Toni Braxton, the seven-time Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum royal of music, film, Broadway and television, recently unveiled her ninth studio album via Def Jam Recordings, titled “Sex and Cigarettes.” It is a passionately salacious, heartfelt and compelling collection of songs paying tribute to lost love, infidelity and how the heart feels once you admit that it’s happening. The album is a powerful reveal of orgasmic, human emotion, audacious lyrical ambivalence, sonic grandeur and vibrant vocal splendor.
Braxton is commemorating 25 years in the music industry since the release of her self-titled debut album in 1993 and her introduction to the to the world by Babyface and L.A. Reid. The album sold 10 million copies and earned her a Grammy for Best New Artist.
The release of her second album, “Secrets,” caused history to repeat itself, this time selling 15 million copies. This time, at the Grammys, Braxton became the second woman in history to receive Best Female Pop Vocal (“Unbreak My Heart”) and best R&B Vocal in the same year. Dionne Warwick was the only other woman.
Toni received her seventh Grammy in 2015 when she and
Babyface won Best R&B album.
Aside from her Grammy Awards, the Maryland-born artist is a singer, songwriter, pianist, record producer, actress and TV personality. Raised as the eldest of six siblings by her dad, who was a Methodist clergyman, and her mom, a former opera singer as well as a pastor, her first singing experience was naturally in church. During her award-winning music career, Braxton began her Broadway endeavor as a cast member in “Beauty and the Beast,” becoming the first African American woman to play a leading role in a Disney Broadway production. She also starred in several Lifetime TV movies, including “Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart,” based on her best-selling memoir titled the same. Currently she stars in the WE TV series “Braxton Family Values,” which is in its sixth season.
Apart from her professional life, Braxton is a mom raising two sons, Denim and Diezel. She also involves herself in charity work with the Lupus Foundation, a disease she is afflicted by, and Autism, which her younger son has. She is a spokeswoman for both.
I spoke with Braxton and found her to be exceptional, warm, unaffected and a lot of fun. She was quite candid, extremely articulate and brilliant in every possible way. Her new release, “Sex and Cigarettes,” is already creating a global buzz, and she is expected to go on tour shortly.
I am so in love with “Sex and Cigarettes.” It’s so emotional. I feel like this is the most emotional record I’ve ever encountered. I feel the pain. What inspired the entire album, which seems to have the same passionate message throughout?
You know, I was going through a little something when I was recording the album. I started recording about 2016. Usually it doesn’t take long to record the songs, but it took me a second just to find my way to the title “Sex and Cigarettes.” I was in a relationship before my relationship now. I was kind of sad. The songs, as you can tell, came from that. I was feeling great about myself, but I had a couple of relationships—my ex marriage I think I was still going through—but I just decided to write it down. I took the advice from my dearest best friend Babyface, who said that I had to start telling my story, what happened to me in my life. So it works.
I don’t know if that was a healing process for you…
I almost took it as a warning for other women.
I felt that it had to be something personal to be that believable.
Oh yeah, absolutely. It was very, very personal.
So you’re a seven-time Grammy winner, actress, mom, producer, author, Broadway star, TV personality. Is there anything that you still wish to accomplish?
You know what I really want to do? I want to perform for the Academy Awards. I just want to perform with that big orchestra. That’s what I want. Whatever celebration I would have to perform at to get that 200-people orchestra, oh yeah…that’s what I want to do. As a singer and a performer, to have that kind of sound behind you, live…it’s not a hybrid, it’s real instruments performing with me. I would love to do that, whether it’s the Philharmonic Orchestra or anything like that. I always loved the sound of woodwinds and strings together. My voice is kind of thick like a milkshake, and instruments like that tend to cut it. You can hear something in my voice that you can’t really hear sometimes with the instruments that are more of a hybrid, meaning like things that are done on the computer. You would get a sound of a string on the computer, you get a sound of a drum on the computer. With a hybrid instrument, you get a sound, but not the sound of an orchestra, or even a jazz orchestra. It would be great.
Have you seen a change in the music industry as far as things like playing live, and playing synthetic, or playing real instruments?
No. I came on when a lot of things were synthetic. By the time I came around they really didn’t use live drums in the studio. Everything was done on the computer. I didn’t really have the generation when things were organic. The piano is always organic. L.A. Reid is a drummer, who would still put drums on there, but I didn’t really have the instruments in the studio when I was singing. I never really had that, with the exception of some of those things I said to you. I hear it now, and I appreciate it. I watch old footage of people like Quincy Jones. I watch old footage of him playing live, actually conducting a band. Oh my God, to have that nearby. I can imagine how that influenced performers to sing differently and try different things. That’s what I wish that I could have had, but my generation didn’t lend itself to that. I was fortunate to have someone come and add strings to a song, and to be in the studio and see it being done, but I never got the opportunity to perform live with an orchestra, ever. I mean, you have a band when you’re on stage, but there’s no way you can have 40-something tracks performing while you perform. It’s layered. So I would just love to do that.
I think that you should.
Barbra Streisand, you go to her shows, and you kind of get that. OMG, there’s like 80-something pieces on the stage. That’s so incredible.
Will you be touring in support of “Sex and Cigarettes”?
