Kem's niche as a performer is adult contemporary, not gospel, but few would deny that his path to success is just as inspirational. Just a few years ago, he was a struggling part-time waiter and musician trying to launch a career after recovering from drug addiction and homelessness. His self-released debut, Kemistry, was picked up for distribution by Motown in 2003 and sold nearly a million copies. By the time he followed up with 2005's gold-selling Album II, Kem had established himself as a compelling vocalist, songwriter, producer and performer.
"I still have to pinch myself sometimes," admits the Nashville-born, based-in-Detroit performer, who's released his latest CD, Intimacy: Album III on August 16. "It's been a tremendous journey, I'm very grateful to make a living doing what I always wanted to do and that there are people out there to receive it."
This fall, Kem is set to hit the ground running, thanks to the already-popular first single, "Why Would You Stay," and his position as headliner for this year's Budweiser Superfest. In a quick phone chat, the multi-talented musician discusses the creation of Intimacy, a few of his influences and what kept him out of the studio for nearly a decade.
It's good to see you back in the game Kem. Ttell us about where your music is taking you this time with Intimacy, especially the song "Why Would You Stay."
Well, part of the concept behind the album was vulnerability, and I try to write the words that men don't know how to say that women definitely need to hear. I think "Why...." speaks to that. I know that there are a lot of brothers out there who feel the same way; those experiences aren't exclusive to me. We know when we're wrong and it's good to have music that you can put on when you don't have the words to help you express that sentiment.
Do you have any particular favorites on this project?
"Why..." and "Share My Life," those are two of them. "Love Never Fails" and "Human Touch" are favorites as well.
Why was there such a long absence from recording this time around?
It was about living life: I have a teenage daughter who's just transitioning from middle school into high school, so that's the number one job. Otherwise, I was just living life, being a son, being a dad, being a brother, as well as taking the time to just cultivate some songs that would be worthy for you all to receive on this album.
Well, we can't argue with that, especially since Intimacy is such an excellent CD.
(chuckling) I'm glad to hear that, thank you very much.
Tell us about the collaborations with Maurissa Rose and Jill Scott. Did you continue the tradition of writing and producing the entire CD as well?
I wrote everything except for the songs with Jill and Maurissa, those were co-written. As for the production, Rex Rideout joined me this time around. The song that Jill appears on, "Golden Days," has been several things over the past few years and wasn't originally supposed to have been for me to record. When I decided to use it for myself, it was clear to me that I wanted to add either a rapper or someone who did spoken word. I tried a few people and took a shot to see if Jill would be interested and available to participate on that song, and she was. We recorded it in Los Angeles---she came into the studio with no entourage, we put it down, ate lunch and just vibed, talking about the business and life in general. It was a good experience for me and I hope that it was for her as well, I'm very grateful that she participated on the record.
As for Maurissa Rose, we worked together on the (Tyler Perry) Madea's Family Reunion soundtrack song called "Tonight." She's a great, great vocalist and adds a lot of value to what I do, because I wanted to have that Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell-type ‘go-to girl' for all of my duets. We tried a couple of different vocalists, but I'm glad that we finally ended up using her for the record.
Your voices are a perfect combination Kem. When you're out there performing the songs, how are fans reacting to the new cuts?
All of them are being received well, especially the new single. I enjoy performing the songs off the new album, because people have been waiting for this record for a long time, so to re-energize my fan base in that way is thrilling. There's something to be said about a well-crafted song; you don't have to have necessarily heard it before to resonate with it, because music is music. Everybody has their favorites, and different songs mean different things to different folks. It's great that people find a deeper meaning to the words rather than just being entertained, to sing along with and pull more from it. That's what I hope when I write them and I'm glad it's turned out to be the case.
How does it feel to see thousands of fans swaying and singing along when you're on stage? "Find Your Way" seems to be one of the main songs that the audience relates to when I've seen you live.
(laughs) What's not to love about that people grooving to your music? It's one of my favorite songs too and did very well for the second album, I'm proud of it and the audience is always involved when we do that song, so I'm very flattered about it.
Who would you say your major influences are, and how do you feel about R&B returning to its roots these days, so to speak?
I'm really inspired and influenced by great songs, and there have been a lot of different artists who have performed and/or written great songs, like Michael Jackson, Prince, Sting, Jill Scott, Anita Baker. There are a lot of different names in that hat.
As far as soul music, I'm only doing me, and that's all I can do at this point in my life, so I'm glad that there's still a place for the music I create. My daughter listens to what's happening now and some of it's cool---I like Drake, T.I. and there's a lot out there that I enjoy. Every generation gets a turn. I don't know how old you are, but when I was growing up, my parents though I was crazy walking around dressed in purple and lace with the silver glove (cracks up). "Do Me Baby" was X-rated to them!
Oh, I remember those days, trust me! I know we're having to wrap up now, but is there any message you have for your fans, those who are going to download or pick up Intimacy today and see you in concert this fall?
Well, I'm grateful to be doing what I'm doing, and I hope that they enjoy it, that the music becomes a part of their lives. My fans can reach out to me at http://www.musicbykem.com/ and I want your readers to know that I don't take their love and support for granted. We love them all back and thank them for it, we really do.
By Melody Charles