KEM's 'Jesus' a Bright Spot Amid Detroit Ruins
NORFOLK, Va. -- Detroit has seen its share of ups and downs in recent years. The downs include miles-long stretches of dilapidated buildings, daily news of rising unemployment, political corruption, and an historic bankruptcy.
But one continuing bright spot is the city's rich music history and the long list of famous artists who still proudly call it home.
Kim Owens, professionally known as KEM, is one of the hometown recording artists whose personal success story inspires hope that Detroit will also rise from the ruins.
KEM is on tour promoting his latest album. But he is always excited to return home to Detroit.
"We get beat up in the media quite a bit. But this is a great time for opportunity in Detroit," he told CBN News. "People are investing in the city. They just put a Whole Foods downtown. Whole Foods doesn't come to town unless there is anticipation of great things going on in the city."
"And I am still there. There is lots of love there. And I expect great things from the city of Detroit and you should, too," he continued.
KEM is a Motown artist. The ground-breaking, record label gave birth to Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, and a long list of others whose sound made Detroit famous in the 1950s and 1960s.
Motown left the Motor City in the 1970s. Since then, the exodus has only gotten worse.
KEM grew up in the city and has remained. He financed his debut album, "Kemistry," with a credit card. He knows what it means to rise from the ruins. Growing up in poverty, he became addicted to drugs after high school.
The artist had his last drink and last drug on July 23, 1990. He has been sober more than 20 years, but never grows tired of talking about that tough time in his life when he was homeless and addicted to drugs.
"I am only as grounded as my testimony. That is what we are supposed to do," he told CBN News, recalling that time. "When God has done something great in your life, we are supposed to let our light shine, and hopefully minister to somebody else who might be going through something."
"And also to remember where we came from. My career is really built on my testimony," he continued. "There is a segment in all of the live performances, where I talk about His grace and mercy in my life and that is the most important moment of the show."
"Everything that happens before and everything that happens after is secondary," he said. "People need to know that they don't have to do this by themselves and God has a plan for their lives."
KEM's latest project is called "Promise to Love." Love songs are his signature, but he regularly adds an original gospel tune to his CD recordings.
One of the more popular spiritual tunes is simply called "Jesus." He recorded the single on his 2012 Christmas project.
"I started writing that song, probably a decade ago. And I didn't finish it," KEM said, recalling his work on the song. "I believe everything happens when it is supposed to happen. And when I came back to revisit my Christmas album and add bonuses on to it, it was one that I went back and grabbed. And I am very very grateful that I did."
"The song is bigger than all of us. It's not about us. It's about carrying forth the name of Jesus," he said.
"There were a lot of challenges in making the record. I had the record label on hold. People were very upset with me because I was holding out, trying to finish this last song," he said. "A lot of times, it looked like it wasn't going to be done. I didn't know how it was going to come together."
"And when I heard it for the first time in its entirety, I cried and Ron (Isley) cried," he said.
KEM calls the tune timely for his city and his country. And he is happy the message of "Jesus" is coming from him.
"I think it is important for secular artist who are believers to acknowledge that, not just when we are accepting the Grammy," he said. "Like look, this is real."