2015 ESSENCE Fest performer, Kem has been touring the country and shutting down arenas with Joe and fellow 2015 ESSENCE Fest performer, Charlie Wilson. He took a short break from the Forever Charlie tour to talk with us about his love for ESSENCE Fest, his collaboration with Snoop and why he feels artistic value in black music has been lost.
ESSENCE: How’s the tour been going so far?
The tour is incredible. I’m having the time of my life out here. We’re packing in arenas all over the country and it’s really a statement we are making for black music with this tour.
ESSENCE: This is your first arena tour. Were you nervous about such an ambitious undertaking?
It definitely was an ambitious undertaking but Charlie Wilson is headlining so I didn’t feel so much pressure in that way. I did know that this was almost unheard of for Adult Contemporary artists to be doing this size of a venue but the tour is really exceeding everybody’s expectations. We are really having a good time and it’s a pleasure to be working with my partners in R&B crime, Joe and Charlie.
ESSENCE: So, what’s it been like to tour with them [Joe and Charlie Wilson]? Especially with Charlie, who has so much energy!
Yeah, Charlie’s show is incredible. Joe is an R&B balladeer staple and a great performer. With my group, we just do our thing so it’s really a night of quality entertainment. People are leaving these shows and they’ve really gotten their money’s worth. From the beginning to the end of the show, we are having a good time out here. I learn a lot from Uncle Charlie and we’ve done a lot of shows together over the years. We’ve always talked about doing something like this and I’m really grateful and humbled that they’ve allowed me to be apart of it.
ESSENCE: Tell me what excites you most about performing at ESSENCE Fest?
ESSENCE Festival is the largest gathering of black people coming together to be entertained, to have fun, to fellowship with each other—it’s beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful gatherings of black people that I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s positive. It definitely celebrates the black woman. I had so much fun at ESSENCE last year and I wasn’t on the main stage. We were just there and hanging out to promote the new record and it was an incredible experience. It was the first time that I had been [to the festival] and had taken time to actually experience the Festival. I didn’t do the gig and just leave. I am grateful to be involved but I would come even if I’m not performing. It’s THE place to be 4th of July weekend. It’s been a blessing to my life and I hope that I’m able to bless ESSENCE Fest this year as much as they have blessed me in the past.
ESSENCE: We’re definitely looking forward to your performance! How do you feel about R&B and how it’s evolved over the years?
R&B has definitely changed and the way the people consume the music has changed the most. I think we are all trying to figure that piece out, where our consumers are and where our fans are consuming this music. There’s a big conversation going on about the state of R&B and the color of R&B, so it’s a multifaceted topic and there’s a lot of different aspects to it. Black people need to support black music. Flat out; and the black artists need to create music that is worth somebody spending their money on. Everybody in the industry, has to look at this. From my point of view, the most important thing for me is to make great music. Everything starts with a great song and a quality record. That’s first and foremost in my mind. I know that my fans expect good music from me. I can’t just give them anything. You can get music from anywhere now, there’s so much to choose from that you really have to come with it. We are firing from all cylinders over here to make sure that our fans are satisfied. I think that putting the fans and the music first, and having an understanding of where they get that music from will keep R&B in the forefront.
ESSENCE: In terms of the current state of R&B, a lot of the stuff we hear on the radio right now is very different from what R&B was. Do you ever feel pressure to alter your sound or your music to try to conform to what’s popular today?
No. I definitely make efforts to keep it fresh but I really have to stay true to who I am. That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to win is by doing what I do. We talk about the quality of what’s on the radio but people wouldn’t be selling [these] songs if there wasn’t a major element of the world that was buying it. It’s unfortunate that, particularly when you talk about black songs and black artists, we are celebrated for being ignorant. But, there’s the other side of the coin with the John Legends of the world, and me too with just a piano and voice, showing artistic value. Artistic value has been lost and I think that’s something that black artists need to bring back to the forefront of our music. The people who want to hear good music and who are fans of great music have to let their voices be heard as well. You have to support, you have to spend your money on it. You’ve got to come to the shows and let us know that you care about it. We all have a role to play.
ESSENCE: On your latest album, you collaborated with Snoop. How did that collaboration come about?
Somebody sent me a Youtube clip of Snoop and 2Chainz singing I Can’t Stop Loving You. I thought it was hilarious. I was really taken aback by the fact that he’s a fan of mine and I’m a fan of his. Why not try to make something happen? I had a song that was perfect for it. I worked outside of my lane and the song that he is on, Downtown, is perfect. It’s tasteful and he does his thing on it, and we had fun with it. Man, I love that dude and I’m grateful that he worked on my record.
ESSENCE: I love to see those matchups. Are there any other artists that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Yea, there are lots of names in that hat man from Prince to Rachelle Ferrell to Chaka Khan. I’d like to do something with Gladys Knight. I like the legends…there are lots of names in that hat.
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