If Toni Braxton would have followed through with her thought to retire from music, she’d never have been able to un-break her fans’ hearts.
Finally hitting her stride again despite her ongoing battle with lupus, she recently released her first solo album in nearly a decade, Sex & Cigarettes. The singer-songwriter and R&B star, 50, reveals in this week’s issue of PEOPLE that she almost called it quits on her career. But thankfully another R&B legend intervened.
“I was contemplating retiring years ago and then Babyface pulled me out of that feeling I was in,” the “Un-Break My Heart” singer says about the music icon who got her out of her funk. “Four years ago, I did a project with him Love, Marriage and Divorce, so he kind of got me ready and prepared.”
“I think I was inspired… I was ready to do music again,” she continues on why she’s back with Sex & Cigarettes. “My very first album I was green – you only get one time to get green when you’re so new and so excited – but then later on as you do something for a long time no matter what job you have, you learn the business of it [and] I think it clouded being creative.”
And although she’s more excited than ever about her “comeback” and celebrating her 25-year milestone in the industry, Braxton’s two sons, Diezel, 15, and Denim, 16, have their own opinion.
“The ’90s are considered retro now,” she laughs. “My kids say, ‘Mommy, you’re vintage!’ and I’m like, ‘really?!’”
As for her new music, “I still sing about sad love songs,” she says, adding “but with this, I pushed the envelope just a little bit. I’m right there on the edge, almost like that Grammy dress where I pushed it right on the edge of being nude, but not quite nude,” says Braxton of her 2001 red carpet look. “That’s what I felt like I was doing with this album.”
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For more from Toni Braxton on her return to music, pick up our Beautiful issue when it hits newsstands on Friday and check out all of our coverage on PEOPLE.com.
While there’s no shortage of “sad love songs, the album is inspired by “a person coming home to remnants of sex and cigarettes, or infidelity,” says Braxton.
“When I was thinking about Sex & Cigarettes, I was thinking about in the ’40s and the ’50s, well before my time, and after a good, we’ll say “satisfying thing” they would have a great cigarette afterwards,” she says. “We added a little twist and wanted to talk about infidelity.”
Cheating talk aside, the album also features a love song called “Heart Away” written by her fiancé, Birdman.
“I didn’t realize it was a love song at first because I didn’t understand what he was saying,” she laughs. “My sister Tamar was like, ‘Girl, he’s talking about you! He loves you!’”