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'Libra': The Latest Sound from Toni Braxton

ED GORDON, host:

R&B singer Toni Braxton is back after a long hiatus with a new CD. It's called "Libra." While her CD has the sultry ballads that have become a mainstay of the Braxton sound, the first single, "Please," is designed to showcase a more upbeat flavor.

(Soundbite of "Please")

Ms. TONI BRAXTON: (Singing) I know you watching all over here, trying to find a way to come into my situation, because you should know that it is so good to be cool. Tell your girl...

GORDON: Braxton is now in her 30s and married with two children. Even with all that going on, she considers this to be the most creative period of her life. She's hoping the public will see it that way as well.

Ms. BRAXTON: You know, I think it's hardest for me, because I am at a different phase of my life. Like, I'm a mom and a wife. So it's hard for me trying to balance everything and have this career, because it will never be how it was in the beginning because my priorities are different. So for me, it's been hardest, and in addition to that--that's just personally. On the music side, it's because the music industry's changed while I was away having babies. So I'm trying to incorporate my style and still make it current, which is really, really hard with a lot of things being so hip-hop, you know, influenced. And I don't like to play the race card, but unfortunately, when you're an African-American artist, you're R&B and hip-hop, and so that's the category they put you in based on your color first. So how do I do my mainstream style of music, still be who I am without being hip-hop? Because there's not a hip-hop bone in my body.

GORDON: Now I read an article that--I guess someone had asked you about the kind of music you're putting out...

Ms. BRAXTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...and how personal it is for you. And you said that...

Ms. BRAXTON: What did I say?

GORDON: Yeah, you tell me if you said this. You said that now that you're a mom and a wife, that nobody really wants to hear about that, and that's why you wrote less for this project.

Ms. BRAXTON: I said that.

GORDON: Is that true?

Ms. BRAXTON: That's definitely true. I'm happily married, got my kids and my husband, and who wants to hear about that? You know, it's--they like hear a little bit more controversy, and that's not necessarily my lifestyle. I think I love the music industry because it's what I do for a living, but it's not who I am. Like a lot of times, my record company says, `Oh, you know, we need to raise your profile. You need to be seen more.' And I'm the type of person--that's just what I do for a living. I don't have to be seen at every party, because that's not me. I'm not an industry person. I'm not a taste-maker person. I just make this--make a living at singing. So it's what I love. But the after-party thingy, they pretty much gotta make me go.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: What about the sex symbol image? Now that you are older and a mom of two...

Ms. BRAXTON: Right.

GORDON: ...do you have to try to balance that, or do you like now being, `Hey, I'm a mom of two and still sexy'?

Ms. BRAXTON: I like being a mom of two and still being sexy. I have no problems being an older woman that little boys look at and say, `If I was going to be with an older woman, that's the one I'd get with.' I'm very comfortable with that.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BRAXTON: (Singing) ...goes something like this, I'm trying to (unintelligible) to six. You see your man getting ready looking rushed to death. Claiming he has a ...(unintelligible) he gives you a kiss, says he's (unintelligible). 'cause he's always with the fellas. Then you give him magic words: Baby, let me call you later.

GORDON: Now I remember doing an interview with you years and year ago, and...

Ms. BRAXTON: That's when I had the short hair...

GORDON: ...one of the things we talked about is your want to do a number of things and not just be a singer.

Ms. BRAXTON: Right.

GORDON: You wanted to be an entertainer.

Ms. BRAXTON: Yeah.

GORDON: You found yourself on Broadway. From when we talked back then, the first interview we did to today...

Ms. BRAXTON: Right.

GORDON: ...what's been the most disappointing aspect of show business for you?

