[Read our review of After 7’s Timeless here.]
“We’ve always remained down-to-earth, approachable guys after 20-plus years in this business.” It’s a high-pitched assertion that Keith Mitchell, one-third of the multi-talented R&B/pop trio After 7, makes in the midst of ongoing laughter and vivid career retrospectives.
It’s taken some convincing, but the vocal group is ecstatic and grateful about sharing their story on the latest installment of the hour-long, TV One music docuseries Unsung, which airs tonight at 8pm ET (7pm CT). Along with Mitchell, siblings Melvin and Kevon Edmonds journey back to their musical roots in Indianapolis, retracing how they burned up stages and the charts with their impeccable vocal arrangements and memorable hooks.
“We pour ourselves into the lyrical content and the performance,” Mitchell says via phone, “and certain songs can’t always be sung pretty. Sometimes you have to put your heart and soul into it. That was the formula. It’s a beautiful thing.”
After 7’s self-titled 1989 debut was certified platinum, followed by two gold LPs, 1992’s Takin’ My Time and 1995’s Reflections. The seasoned group’s repertoire, written and produced primarily by Grammy-winning younger sibling Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and songwriter/producer Daryl Simmons, yielded hit crossover singles like “Heat of the Moment,” “Ready or Not,” “Can’t Stop,” “Baby I’m For Real/Natural High,” “Gonna Love You Right,” “Nights Like This” and “Till You Do Me Right.”
Electing who would respond to specific questions based on context, Kevon admits to being the main member voicing his reservations about collaborating with his group members and TV One to revisit After 7’s legacy. The tenor with incredible range remembers the producers initially approaching them. “There had been some false starts before,” a hesitant Kevon says. “It never materialized. You only get to cry wolf so many times (laughs).”
Concerned whether it was worth their time to complete, Kevon adds, “In the end, everybody came to the table in a forthright manner and with a fair approach to dealing with us. It was a comfort zone that made it okay.”
After 7’s Unsung episode chronicles how modern R&B’s elder statesmen ascended to their glory. Each member worked nine-to-five gigs prior to landing a recording contract with Virgin Records. Debuting pre-New Jack Swing, After 7 triumphed on the talent show circuit in their hometown before relocating to Los Angeles at the insistence of Babyface. The record label didn’t even audition After 7 when they signed the deal.
Records sold, and hit after hit stormed up the charts. After 7, on the other hand, became dissatisfied with their record company support. Along the way, Melvin began to experiment with drugs, went back to a full-time job, and later suffered untimely health issues, potentially threatening After 7’s fate.
While the silky-toned vocalist didn’t appear for comments on Unsung, Kevon speaks on his elder brother’s behalf, hoping to clarify any misconceptions about Melvin’s absence or internal conflicts.
“People often think there’s something to it,” the candid singer behind the solo projects 24/7 (1999) and Who Knew (2009) confides. “I wanted to make sure that story was presented openly and honestly. You can instantly lead people down different paths, and they may come up with different assumptions. Go through whatever you need to go through to find out the whole thing, not just a piece of it.”
Kevon then shares his brother’s seal of approval on the episode. “Melvin is okay with letting the chips fall where they may,” he says. “People will decide for themselves what’s most interesting and what they think about it. It doesn’t lean one way or the other with him. He didn’t feel comfortable enough to come on and do it.”
Melvin’s son Jason originally joined his uncle Kevon as a background vocalist and later toured with After 7 as a teenager. He’s been in his father’s place in the group since 2005, and during our discussion, he provides an intimate view into the group’s internal communication.
“Aside from the business, we’re family,” Jason says. “Communication has always been one of our family’s strong suits. No matter what the tribulations were or the accolades [After 7] experienced, it didn’t force the relationship. That’s all we know how to be.”
Mitchell, the most upbeat and nostalgic of the three, acknowledges how meticulous he was about choreography at one point. He currently runs a construction company after once managing a restaurant and experiencing a bout with homelessness. “That showed the passion that I had for what we were doing then,” he proclaims. “Nothing was at stake. It was just a love for what we did. That experience is the adhesion that brought us together. We built on that over the years in different areas of friendship.”
After 7’s fourth studio LP, Timeless, was released to great reception last year. Released via eOne Music, Timeless reunited the group with Babyface and Simmons and produced three charting R&B hits: “Let Me Know,” “I Want You” and “Runnin’ Out.” The group agrees that being in the studio felt good, much like the production on Unsung.
“We’ve fought, argued…cursed each other out,” Mitchell says. “It happens everywhere, but can you come back together? At the end of the day, we still love and respect each other.”
Kevon extends Mitchell’s sentiments regarding After 7 not allowing changes in the music industry to hinder them from entertaining audiences and making classic material. “It’s good to come together and put the pieces of the story together,” he says. “Who we are and who we’ve been is as solid now as it’s ever been.”
Now with their past behind them, After 7 are optimistic about the potential Timeless has with their fans. They’re hoping in addition to Unsung that older fans will share their experiences about Timeless will others. The members don’t have any regrets about the highs or lows in their musical careers.
Mitchell hopes After 7’s legacy will have an everlasting effect on current acts, especially vocal groups. “When musicians perform,” Mitchell declares, “they should perform with a presence that captures people’s attentions with their eyes and ears. If you can’t give the audience something, don’t expect anything back.”
Kevon, on the other hand, concludes our conversation by revisiting why After 7’s Unsung is an important step in the group’s legacy. “It’s an opportunity to share a side with the fans they haven’t seen,” he says. “There were no difficulties down the line. No one can tell them but us. People will have a better appreciation for what we’ve done.”
After 7’s Five Favorite Albums of All Time:
- James Brown | Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud (1968)
- Marvin Gaye | What’s Going On (1971)
- Earth, Wind & Fire | Head to the Sky (1973)
- Michael Jackson | Thriller (1982)
- Waiting to Exhale | Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1995)
STREAM Our Essential After 7 playlist: