Superstar singer Kem talks overcoming past demons and being an ambassador for R&B music


Internationally renowned R&B singer-songwriter Kem released his first album, Kemistry, on his own Kemistry Records label in 2001. After the independent release sold upward of 15,000 units, Kem was signed by Motown. The label re-released Kemistry, which powered by the No. 1 hit, “Love Calls,” was subsequently certified gold.

After a platinum follow-up (2005’s Album II) and another gold LP (2010’s Intimacy: Album III), Kem released his fourth album, Promise to Love, in 20014, which thus far has garnered two No. 1 singles.

Currently on tour with Charlie Wilson and Joe, ro recently caught up with Kem to discuss his new artist, L’Renee; the state of R&B music; and how discovering his spirituality helped him beat drug and alcohol addiction.

Tell us about your backstory prior to breaking onto the scene with 2003’s Kemistry?
Some fans, but maybe not all, know that I dealt with addiction and a bout of homelessness before my big break. I had been clean and sober for almost a decade before my first album came out, though I was making music before and during my addiction to alcohol and drugs. I had spent some time on the streets of Detroit and in jail because of my addiction. I talk about it freely because I’m not ashamed of it. I learned some things that you’ll probably hear in the music. My whole foundation and career have been built upon the things I’ve been allowed to overcome in my life. So I talk about it freely in hopes that I may be able to encourage someone else to overcome whatever things they may be going through in their lives.

I’ve read that your turning point happened when you found your spiritually. Any truth to that?
There’s an old adage that says “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I just came to a place where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I was ready to do things another way instead of my way. God brought some people into my life that showed me a better way to live. The foundation of that better way to live is having a spiritual life. Finding myself spiritually taught me how to live. It’s been instrumental in, not only my getting sober, but in every aspect of my life. I carry a spiritual torch if you will and my hope is that when you’re listening to the music that it comes through.

What’s the Mack And Third Foundation?
Mack And Third is my foundation started in order to give back to, not only the Detroit community, but my immediate community as well. Any place where there is a need we’re trying to help provide resources to people who are helping people. When I was going through what I was going through there were a lot people that helped me like the Salvation Army, the soup kitchens, rescue missions and so on. Those places need resrouces in order to be able to help people so Mack And Third is the vehicle that allows me to help those people out. It’s a great way for me to give back.

There’s also an annual benefit concert with Mack And Third, correct?
Yes there’s a benefit concert called Mack And Third Live where we have entertainment throughout the day, free medical services are offered, a food drive, and we collect donations as well and go back out and distribute those things into the community. I get a lot of my friends to come out to support the show. Last year The O’Jay’s helped us out, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Morris Day & The Time and more. So again, it’s just a great way for me to give back to the people that have given me so much.

Your first album Kemistry was released nationally in 2003 with your latest, Promise to Love, being released last year. Has it been difficult on your end as far as keeping the momentum going?
I just try to create great music. Everything starts with a song. I just try to create a great body of work and put it out to the world and just kinda hope for the best. I’ve been very fortunate to have the type of success that I’ve had so far and I’m grateful for it. We have two  No.1 singles on this album, Promise to Love, which I’ve never done before. We’ve had a great ride thus far and my hope is just to continue to create great music and hopefully the fans will continue to love it.

What’s it like to tour with a legend like Charlie Wilson?
It’s incredible, man. The shows have been incredible. I think we’re making a great statement for R&B. We’re packing people into arenas all over the country. As R&B artists we have to find out where our consumers are getting their music and we need to connect with them in that way. On a performance level it speaks volumes that people are constantly coming into these arenas and these shows are selling well. We’re having a good time and it really shows the strength of the R&B brand. We’re all ambassadors for R&B and I really feel good about the work we’ve been able to do.

How does touring affect your creativity? Do you write while on the road or save it for a less hectic environment?
All of my writing takes place at home. There are definitely times where maybe we’re at soundcheck and the band may come up with something but it really doesn’t get fleshed out until I’m at home.

Tell us about your new artist, L’Renee?
L’Renee is the first artist on my label, Kemistry Records. She’s an incredible vocalist from Detroit that I’ve been working with since 2010. I believe in what she does the same way that I believe in Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, and Anita Baker. I really believe in her that way and I cant wait to give the world a taste of what she can do. We’re looking forward to putting out a project on her soon.

What’s the best thing about being an artist?
Just being able to do what I’ve been called to do. To actually be where I am today is a testament to my faith. It’s a testament to God’s grace and mercy in my life. Also being able to use this platform in order to help other people. It allows me to touch people. It allows me to have an impact in other people’s lives. I think that no matter what our station is in life, we are here to help each other and being an artist allows me to do that.

How do you use social media to your advantage?
I try to interact with my fans on my social media platforms as much as I can. It’s a part of the world we’re living in so it’s important for me to engage. I was really resistant to it early on because I didn’t know how much of myself I wanted to expose to the public, but it’s really become a great tool to reach out to my consumers and fans. They’re right here and I’m right here with you. I know what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. Plus social media really has become a way for me to have an impact in people’s lives. Im constantly trying to figure out ways to add more meaning to my interaction in the social media world to help people change their lives and help inspire and encourage them and it’s a great tool to do that.

What’s something fans would be surprised to know about you?
I don’t know. I live a pretty drama free life. I eat chiterlings twice a year. *laughs* I think the biggest surprise to fans would be how quiet my life is. The music business is a hectic and chaotic world but my personal life is really quiet and I’m happy about that.

What’s next for Kem?
The very next thing for me is pushing L’Renee out. After we come off the road we’ll start coming up with songs for her. Also we’re working on a book that we’re hoping to get out before the end of the year. Aside from that just trying to continue with carrying out this message of love and this message of R&B to the world.

Kem is currently on a multi-city tour with Charlie Wilson and Joe. See tour dates below.

3/5 – Brooklyn, New York at Barclays Center
3/6 – Norfolk, Virginia at Ted Constant Convocation Center
3/7 – Newark, New Jersey at Prudential Center
3/8 – Washington, D.C. at Verizon Center
3/10 – Columbia, South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena
3/13 – Grand Prairie, Texas at Verizon Center
3/14 – New Orleans, Louisana at Smoothie King Center
3/15 – Houston at Toyota Center
3/19 – Boosier City, Louisiana at Century Link Center
3/20 – Memphis, Tennessee at FedEx Forum
3/21 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at Chesapeake Energy Center
3/22 – Kansas City, Missouri at Sprint Center
3/25 – Los Angeles at Nokia Theatre
3/26 – Los Angeles at Nokia Theatre
3/27 – Oakland, California at Oracle Arena
3/28 – Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay

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