For all of his life, KEM has been driven by music and the emotions involved in bringing it to life. That passion stems from the days he spent as a child playing the old piano at his grandfather’s church.
For KEM, there’s always been a deep and very intimate connection to music, which has evolved throughout his personal life experiences.
Today, the internationally renowned R&B singer/songwriter has to his credit three Gold-selling albums with Motown (KEMISTRY; KEM: ALBUM II; INTIMACY); two GRAMMY nominations; three #1 hit singles (“Love Calls,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Why Would You Stay”), along with several sold-out national tours and international shows. An actor as well, KEM made his big-screen acting debut in the 2012 movie, “Sparkle,” starring Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston. Several of the artist’s songs have also been featured in films.
But in spite of his success in the world of R&B, many still don’t know the true depths of KEM, his music, his passion for songwriting or his journey from homelessness and addiction to sobriety that have given life to his music and thousands of fans. Consequently, he’s often called “R&B’s Best Kept Secret.”
Much of the inspiration for KEM’s music began taking root after the artist graduated from high school and found his life in a downward spiral from some very deep seated personal issues, which resulted in him turning to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. Frustrated with his unwillingness to seek help, his mother was forced to kick him out of the house.
The kid who once dreamed of playing the piano now found himself living on the streets of Detroit, driven only by the idea of where he would get his next fix. KEM’s life became entrenched in robbing stores, being arrested and spending time in and out of drug rehab centers and homeless shelters. But he managed to find some serenity and solace from playing pianos at the shelters.
KEM finally hit rock bottom on the night of July 22, 1990, when after breaking shelter rules, he was kicked out and relegated to sleeping outside. As he sat on the banks of the Detroit River that night, looking at the lights of Windsor, Canada across the water, KEM realized that he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And in a break from his regular routine of trying to map out his own road in life, KEM decided to hand all his future plans over to God.
The next day, on his actual birthday, he entered himself into the Salvation Army, which provides services for the homeless, and has been sober ever since. KEM has celebrated both his birthday and his re-birth day each July 23 since the day he spent his last night of addiction and homelessness on the banks of the Detroit River.
Throughout his journey to sobriety, KEM continued to write his music. He secured a job waiting tables, and honed his craft by playing weddings and other gigs around Detroit that allowed him to perform his original songs. He eventually was able to pay for studio time and the recordings of his music after mistakenly being approved for a major credit card, which the artist often speaks of as another moment of “divine intervention.”
It was on February 28, 2002, KEM independently released his first CD, KEMISTRY, but it wasn’t an overnight success. Knowing that breaking into the highly competitive world of R&B music world would
take more than a notion, KEM and his manager developed a grass-roots marketing plan to sell the album. Driven then more than ever, the artist sold more than 15,000 units, literally out of the trunk of his car. The success prompted a call from Motown Records.
They quickly signed KEM to a five-record deal in November 2001 and re-released KEMISTRY on the Motown label in 2002. His first hit, “Love Calls” jetted to #1 on Urban Adult Contemporary charts, and continues to be played on R&B radio stations to this day as an undisputed classic.
His second release, KEM ALBUM II, debuted as certified Gold with 500,000 in sales in May 2005. His #1 single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” was Billboard’s Top Adult R&B Single of the Year. The CD’s second single, “Find Your Way (Back In My Life)” peaked at #3 on UAC Charts. KEM was introduced to national media that year with appearances on television shows including Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno and The View, as he unseated Prince as the most-played male urban adult artist. ALBUM II was officially certified Gold in South Africa in 2012.
KEM’s popularity soared as his third project, INTIMACY, debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart in August 2010 and hit #1 on the iTunes Top R&B Albums Chart. The first single, “Why Would You Stay,” spent seven weeks at #1 on UAC Radio charts, and the CD’s second, third and fourth singles, “Share My Life,” “If It’s Love” and “You’re On My Mind,” climbed into the chart’s top five. INTIMACY was officially certified Gold in the US and in South Africa in 2012.
KEM’s first Christmas album, WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS, was released in October 2012. The CD sold 76,000 copies, making it the #3 highest-selling Urban Christmas record in one season (third only to Whitney Houston’s “One Wish: The Holiday Album” – 230,000 units sold; and Cee-Lo Green’s “Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment” – 169,000 units).
