Interviews

Kem: Staying True to Himself

Between the release of his third album, Intimacy, and being on tour right now, Kem is quite the busy artist nowadays. Luckily, we caught up with the R&B star while walking through the airport to find out where he gets inspiration for his music, what men can learn from his music and how he stays grounded.

Singersroom: You’ve been quoted saying that your career took off after being connected with your spirituality. Can you explain?

Kem: I was already on a spiritual trek but it wasn’t until I started to realize that I could use my gift as a form of ministry. I realized that I could get on stage and sing these songs I crafted but also give my testimony. I can take time out on stage to acknowledge God and it wasn’t until I made that connection and everything started to move around that time. When we find a way to use our gifts as an act of service, then the universe can’t help but to get behind that because then it becomes something that is greater than ourselves, and it makes it easier to work because I’m not directly responsible for the results. I’m just showing up and making myself available for the community so my shows are better, and my life is better when I operate in that way.

Singersroom: I understand what you mean. Some people describe your music as “neo soul” and some refer to it as “R&B.” What do you describe your music as and why do you like to stay low-key versus other mainstream artists?

Kem: I would describe my music as traditional R&B but I’m not mad at how anybody sees it. How you hear it is how you hear it and if you’re hearing it, that’s the objective. Whatever they call it is cool. There are a lot of jazz overtones in it. It’s funky, smooth and soothing. What the listener takes from it is truly at their discretion. I consider myself to be a very successful artist particularly considering the music that we make and my audience is still broadening. There are a lot of people who still aren’t familiar with it, and we’ll reach those people. Everything is groovy and on the flip side, bigger is not always better. We’re right where we’re supposed to be.

Singersroom: Do you write most of your music?

Kem: Most of it, I write. On the last album [Album II], there was one song I didn’t write called “I Get Lifted.” On the new album [Intimacy], I wrote everything with the exception of “Golden Days.” Jill Scott was on that song, and she wrote her part. And there’s also a duet on the album that was written by a lady from Detroit named Melanie Rutherford. Outside of that, I wrote everything.

Singersroom: Where do you get most of your inspiration for your songs?

Kem: Some of it comes from my personal life, some of it is fiction, and some of it is from experiences that other people had. It’s a mixture of all of the above.

Singersroom: I’m curious about one song. Was your new single “Why Would You Stay” written for an ex-girlfriend or someone in particular?

Kem: It wasn’t written for someone in particular, but the sentiment is definitely a personal one and from a personal experience. If I was still in that place, it would’ve been directed towards a specific person but at this point in my life, it’s not. I see myself as writing the songs that say the things men don’t know how to say that women need to hear.

Singersroom: I like that. So basically if any man has messed up, he needs to listen to your album or songs.

Kem: That’s the record they need to put on.

Singersroom: So it’s almost been a decade since you signed with Motown. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since then?

Kem: I don’t know how much I’ve grown as an artist. The music and the production on the records always evolve. The production on this record is more evolved. The songs are broader, and reach towards a broader demographic. It wasn’t intentional; it’s just where I am. My ideas about relationships are continuing to evolve and becoming more mature. I think you grow as an artist learning the business, but I think most of the growth is personal growth. I think I’ve grown as a person and individual and I think it translates into the music. And it translates into the business. There are certain business things I wouldn’t have done eight years ago that I’d do today. I’m just not in the same place; I’m not the same person. I’m quicker to tell someone “no.” I wouldn’t have done that eight years ago. So hopefully I’m continuing to get better.

Singersroom: What would you say to date has been your proudest moment?

Kem: There have been a few. Working with Stevie Wonder. Singing “My Funny Valentine” with Chaka Khan. Having Jill Scott on my record. Finishing this album. Being on “The Tonight Show.” Traveling to South Africa. On a good day, I can sit back and reflect on all of the things that I’ve been allowed to do because of my career so it’s been a good run.

Singersroom: Definitely sounds like it. Your third album, Intimacy, comes out August 17th. What makes this album different or better than your first two and why should people go out and buy it?

Kem: This album is probably some of the best writing I’ve done to date. I’m very proud of the lyrical content and I shared production on this album with a producer named Rex Rideout. I met him in Los Angeles working on a Frankie Beverly tribute album. The songs for this record were so incredible that they were beyond my ability to produce on my own, so Rex helped fill in the gaps. And we really made an incredible record. I’m really happy with it. It covers the spectrum of intimacy. I talk about maternal intimacy, there’s a song called “Mother’s Love.” I talk about relationships…the Jill Scott piece “Golden Days” speaks to your relationship with yourself. It’s very empowering and encouraging to women, especially young women. There’s a lot to glean from this record and I’m proud of it. And I know people have been waiting on it for a while. I’m pretty sure they’re going to find it’s worth the wait.

Singersroom: Lastly, what do you want to accomplish next?

Kem: I’m going to be working on an acoustics record. I did things on this album that had me leaning in that direction and I really like the sound of my voice without a full band so I want to explore that. I want to continue writing songs and right now, I’m enjoying performing with Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim and Raheem Devaughn with the Budweiser Superfest. I want to continue to perform, develop and maintain a killer stage show, be a good dad, and work on some projects for the future. I want to start working on and writing my next record. I’m in a really good place right now, and look forward to more great things to come. —— By: Interview By Crystal Tate

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