Skip to main content

Kem Explains Why ‘Love Always Wins’ on First New Album in Six Years

Kem releases follows No. 1 R&B hit with first new studio album since 2014.

After a six-year hiatus, R&B hitmaker Kem returned in April with new single “Lie to Me.” Then he proceeded to defy the odds. The mid-tempo track about “not holding back from the ones we love,” as he relayed to Billboard then, recently ended a seven-week tenure at No. 1 on the Adult R&B Songs chart.

Calling his comeback “a relief and humbling,” Kem returns today (Aug. 28) toting fifth studio album Love Always Wins. In addition to “Lie to Me,” the Kemistry/Motown Records project features a second ascending single, the steamy “Live Out Your Love” featuring Toni Braxton.

Produced by Kem and Derek “DOA” Allen, Love Always Wins peppers the Grammy-nominated artist’s smooth, grown and sexy signature sound with more up-tempo flavor, prominent guitar accents and franker lyrical insights. Protest song “Friend Today” embodies the latter while the feisty “Love” is described by him as “Marvin Gaye meets Curtis Mayfield meets Prince meets Kem; a cold-blooded groove with Randy Bowland’s killer guitar licks.” Additional collaborators include R&B/gospel star Erica Campbell, jazz pianist Brian Culbertson, guitarist Michael Ripoli and songwriter/author David Ritz.

“I had fun on this record,” says Kem. “There’s a lot of other musical nostalgia on here too, influences from the R&B game like the S.O.S. Band and Patrice Rushen.”

Kem’s creative stretching on Love Always Wins was also influenced by the career and life changes Kem experienced during his six-year break. He got married, became a dad to a son and a daughter and changed management. The singer/songwriter is now managed by Kenneth Crear and Johnny Wright of Popnation and Gerald Isaac of Gerald Isaac Music Group.

Love Always Wins’ “Lie to Me” gave Kem his sixth No. 1 on the Adult R&B Songs tally, including “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (also logging seven weeks in 2005) and “Nobody” (nine weeks in 2015). Latest single “Live Out Your Love” debuted this week at No. 24 on Adult R&B Songs (chart date Aug. 29). In addition to scoring 12 top 10s on Adult R&B Songs during his career, Kem boasts three top five albums on the Billboard 200: Album II (No. 5), Intimacy: Album III (No. 2) and Promise to Love: Album IV (No. 3). To date, Kem has sold 3 million albums in the U.S., while his songs have registered 478 million on-demand streams, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.

KEM, "Love Always Wins"
KEM, "Love Always Wins" Courtesy Photo

In outtakes from a phone interview with Billboard from his Atlanta home, Kem talks dueting with songstresses Braxton and Campbell, going full steam ahead during the pandemic and writing his “most culturally relevant song” ever.

Returning after a six-year hiatus:
(Laughing). It’s a relief and humbling, of course. But it’s also validation. I’ve made a lot of changes over the last six years, both professionally and personally. So to go away for so long then come back and have a No. 1 record for seven weeks … it feels real good. It’s also a testament to our friends at radio and to the fans who have been so patiently waiting for my musical return.

Why “Lie to Me” resonates so strongly:
Having great co-writers on the song — Anthony Hamilton, James Poyser and Salaam Remi — played a part. As did the song’s feel-good tempo. Between people having to shelter in place and the racial and political divisiveness happening in the country, we’re up against a lot right now. At the end of the day, people just want to feel good. And they haven’t felt good with me in a long time, you know?

Strategy for releasing a new album during a pandemic:
My management has been waiting on this new record as long as everyone else [laughs]. But there was no special strategy. We were always planning on releasing the project this year. Then COVID-19 happened. We still decided to go full steam ahead because music brings people together. And during this time, music is helping people connect in more ways than they ever have before. So I felt it was a good time to put this music out into the world. I’m looking forward to everybody getting their hands and ears on the rest of the record.

Going “overt and intentional” on album track “Friend Today”:
It’s the most culturally relevant song that I’ve ever written. The closer we got to completing the album, I knew I definitely wanted to speak to our times. Part of the song’s lyrics talked about how they’re sending our babies to war. After George Floyd’s murder, I changed it to “they’re killing our babies, Lord.” It was important to include the messaging that’s in the news and social media: immigration, race relations, police brutality, Black Lives Matter. I don’t usually do that; all of the messages in my music are metaphors where you read between the lines. But “Friend Today” is overt and intentional. When I sat down to write the song, I didn’t get up until I finished it later that same day. I wrote it to guitar on keyboards. Then I called Michael “Nomad” Ripoll, one of the best acoustic guitar players in the game, and put him on it. So it’s just vocal and guitar, which can live anywhere: adult contemporary, country, wherever you want to go with it.

Dueting with Toni Braxton and Erica Campbell:
“Love Always Wins,” the album’s title track, wasn’t officially slated to be a duet with Erica. The song encourages people to not give up on the good — the love — that’s still in the world. After recording a standalone version of the song, I wanted to do another version, casting a bona fide gospel voice on the back end along with a choir to take the song out. But Erica’s performance – the texture of her voice, her energy and spirit behind the lyrics — changed that. She adds a fundamental and necessary dynamic to the song. I couldn’t be more pleased by the way it turned out.

Toni and I share a manager in Kenneth Crear, and the song we do is the new single, “Live Out Your Love,” a standalone version of which also appears on the album. The hope is always that a collaboration meets everyone’s expectations. But my expectations were exceeded from the first time Toni sent the song back to make sure that she was going in the right direction with it. I’m really grateful that she’s on the album. Toni makes everything sound better. That’s the truth.