“The truth is, we didn’t plan any of this,” says a gregarious Keith Mitchell, member of the platinum R&B trio After 7. “It all just happened.” The veteran talent is attempting to explain what inspired the acclaimed group, consisting of himself, Jason Edmonds and lead vocalist Kevon Edmonds, to reunite for their first newly recorded release in over 20 years. To be sure, After 7 is gratified that their effortlessly smooth single, “I Want You,” a song written and produced by iconic songwriter Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and partner Daryl Simmons, has become a Billboard Adult R&B smash.
Indeed, the guys are ecstatic that urban radio has thoroughly embraced their timeless romantic statement. And the fact that founding After 7 member Melvin Edmonds—the father of Jason, who has had the unenviable task of filling his pop’s soulful shoes over the last decade—also appears with the original members on “I Want You” is a heartfelt reminder of what made this Indianapolis-born act one of the most enduring vocal groups of their era.
“You are talking to someone who from 13-years-old was going out on tour with them as a kid,” marvels Jason. “Growing up in Indianapolis, they were a local staple. They were a group that in every talent show I participated in or went to there was an After 7 song being sung somewhere. I became a fan as much as I was an admirer as a nephew and a son. It’s hard to put into the words…it’s a tremendous honor being a member of this group.”
But the triumphant return of After 7 would have certainly never happened without the artistic guidance of Babyface, who in early 2015 was knee deep in a marathon recording session for his own solo project. ‘Face had originally written and recorded “I Want You” for himself, but soon the song took on a life of its own. “He was like, ‘Wow, ‘I Want You’ really is a track that was made for you guys,’” Kevon recalls. “It really had After 7’s fingerprints on it. Once we got involved, we were able to have our own interpretation of the song.”
Kevon’s voice then trails off, perhaps in reflective thought over the blessing of having a sibling who also happens to be a celebrated musical visionary that has overseen multi-platinum hits for the diverse likes of Eric Clapton, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Boys II Men, Toni Braxton, TLC, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber, in his group’s corner. “That’s my brother,” he says proudly of the 11-time Grammy winner. “We had high hopes, but quite honestly you live and die with the pen and the production of Babyface (and Darryl Simmons). At the end of the day, After 7 was lucky enough to choose from the spoils of his work.”
When it comes to the legacy of After 7 there is certainly a great deal to live up to. “Babyface knew what he had 25 years ago when he put us together,” Keith says, looking back at the group’s early days. “We didn’t know what we were capable of. All we knew is that we could sing on pitch [laughs]. We had done a string of shows locally in Indianapolis that made us feel like we had something that could be special. But we couldn’t put it into a quantitative thought process and say, ‘Okay, we are going to be this huge success.’”
After 7 would evolve into so much more. Anchored by the top 20 pop crossover hits “Heat of the Moment,” “Ready or Not,” and “Can’t Stop,” the trio’s self-titled 1989 debut album, produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, became a platinum smash. Kevon, Keith, and Melvin were praised lavishly for their grandiose vocal brilliance. After 7’s legion of female fans screamed and swooned with every otherworldly riff and harmony delivered during their legendary sold-out shows. The group’s dynamic singing prowess, led by the angelic, tear-inducing vocals of Kevon, was the essence of romance. This was baby-making music for the grown and sexy.
More hits followed: After 7’s platinum 1992 sophomore set Takin’ My Time would produce their beloved medley cover of “I’m for Real/Natural High” as well as the up-tempo club favorite “Kickin’ It.” But perhaps no other track quite captured the barebones spirit of After 7 than the stirring “Nights Like This,” a song featured in the 1991 cult film classic The Five Heartbeats. The deep connection between the great R&B vocal groups of the ‘60s and ’70 of the past and the new age act was glaringly apparent. Indeed, the unapologetically polished After 7 stood out in the era of the animated New Jack Swing movement and hip-hop’s two-fisted golden age.
“It was a great time for R&B expression,” Kevon recalls of the era that saw such rhythm and blues stalwarts as Teddy Riley and Guy, Bobby Brown, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and Boys II Men drop landmark works. “But we felt more connected to the old school than any of our peers who we also respected. We were older than everyone else, so we had an affinity for groups like The Temptations, the O’Jays, the Stylisitcs, the Chi-Lites, the Whispers, the Delphonics. We were just doing what we love.”
After releasing 1995’s gold-selling Reflections, Melvin departed from the group, weary of the turbulent politics of the music industry. When Kevon broke away to pursue a solo career, he took Jason out on the road with him for background duties. Impressed by the young man’s vocal dexterity, Kevon invited him in 2006 to officially join After 7. “These dudes can really sing,” Jason muses of his band-of-brothers. “This is timeless music. I have to be in top form before we do our shows or it’s going to be a bad day.”
Today, a revitalized After 7 is optimistic about their business partnership with Entertainment One Music. Kevon, Keith, and Jason are currently working on tracks for a third album, Timeless, at Babyface’s famed Los Angeles recording studio Brandon’s Way. As always, After 7’s future is bright and soulful.
“We have grown as vocalists over the years, but spiritually I believe there is something anointing on this project,” offers Keith. “eOne has been enthusiastic in their support. And the songs are inspiring. Jason has been great and Kevon has put together some epic vocal performances that are going to make the ladies say, ‘Oh, my God!’ After 7 is here to stay.”