Singer, songwriter, pianist, life coach, dad, marriage and relationship counselor, philanthropist, preacher, Christian, and performer extraordinaire: These adjectives could only describe one man in the world of R&B with the intensity and sincerity with which they are meant – Universal Motown Records artist Kem. The once homeless superstar who financed his first album "Kemistry" in 2003 by using his American Express, singing top 40 cover songs in a wedding band, and waiting tables has made it to the top, but he remains as humble and thankful for his blessings as anyone could ever be.
Kem has released three albums to date – "Kemistry" (2003), "Album II" (2005), and Intimacy (2010), and is currently writing songs for a new CD, which he expects to be completed in about 18 months. "Kemistry" introduced him to music lovers all over the world and immediately earned the soulful crooner a large and faithful fan base, "Album II" proved that he was anything but a "one album wonder," and "Intimacy" more than solidified his place in the music industry as a bonafide superstar, as within hours of its release, it had taken the number one spot on iTunes' R&B Albums chart. He has also been nominated for two Grammy awards, and has had two Smooth Jazz Tribute albums dedicated to him (2006 and 2010). Yes, the Detroit native is here to stay.
My first time seeing Kem perform was in 2011 at the Ryman Auditorium In Nashville during his Intimacy tour. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert again in February 2010 in Birmingham, Alabama for his An Evening Of Love tour with Tony Terry and K'Jon. The first time I saw him, I had no idea what to expect, so being completely blown away wasn't a shocker. Sure, I had heard his songs on the radio – "Love Calls," "Find Your Way," "You're On My Mind," "Why Would You Stay," "Love Never Fails," and my personal favorite "Share My Life," but none of that prepared me for what Kem did onstage either night. Although I had high expectations the second time around, I was still absolutely mesmerized, and even purchased my own Kem hat after the show.
Kem is a master entertainer who connects with the audience in a way that I've never seen anyone else do. With thousands of screaming and singing fans, he still manages to make the evening feel intimate and personal. Kem speaks to the ladies in a way that makes each one feel beautiful, confident, and deserving of only the best that a man can offer. He imparts the wisdom that we are complete in ourselves, and don't need a man to make us whole. Kem addresses the men in the audience as his brothers, imploring them to treat their women special and let them know they are loved. He reminds us that we should thank God in both good times and bad, and that in his life personally, while he certainly enjoys the peaks, it was during his journey through the valleys that he learned the most. He is energetic, charismatic, smooth, engaging, and captivates the audience with his very distinctive voice, which he wields like an instrument. The show is tight and professional to the nth degree with a band and background singers who are consummate performers as well. It's so more than a concert – it's an experience. When asked about the secret is to putting on such a great show, he says, "I use the same musicians onstage as I do in the studio to protect the integrity of the music by sounding as much like the record as much as I can. Over the years, you find out what works and what doesn't work. Each performance builds upon itself, and we try to be real about what we're doing. There's not a lot of gimmickry – I just really try to be genuine onstage."
I spoke with Kem backstage after the concert in Nashville, and by phone after his show in Birmingham. He attributes the success of his music to "grace," confessing "My music is a ministry that allows me to support missions in Kenya, missions in Jamaica, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and other evangelists, rescue missions, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and substance abuse centers." He laughed and added, "I give some, I save some, and I spend some. On a good day, I give first." Kem says that he enjoys the songwriting, recording, and performing aspects of being an artist equally, though he admits that the recording process is the most taxing, but acknowledges that without it, nothing else would be possible.
So what does Kem do when he's not touring? "I spend a lot of time writing songs, being a dad, being a son, and taking care of family business. Another thing is, it takes time to make a good record. I don't take my fan base for granted. I know they expect a quality product and for me, it takes time to do that. I don't want to put a record out just because people are expecting another record. I want to put a record out because I think the songs are worthy to be given to my fans."
Kem says the best advice he's ever been given as an artist was imparted by his father. "My dad once told me that if you know what it is that you want, it's easier to make your decisions. If the decisions you're making are not taking you towards what you want, then you can reassess, discard what you don't need, and make other decisions. Don't give up, never give up. Stay in your lane, do what you do, and the rest will come." Kem, you are definitely in your lane, and the world of music is so much better because you are.