Frequently an artist is dubbed as having an iconic sound or “unique” style simply due to a slight derivation from typical phrasing or intonation; rare is it that these labels are applicable. Kem is an artist who wears these descriptions perfectly. His voice is reminiscent of one of the smoothest crooners in black music history, Al Jarreau. Kem’s voice glides over songs like a liquid torrent cresting before and after the beat, sudden changes in pitch, so perfect that you got the sensation of a roller coaster’s drop. His runs are both fluid and yet staccato. But as the kids say, “it’s the voice for me.”
The first time I heard Kem, I assumed his sound was about as organic as an iMac. It was too different, notes tinged by what felt like flakes of metal to my ear, the timbre of it leaving the impression of Roger Troutman’s talkbox. Yet I was an instant fan. I believed him a master of the technology; it sounded “real.” So imagine my shock when I learned it was that this sound came from someone’s vocal cords, exclusively, fully replicable live without the benefit of a microphone. His sound was unique and iconic.
Kem is a brilliant songwriter, storyteller, and mood setter. His slow groove ballads and romantic sound are the kind of music that can take a shared drink, to a slow drag to the break of dawn. His debut album Kem features the forever ode, Love Calls. The lyrics growl, mewl, and urge the listener to capitulate to the indomitable force that is love, “There’s nowhere to hide, yeah, when love is callin’ your name.” His sophomore effort features I Can’t Stop Loving You which served as the anchor for this platinum which reached the #1 slot on the R&B Billboard charts and secured him a Billboard Music Award as R&B Single of the Year.
Kem has now released 6 studio albums. Of note, his fourth, What Christmas Means, featuring Ledisi and the Detroit Gospel Choir, is one to put in the post-Turkey Day rotation.
As for now, as the temperature heats up outside, if you want to get things cooking indoors, pop on this Kem NeoSoulCypher playlist and enjoy dulcet tones, slow jams and let him serenade you share the Promise to Love.