10 Questions for Kem
Singer discusses new Christmas album and Detroit's resurgence.
Motown recording artist Kem will be entering "Mama, I made it" territory this year as the singer releases a Christmas album titled "What Christmas Means." With three gold-selling albums already under his belt, Kem looks to end the first decade of his successful career on a high note.
Loop 21 caught up with the Detroit representative while he was in Atlanta to talk about his new album, spending the holidays alone and what his daughters want for Christmas.
Loop 21: Tell us about this Christmas album. So many come out this time of year. How does it stand out?
Kem: "What Christmas Means" is my first Christmas album. It's a classic record with five original songs as well. I have my friend Ledisi on "Be Mine For Christmas." I also have string arrangements by Paul Riser [Motown's storied musical arranger]. So we pulled out all the stops. My hopes are that it will be a part of your holiday celebrations for years to come. I think my record could sit right next to those classics from the Whispers, even Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole.
Loop21: Paul Riser? Since you brought him up, what are the perks of being signed to Motown in 2012?
Kem: I live in Detroit, so I live in the city where Motown was founded and thrived. Signing there was a business decision, not for nostalgia. But because of the music I make, I fit right in with the Stevie Wonders and Marvin Gayes, using Detroit musicians for the most part. So I'm happy to be a part of that tradition; it's cool.
Loop 21: You worked with Motown legend Stevie Wonder for "You Might Win" on your sophomore album "Album II." Is there any topping that?
Kem: That's one of the biggest highlights of my career, man, you know? That's a hard thing to top. Definitely an honor and privilege. Every time I'd listen to "Rocket Love," which Riser arranged, while making this Christmas album, it would hit me. To say I've worked with these cats is very humbling. To have their input on my records is a big deal.
Loop 21: You've been out here doing your thing for almost a decade now. How do you feel when certain critics say "R&B is dead?" Seems like they only think of Chris Brown and Trey Songz.
Kem: It's just an opinion. My hope is to reach more people with my music. People who aren't familiar with me, isn't a bad thing. That means there's more people to find. Everything isn't for everybody. I dig Chris Brown and Trey Songz and all the other artists out there, but I'm doing OK doing what I'm doing.
Loop 21: You also have three gold-selling albums under your belt. How have you seen your audience change or grow over the years?
Kem: It's a spectrum. There's toddlers and teens that like my music. People in their 20s to grandmothers. In a lot of cases there's that smooth jazz crowd, so now a lot of Caucasians come to my shows. There's still a lot of folks to reach. If you're making a quality product, and good music, you will always have a place.
Loop 21: With Christmas time around the corner, you have two daughters. How big of a Santa Claus are you?
Kem: Oh, they get it in. My oldest daughter is 17, my youngest is 2. So my oldest got all kinds of stuff. As she's gotten older, the cost hasn't changed, but the gifts have. What used to be "$5" for a bunch of toys is now "$5" for one very nice toy. They always have a good Christmas. I try to be as generous as possible during the holidays.
Loop 21: Earlier in your life, you were homeless. Did you ever have to spend a Christmas on the streets?
Kem: Oh for sure. I've been homeless for Thanksgiving and Christmas for awhile. I was in my addiction phase so I wasn't with family and friends during the holidays. My last drink or drug was July 23rd of 1990. My tribulations serve me today. What I learned to overcome, the darkness, I use for today. Hopefully I can touch people who have similar trials and tribulations with my story.
Loop 21: You're helping people going through that with your foundation?
Kem: Mack and 3rd is my foundation. It raises resources for organizations for the community. Not just in Detroit, but any place in the world. To whom much has been given much is required and I consider it a privilege to help anyone from this position I've been blessed to be in.
Loop 21: If there's anything you could change about the current state that Detroit is in, what would you change?
Kem: Well, every city has problems and hard times. Every city you find cats in a hard place. Detroit is actually in process. The downtown is thriving. They're talking about building new stadiums. They're even talking about building a Whole Foods downtown, dude! Whole Foods, dawg?!? [laughs] It's on and popping! Somebody is thinking about the future. But things are growing. I consider myself an unofficial ambassador of the city, along with Kid Rock, Eminem, Anita Baker and others who are in the city. Just keep us in your prayers.
Loop 21: Lastly, what's the best Christmas gift you've ever received and given?
Kem: The best Christmas gift I received is the birth of the Christ. The best I have given, is staying sober.
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