After 7’s debut album

It was the summer of 1989 when the R&B trio After 7 dropped their infectious eponymous debut album with the lead single, “In the Heat of the Moment,” a mischievous dance tune about the wonders of lust. Even though that album went platinum and the following two went gold, After 7 disappeared from the scene. Wednesday night’s episode of TV One’s Unsung reveals the complicated reasons why.

The Indianapolis-born trio was made up of brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds (brothers of Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds) and their friend Keith Mitchell. As hip-hop soul and new jack swing filled the airwaves, After 7 came out with a new-school take on traditional R&B, using the classic visual representation of suits and innovative choreography.

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Virgin Records, which was looking to get into the R&B business, signed After 7 in 1988 sight unseen—no demos, no videos, no pictures—just on the strength of Babyface’s recommendation and reputation. The group scored with hit after hit on their debut album, including “Can’t Stop,” “Ready or Not” and “One Night.”

“Everything they were touching was gold,” said Kevon Edmonds by phone about Babyface and L.A. Reid, who helped the group develop their signature sound and wrote many of the group’s early hits. Getting the opportunity to even sign a record deal turned out to be a blessing in more ways than one for After 7.

“We were all over 30 years old,” said Kevon. “No record label typically signs groups that are over the age of 30. If we had gone through the proper channels, in all likelihood no one would have been interested in signing a group that old.”

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After 7 would define the concept of an overnight success. They all worked traditional jobs before entering the music business—Melvin on the assembly line at the Chrysler foundry, Keith at insurance company John Hancock and Kevon at pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co. As mature entertainers who understood the workforce, they did what they were supposed to: show up on time for concerts and interviews.

“Music always lived in our hearts, even though it was always a dream,” Keith said. “The dream came so quickly, you almost didn’t have a chance to absorb it and swallow it, because in 1988 we were signing a deal. The summer of ’89, our record was out.”

Keith acknowledges that being older entertainers also made them more business-minded and made them question everything—something record labels weren’t too keen on. “Younger artists are a lot more malleable,” said Keith. “They won’t ask questions.”

But there was that one time when one of the members didn’t show up to a recording session for a song. And that song ended up being a smash hit—for someone else.

“That’s all it took, was just not to show up,” Kevon remembers about Melvin, who by then was struggling with addiction, not showing up to record the single “My, My, My.”

“Originally it was supposed to go to the Whispers, but they passed on it,” Kevon says. “We missed it and Johnny Gill got it. It was a smash. A defining song for him.”

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After 7’s story isn’t a typical Behind the Music: New Edition story, where the label cheated them and they ended up with a royalty check for $1.87. Their difficulties with the label were much more nuanced.

“It wasn’t for lack of effort on Virgin Records’ part; it was lack of know-how and experience in delivering R&B records to the marketplace,” said Kevon. “They’re competing with Motown, MCA, people who have been in the industry for years who have relationships in radio and can pick up the phone and say, ‘Why the hell isn’t my song on the radio?’”

The group eventually asked to be released from their contract, and Phil Quartararo, the then-president of Virgin Records, fought for the label to absolve the group’s debt so they could get a new deal. But that next deal never came as male groups started to wane and solo artists started to dominate the marketplace. Kevon would leave the group and go on to have a successful solo album.

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Today the group is back together and on tour with the addition of Kevon’s son, Jason. Melvin, who suffered a stroke, tours sporadically. And Babyface is back working with the group; last year he produced Timeless, the group’s first album in 20 years. “We were blessed to come up with this new music with Babyface,” Kevon said. “I think we have a chance competitively in this difficult new music world.”

TV One’s Unsung: After 7: Losing a Major Hit airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.