The tag line for Kem’s upcoming 20-city concert tour is “Find Your Way.” In the last two years, the Detroit-based artist has done just that.
Once homeless, Kem (last name Owens) later supported himself and his family by waiting tables and performing top 40 covers in a wedding band. Between those stints, he scraped together money and time to finance, record, produce and self-release 2002 album “Kemistry.”
The album’s jazz-infused R&B and Kem’s vocal dexterity — reminiscent of Al Jarreau — not only earned him a steady following on the Midwest R&B club circuit, it also drew the attention of Motown, which reissued “Kemistry” in 2003.
A top-20 hit (“Love Calls”) and one gold album later, Kem picks up where he left off with his sophomore set, simply titled “Album II.” Winsome first single “I Can’t Stop Loving You” has already reached No. 1 on the Billboard Adult R&B chart and the top 30 of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally.
“I’m a borderline control freak,” Kem says of his first full-fledged major-label album, which was released May 17. “I wasn’t accountable to anyone before. But it has been a learning — and good — experience.”
Noting he made an “honest effort” to not alienate what people love about his music — dubbed “modern Motown” by the label — Kem produced the 11-track project. Revisiting the themes of love, faith and hope, Kem sharpens his sights as a songwriter, producer and vocalist on such tracks as “Without You” and “You Might Win.” Labelmate Stevie Wonder’s sweet harmonica accents the latter.
The only song Kem did not write is “I Get Lifted,” a cover of George McCrae’s 1974 R&B hit.
“There’s value in both the indie and major routes,” Kem says of both of his albums. “My team and I did what we could as an independent, then put a good deal together with Motown. And I put money in my pocket, which I’m not mad at.”
Kem’s tour with opening acts Rahsaan Patterson and third-season “American Idol” winner Fantasia kicks off June 8 in St. Louis. He is also playing the Essence Music Festival July 3 in New Orleans. TV appearances include “Jimmy Kimmel Live” June 7.
Excerpted from the May 21, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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