R&B singer, producer and the writer of some of the most emotionally-charged and inspiring love songs in the industry, Kem, returns to the District on Friday, Nov. 20 for the next leg of his “Promise to Love Tour,” along with Marsha Ambrosius, one of the original members of Floetry, at DAR Constitution Hall in Northwest.
Kem, a longtime Detroiter, who inked a five-album contract with Motown Records in 2003, first hit the charts after saving money from his day job and an American Express card to self-release his debut album “Kemistry” in 2002. He stands as a testament as to what can happen when a person believes in their God-given talents and refuses to give up on their dreams.
He spoke with The Washington Informer about his much-deserved success, his spiritual journey and his greatest challenges.
“As the success has come, I have always tried to stay true to the music and to myself creatively,” said Kem, 46, who began to learn the piano when he was 5 and later began singing with his high school choir. “From the writing process to being on stage, I try to keep God first and seek to do the right thing.”
After high school, he left home and by his own admission, was lost for some time, living on the streets and battling his insecurities and personal demons including alcohol and drugs. But he said, he turned to God, sought help and turned his life around.
“There’s no greater work to be done than to inspire and encourage people to endure and overcome what they’ve had to face in life,” he said. “Being a celebrity gives me a platform for spreading positivity so others can make their lives better.”
With his first two albums certified gold and platinum, respectively, and with several Grammy nominations for Best R&B Male Performance and Best R&B Song under his belt, Kem, who believes that a thread of spirituality exists in all of songs and admitted that one day he may decide to produce a gospel recording, said one of his greatest challenges is handling the pressure he puts on himself.
“There’s always the internal pressure to be better, to continue to want to improve myself, personally and as an entertainer, and then managing that pressure,” he said. “I am my most difficult critic and I have very high expectations for myself and for those who work for me. That pressure creates an end result that’s good but it’s still sometimes difficult to manage.”
As for his favorite entertainers, Kem includes Michael Jackson, Ron Isley of the Isley Brothers, Chaka Khan, Prince and Rachelle Ferrell among those he most admires because “they’re all extremely baad.”
Like most people, Kem admits that the relationship with his family is chock full of love, laughter and occasional tears adding, that “we’re like the rest of the world – we get on each other’s nerves from time to time. But my two daughters (5 and 20) – they’re the light of my life,” he said.
And when asked about whether he has a “boo,” Kem said at the moment he doesn’t have a significant other.
He recently recorded a Christmas song with India Arie for her holiday album and said it looks like the two will be appearing on several television guests spots in the coming weeks.
He shared his advice on facing the vicissitudes of life.
“When I decided to quit my job to pursue my career, the greatest challenge was not knowing if things would work out,” he said. “I poured all my resources, hopes and aspirations into something that might never bear any fruit but I knew the seed that had been planted within me – and I realized that I had to try.”
Has he found his life’s calling? For now, he said the answer is a resounding yes.
“D.C.’s WHUR-FM was one of the first stations to play my music even before I had a record deal and I’ve had some great times on intimate stages in the District, so this is a special place for me. I knew that if I was ever going to make my mark in this world, it would be through music. I’m just glad that I stepped out on faith and nurtured the seed that God planted in my heart. I encourage others to do the same.”
Kem will be joined by Marsha Ambrosius, who helped found Floetry before embarking upon a solo career in 2009 as a singer, musician, songwriter and producer.
Visit ticketmaster.com for more information or call 800-745-3000.