Ms. BRAXTON: The most disappointing thing for me has been people. I know that sounds--that's vague. Let me try to itemize it a little bit. Sometimes there are people in your camp that you really love and you trust, and you find out that they aren't those people for you. Like, the record business--I love singing. That's one of the reasons why I stick with it, but there are so many times I wanted to retire. I just wanted to quit it. It's really most of all about a bottom line, and at the end, you are a product and you have to promote and sell yourself. And when a product--when they look and see sales are low on their product, they do things to try and re-invent the product. But I'm the product. I'm the focus. I'm a human being. I'm a person here, you know, `You need to be more like this artist.' Would you tell Rembrandt to be like Van Gogh? What do you do?

So that can be challenging sometimes. So a lot of times in the business, you think people are there for you, and it's--I can understand if they're like, `OK, this is what the business is. This is what you need to do.' But some people are cruel and mean in this business. Like, people talk about "American Idol," Simon, how he's mean and cruel. I'm like, `Oh, my God, he's nothing. My Jesus, it's like "Romper Room." What's that about? That's "Sesame Street." That's nothing.' So that's the part--people can be cruel. Like, a lot of times, `Well, you know, you're an older artist. You're old.' I'm like, `I'm in my 30s. I'm not 70 putting out an album,' and I don't even think that's old, Eartha Kitt's still doing it, you know, but...

GORDON: Do you want to record into your 60s and 70s?

Ms. BRAXTON: I want to, but if I have some of these knuckleheads that's still around me, no. I won't do it. I can't. It's just too--it messes with my personality. It changes me, and I don't like that. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin.

GORDON: On the new CD, do you have a favorite song on it?

Ms. BRAXTON: Ooh. I do have a favorite song. It's called "Shadowless." It's just me and acoustic guitar. We did it totally live in the studio, just the guitars and me singing, and I wanted to bring it back just the old style of how singing's supposed--music's supposed to be, or how I think it's supposed to be.

(Soundbite of "Shadowless")

Ms. BRAXTON: (Singing) Ooh, boy, where are you now? You came and you rescued me when I was down. Now I'm shadow less, life is such a mess. Where did we go wrong?

That's the most personal song, and the lyrics are so beautiful because--I feel shadowless because I've had L.A. and Babyface with me my whole career. So this is the first time I'm walking without them. And we thought--but it's just different. I always--they were my security blanket.

(Soundbite of "Shadowless")

Ms. BRAXTON: (Singing) ...make it right with you, baby. So tell me what I gotta do to make you come back home.

GORDON: Finally, what do you want people to get from this LP?

Ms. BRAXTON: I tried to make this album as eclectic as possible. I wish that I had--one thing I do wish, I wish I would have put classic Toni in the beginning first and then the others, the more younger, urban stuff later on. That's the one thing I wish I would have done, but everyone said, `No, no, no you want to catch the younger audience immediately.' Everyone's having a problem with me being in my 30s. I'm totally comfortable with it. I just never knew what happened in your 30s. I was like, `Oh, I'll probably have one of our 48 things and start changing. Oh.' I never expected it to happen in my 30s. That's what's very surprising to me.

GORDON: Well, we're glad to have you back.

Ms. BRAXTON: Thank you, darling.

GORDON: The new CD is "Libra," and...

Ms. BRAXTON: Yeah. I'm a Libra.

GORDON: You're a Libra, but you also, I read, wanted to say that this is finding balance in your life, too, right?

Ms. BRAXTON: Finding balance, yeah.

GORDON: And you've done that?

Ms. BRAXTON: We'll see.


Ms. BRAXTON: I'm working on it.

GORDON: All right. Toni Braxton, good to see you.

Ms. BRAXTON: You too, darling.

GORDON: You can see Ms. Braxton this Sunday on "Trisha Yearwood: Custom Concert" featuring Toni Braxton, on the Oxygen cable network. Toni's new CD, "Libra," hits stores on Tuesday.

(Soundbite of "Shadowless")

Ms. BRAXTON: (Singing) Gotta make it right. Yeah, all right, baby. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


GORDON: To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of "Shadowless")

Ms. BRAXTON: (Singing) ...to make you come back home.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.