streisand and Braxton, Edmonds says the two are alike in involving themselves deeply in the recording process, "every note, every nuance."

Recalling his work with Braxton throughout the '90s, Edmonds says he loved her rich, sumptuous voice. "This was Toni before she was Toni, you know," he says with a laugh. "She was always ready to do whatever I needed her to do." Now, he says, she is at a different point in her career: "She has more opinions, not so much as to what and how, but in the ways we color things. This new album was more of a collaboration, so the difference between now and then is that we went back and forth while working. She has good ideas, so it was easy. The voice was the same, but the girl wasn't."

This back and forth extended to every part of the album: "We compromised, 50/50. We tried to not step on the toes - as long as the quality was up, there was no ego to speak of."

Edmonds is so enthusiastic about the Braxton he worked with on Love, Marriage & Divorce that he's raring to produce her next solo album, as well as tracks for the Oprah Winfrey Network biopic My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story, which will star Braxton.

Babyface's solo moments on Love, Marriage & Divorce portray a man wronged but resigned: In the track "The D Word," the singer confesses that "you still own my heart, forever and ever and ever." Braxton's tracks, however, have an ax to grind. In "I Wish," she sings, "I hope she creeps on you with somebody who is 22/ I swear to God, I'm gonna be laughing at you every day."

Mention those differences, and Babyface slowly says, "Toni's not angry, but she is bothered, and that comes out when she performs. I don't want to hold anything back, but I'm reserved and trying to come out on the right end of things . . . sometimes you just have to put it all out there."


Toni Braxton and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds play at 8 p.m. July 18 at the Borgata Event Center, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City. Tickets: $49-$79. Information: 866-900-4849, www.TheBorgata.com.

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