The name is synonymous with R&B, specifically the New Jack Swing era of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and his songwriting partner, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, fused R&B’s soul with hip-hop’s rhythm to usher in a new movement.
After 7, a New Jack group that featured Edmonds’ brothers Kevon and Melvin and Reid’s cousin Keith Mitchell, rode the crest of that musical wave. Their 1989 self-titled debut went platinum on the strength of three hit singles. Two more records in the first half of the ’90s followed before the group quietly disbanded.
Now, following a decade of silence, After 7 is performing live again. That fallow decade marks a time in Kevon’s life when he lost interest in music. In fact, unlike Kenny and Melvin, Kevon was slow to come to music as a career in the first place.
“It was something in Kenny from the very beginning,” Kevon says. “He knew what he wanted. For me it was, ‘That’s nice but let’s go have some fun.’”
Kevon didn’t begin taking music seriously until he attended Indiana University, where he performed in the Soul Revue and studied musical theory, as well as the business side.
“I thought, wow, I could do this,” Kevon says. “Of course at that age you always think of your ability to do crazy, fantastic things.”
After establishing themselves as one of the top R&B acts of their time, Kevon left After 7 to pursue a different art form. He started acting in plays.
“I found being up on stage in a play is a lot more demanding than singing,” he says. “It calls on a lot from you. It’s really a draining process. You give everything for two and a half hours each night every night, maybe two days off.”
Kevon also took acting classes following encouragement from some 20th Century Fox executives. Ultimately, though, he didn’t find as much success in that side of the industry.
“Just like anything, you have to have a passion for it,” Kevon says. “Others may have thought this would work for me, but the passion for acting wasn’t there for me like it was for something I did naturally, which is singing.”
The original lineup was intact at the outset of the second go-round of After 7. But soon, Melvin and Mitchell were out, replaced by Keith Floyd — who along with Kevon lives in Nashville — and Melvin’s son Jason Edmonds. It also meant again earning the respect After 7 had in their heyday.
“It was like starting over again, in terms of getting the kind of professional response you’d think one would’ve earned over the years,” Kevon says. “If you’re not out there active, it’s like starting over again. It’s not that you’re lacking in your performance, but if they can get you for cheap that’s what they’re going to try to do.”
So far After 7 has only performed live, including many private and corporate shows. There are no plans to record a new album yet. Instead, Kevon is working on his second solo release, a follow-up to his 1999 debut, 24/7. He hopes to have it out early next year on the Make Entertainment label.
“I figure the best thing I can do is open this door by delivering a new product, which will give me more leverage in terms of locking in a deal for After 7,” Kevon says.
Even if After 7 never records another song, Kevon knows their legacy is intact.
“Being a member of After 7 and being part of a movement has really been an honor,” he says. “I think we impacted lives in a positive way, especially with our music and the things we sing about.”
Saturday’s performance at the historic Madame Walker Theatre will be the first time this Indianapolis native has performed there. Kevon promises a warm, intimate experience — not just because of the venue, but because this date serves as a homecoming.
“Everyone is proud of you,” Kevon says of his returns home. “That’s a gift, to come back and know people are proud of what you’ve accomplished. Oftentimes they see you as bigger than you actually are. But as they said back in the day, I never believed the hype. I’m still the same guy from Indianapolis that I was.”