Toni Braxton: Music and Film

Toni Braxton will soon be putting the finishing touches on her fifth album, but in the meantime, the six-time Grammy winner has been testing her acting chops and taking care of her infant son, Denim.

The album probably won’t be out until fall, but fans will get to see her outside of her usual torch-singer role tonight in the VH1 movie Play’d: A Hip-Hop Story (9 ET/PT). She portrays the wife of an in-over-his-head rap star (Rashaan Nall) who splits with his longtime partner (Merlin Santana) and signs with a gangster-influenced West Coast record company.”It touches on some elements of the Biggie and Tupac story, so I read some things about that to help me prepare,” says Braxton, who previously appeared on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast and in the ensemble film comedy Kingdom Come.

”I’ve been singing professionally now for 10 years, and it is something that I’ll always do, but I always want to do other things. It was important that I took a role that established me as an actress, and I didn’t want to do anything that would have me singing.”

Braxton, who says she’s looking over other scripts but hasn’t committed to anything, gets to show her tender and tough sides in Play’d, where she’s the emotional anchor for rapper Nall.

But for all the domestic drama she faces on screen, her life at home couldn’t be happier.

”Motherhood is keeping me busy,” says Braxton, 33, who gave birth Dec. 2. ”I just love being a mom.”

She and husband Keri Lewis, the former Mint Condition keyboardist whom she wed in April 2001, split time between homes in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The couple met in 1997 while she was on tour with Kenny G and Mint Condition served as her band. Lewis is now an independent producer and songwriter who wrote the title track of Braxton’s platinum 2000 album, The Heat, and played on several songs.

They also collaborated on her Christmas album, Snowflakes, which came out not long before Denim’s birth.

”I didn’t get to promote it like I would have liked, but I was pregnant at the time,” says Braxton. ”The record company (Arista) wanted me to wait, but (the album) was something I really wanted to do.”

Promotion won’t be a problem when her new album comes out. It will include beats from several hot producers including Timbaland and Kenneth ”Babyface” Edmonds.

”Babyface and I have worked together for so long that we have our own magic,” she says.

The still-untitled project will be a departure for the singer best known for such songs as Un-Break My Heart, You Mean the World to Me, Seven Whole Days and Another Sad Love Song.

”The new album will be more amplified,” she says. ”There will be a couple of sad songs on there, but I’m at a happy time in my life now, so it’s a little more difficult to sing about being sad.”

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