Kem, bound for Chene Park, eyes 2019 for new album
While working on his first album since 2014, the Detroit R&B singer plays two hometown concerts, Friday and Saturday
Fifteen years into his career, Detroit R&B singer Kem is devoted — to his music, to his fans, and to the city that made him who he is today.
"My career was built on the love of the city," says Kem, who plays two hometown shows at Chene Park on Friday and Saturday.
The singer spent two days in rehearsals this week with his 10-piece band getting ready for the concerts, knowing Detroit shows come with their own sets of challenges, expectations and rewards.
"You wanna do good," he says, noting many friends and family members will be in attendance. "If you don't do good, you're gonna know about it immediately."
Friday's show is a benefit concert for the National Association of Black Journalists, which is holding its annual convention in Detroit this week. Kem says its an honor to be involved with NABJ, "especially now," he says.
"The press is under assault right now, and African-American journalists are a part of that," the 49-year-old says.
He says the NABJ is "very important," especially for the work it is doing offering scholarships to up-and-coming journalists.
As for his own relationship with the press, "so far, so good," Kem says.
Kem was born in Nashville, raised in Southfield, and suffered pre-fame bouts with homelessness and addiction. But he turned his life around and found his place through music, and went from selling CDs out of his trunk in the early 2000s to landing a deal with Motown Records, which released his first four albums, as well as his 2012 holiday album.
He is currently "diligently" working on his first studio album since 2014's "Promise to Love." Titled "Devotion," the set will likely be released in 2019.
He's already built a foundation of "nine or 10" songs, he says, and he's found no shortage of inspiration for the set.
"I think we're living in one of the most politically divisive times in our country's history," says Kem, born Kim Owens. "It has trickled down into the psyche of our community, in our neighborhoods and in our cities. It's really toxic right now. And I think there's room to address some of that musically."
On a personal level, Kem has a son, Christopher, who is 20 months old, who has helped him put other things in his life into perspective.(He also has three daughters.)
"At this stage in my life, where am I showing up, and what am I showing up for?" he says. "What am I devoted to, what am I going to give my energy to? What am I going to stand up for, stand behind and stand against, spiritually, relationship-wise, politically? There's a lot of ground to cover."
Don't expect any major shifts in style from the R&B artist, whose last three albums have all reached the top 5 of Billboard's Top 200 albums chart. "I'm not chasing the flavor of the month, but staying grounded in what it is that I do: black music," he says.
He initially hoped the new album would see the light of day in 2017. That shifted to this year, and now he's focused on 2019. All in due time, he says.
"We spent too much time filling the ground of my career to just put music out so that we could fulfill a timeline," says Kem. "We want to tend to our garden of believers and followers so that we can put something out that we stand behind. My fans are devoted to me, and they deserve a quality album. And that's what they're going to get."
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Chene Park, 2600 E. Atwater, Detroit