Yes, I am definitely going to be touring. We’re working on that now. Do you know, for me having lupus, I’m doing really well, but I have to pace myself. It’s really important that I don’t overexert myself and add too many shows in one week. They were trying to do four shows a week; my doctor said, maybe sporadically. The recuperation from four shows a week would be a lot. We’re trying to get it down to pretty much three shows. I’m well, but I have to make sure I keep my health first. I’ve got my kids to live for. But I love touring. That’s my favorite thing, the performance live, with me and the audience, and we can connect and get to talk and get to know each other.
I’ve never seen you perform live, but I understand that your concerts are overwhelmingly amazing.
Thank you for that.
Is there a moment that you can recall that changed the entire trajectory of your life?
This is gonna sound weird. When I found out I had lupus it made me appreciate my gift more, because I wanted to retire. I was going through a little something. A friend of mine said, “You can’t retire.” Then I fell in love with me again. I was angry about it. I’m not sure why, because maybe I couldn’t use the gift anymore. Doctors told me I would never be able to perform again, but I fell in love. We courted each other, we went on dates, we sent each other flowers—me and my talent—and I fell in love with music again. Now I appreciate it. I know how to take the time to relish and do it. Success, when it comes so fast, you never pay attention to it. You’re grateful, but you don’t enjoy the moment. So I’ve learned now to enjoy it, breathe it, do it, swallow it. I never knew to do that in my career. When the older folks would say that, I didn’t know what that meant. I was 39 years old, and I found out I had lupus. I’m very, very fortunate that I could learn to enjoy it. I’m trying to find a silver lining in everything, so that was my silver lining.
That had to be a very scary time for you.
Yeah, but I feel good today.
Do you have an ultimate stage fantasy? What would you need to happen?
OMG, this is going to sound crazy. My fantasy is to have Drake come on stage. I don’t know why we never performed together. I am a huge, huge Drakie. Not in a cougar kind of way…I’m just a huge, huge fan of his.
You know, him in a suit and a bowtie and a huge orchestra, if we could do something together…I don’t know what it could be! I think it would be my biggest fantasy ever! I think it would be every girl’s fantasy, every female performer’s fantasy.
Can you recall your proudest moment of your career?
I’ve been really, really blessed. I’ve had a couple of them. My proudest day was probably when I had my kids come up on stage. I’m really, really corny; I’m very sentimental in my mid-life. I’m very sentimental about everything. Having my kids on stage was really great. OMG, Eartha Kitt! I was performing a benefit in New York, and Eartha Kitt came on stage. She said, “Eat your heart out, Toni Braxton.” She was brilliant! She told this guy, some billionaire in the audience, that she needed an accessory for her right foot, and would he purchase a Cadillac for her? I was smitten. Completely smitten with her! That was great: It was old Hollywood, glamour, a rollback to the ‘50s, and I got to see her and her royalty. She was pretty brilliant. She just came onstage and allowed herself to absorb the whole entire building. It was magnificent to see a person come to life with that star power.
And you didn’t know she was going to come on stage?
No, I didn’t know she was coming on stage. That was pretty brilliant. It was great.
If you could tell your fans and followers something about you, what would it be?
I’m super corny. I have a crazy, funny sense of humor. I like to laugh a lot. The glamour girl you see is only when I’m on stage. I think that I’m the original three faces of Eve. I don’t know what I would name them, but when I’m at work, I’m feeling at my sexiest. When I’m at home I’m feeling my funniest and most comfortable. I’m a t-shirt, jeans, sweatshirt kind of girl, but at work another side of me comes out. I’m wanting to feel sexy; I want to dress sexy and show cleavage. I’m a little older now, and things don’t stick up as high as they used to, but they don’t drop as low as my colleagues’. So I’m going to take that silver lining. I’m pretty much the three faces of Eve, and then when I’m with a guy, I like to be comfortable with my guy. I like to cook for a guy, fix his plate, not because I have to, but because I want to. I’m comfortable being Betty Crocker at home with my guy. There’s three different sides of me.
If you could tell Baby Toni Braxton anything, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give her?
I’d give her a “Moonstruck” moment: Snap out of it! What are you doing? Enjoy it, enjoy sex more, food more, being a rock star more.
That is great advice. Is there anything that you’d like to say that we haven’t discussed or that you want to tell the world?
You asked me a question earlier. You asked me if I noticed any changes in the music industry. You know, I don’t think I noticed any changes in the industry; I think I just changed with it. But when I look back, I’m just so glad that music is instantaneous, that you could get it right now. The only thing that’s a bit confusing to me is streams. I don’t understand how 15,000 streams equal one record. I don’t get that. I think that needs to be adjusted. That doesn’t make sense. I’m still getting that $1.29 a record; I don’t get why it takes 15,000 to add up to one record. I don’t like that part of it, but maybe I’m a novice and I don’t know enough about how this goes, but I don’t like that part. … There’s no way you can have a billion streams and make no money unless you go on tour. I’m very, very pro-artist. It doesn’t make sense. They should have an organization, like for athletes when they retire. I wish there was something like that for artists. There should be. I would have a coalition for something like that. 15,000 stream should not equal one album. I wish the record companies would have something like that for all these artists, for when the record doesn’t sell that well or for when they retire. You never know what life gives you.