In October 2013, KEM released his WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS DELUXE album with four bonus tracks, including the hit single, “Jesus,” featuring Patti LaBelle and Ronald Isley. In December 2013, KEM executive-produced the “KEM & Friends: What Christmas Means Holiday Tour,” a holiday-themed music experience with a storyline narrated by actor/comedian Anthony Anderson featuring KEM & his R&B friends: Patti LaBelle; Ronald Isley and Avery Sunshine. Performances of their hits, as well as Christmas originals & classics, took audiences in six cities on an uplifting holiday journey.
Combined, KEM’s four albums have sold in excess of 2.5 million units. In recognition of his singing and songwriting talents, KEM was nominated for two NAACP Image Awards in 2006 for Outstanding Male Artist and Outstanding Song (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”); for a Soul Train Award for Best Male R&B/Soul Artist in 2010; two Grammy Awards in 2010 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song (“Why Would You Stay”) and the BET Centric Award.
KEM was nominated four (4) times for the 2013 44th NAACP Image Awards for his songs: “Glorify The King,” “Be Mine For Christmas,” “You’re On My Mind” and for his “You’re On My Mind” video. “Glorify The King,” “Be Mine For Christmas” and “You’re On My Mind” were nominated in the ‘Outstanding Song’ category and the “You’re On My Mind” video was nominated in the ‘Outstanding Music Video’ category.
In addition to his album releases, KEM’s songs have also been featured in movie soundtracks, including: “Fascination” (original music) in “Take The Lead;” “Tonight” (original music) in “Madea’s Family Reunion;” “Can You Feel It” (from INTIMACY) in “Good Deeds;” and “A Beautiful World” (original music) in Mitch Albom’s “Have A Little Faith.”
In 2013, KEM wrote and recorded a duet with Ronald Isley entitled “My Favorite Thing,” which was released as the second single from Ron Isley’s 2013 CD, ”This Song Is For You.” The two R&B singers also starred in the music video for the single.
KEM’s major tours include: 2003: The Soulful Tour (Ruben Studdard wsg KEM); 2004: The Underground Tour; 2005: Find Your Way Tour; 2006: Into You Tour; 2011: Intimacy Tour US and 2012: Intimacy Tour South Africa.
To this day, KEM remains a resident of Detroit, and throughout his career has stayed faithful to the City by employing virtually all of his musicians, vendors, staff and management team from the Detroit area. He continues to record his music in Detroit studios, and whenever possible, he films his music videos and poses for photo shoots in the City as well.
KEM says that his faith and dedication is a testament that anybody can overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams. He regularly speaks to groups, and tells people that no matter their situation, that they have the ability to do anything they want to do. It is this belief that set KEM on his philanthropic path of giving back to Detroit’s community.
In 2012, he founded Mack & Third, Inc., a Michigan domestic non-profit organization whose mission is built on the premise that no basic human need should go unmet due to lack of funding. Mack & Third provides funding to humanitarian aid organizations related to: homelessness; hunger; substance abuse; domestic violence; natural disasters; education, etc.
KEM’s ‘Mack & Third’ event is an all-day concert event and food drive to benefit and recognize Detroit’s homeless citizens. KEM presented his third ‘Mack & Third’ event in Detroit on August 26, 2012, which was headlined by Maze ft. Frankie Beverly. The event was attended by 55,000 fans, provided free, hot meals to 1,500 homeless men, women & children and collected in excess of 130,000 canned goods. KEM’s fourth ‘Mack & Third’ event will be held on August 24, 2014.
“Mack & Third is about giving back,” said KEM. “I’ve been fortunate to overcome many obstacles, including being addicted and homeless. If it weren’t for organizations dedicated to helping the homeless, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope to be an inspiration to others with the hope that we might make a difference for somebody who might be struggling to manage life on a daily basis. By sharing music with the community at the Mack & Third event, I also hope to inspire others to give back.”
KEM is currently in the studio recording his fourth studio album, which is scheduled for release on August 26th, 2014. The CD’s first single, “It’s You,” debuted in a World Premiere on June 3.