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For Kem, “Love Always Wins”

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On September 24th, R&B superstar Kem released the deluxe edition of his chart-topping 2020 album, Love Always Wins. This deluxe version includes two remixes: one of the song “Lie To Me” that features Wiz Khalifa, and another of “Not Before You.” Originally released in August of 2020, Love Always Wins is a reminder that, in Kem’s own words, “‘making a conscious decision to love is how we persevere.’” This album absolutely puts that thesis at the forefront.

To be completely honest, some of the songs are not very memorable. Those songs are few and far between, which is why they’re getting mentioned right off the bat so it doesn’t seem like this review says “It’s good, but…” This review is saying “There’s a few problems, but it’s really good.” Why is it structured that way? Because that’s how the album is structured.

“Not Before You” is a tremendous vocal performance with sensual lyrics, but the instrumental is fairly standard stuff. Acoustic guitar, strings, 808s and snaps… It’s all here. It’s the flipside of Usher’s “Burn,” which just brings The Boondocks to mind, and that probably goes against Kem’s intent. That’s not to knock the vocal performance, because my god his performance is amazing. It’s just that the full song is not all that standout.

That being said, “Lonely (feat. Brian Culbertson)” is a jam. This is probably very telling, but the inclusion of bass just gives the song the extra power it needs. The piano flourishes are wonderful, and the standard R&B/funk guitar line, while standard, is just what Kem needed. There are other songs on the album that bring the “stank face,” but “Lonely” is the first moment of it.

But then “With You In My Life” brings in trap drums and it starts falling apart again. After “With You In My Life,” “Love” brings the heat and it becomes apparent where I am biased in instrumentals. This is not a knock on Kem. Even on “Not Before You” and “With You In My Life,” Kem kills it with his vocal performances. The man is talented. There are just certain instrumental tendencies that resonate more.

“Praise” has the Rhodes, which we’ve talked about before, and this is where the album starts coming into full swing. There’s a reason “Lie To Me” was one of the tracks they chose to remix. The original song is fantastic. The horns, the bass, the guitars, Kem’s vocals… It’s R&B perfection. The remix is pretty solid as well, and it interpolates Brenda Russell’s “A Little Bit Of Love,” which some of you may recognize from its sample in Big Pun’s “Still Not A Player.” It also uses the same Roland 169 “Ah” that Nelly used on “Dilemma,” which means the remix connects Kem to hip-hop in multiple ways, and it’s fantastic. There is no clear cut better version of the song, though my money is often gonna be on the original.

“Live Out Your Love” is interesting, because Kem decided to put it on the album twice. Once with just him, and once featuring Toni Braxton. The song works so much better as a duet, but that’s not to discount the solo version. Just the same, I’d stick with the duet. The title track, “Love Always Wins,” brings in more gospel influence, allowing Kem to showcase his vocal talents in ways the other songs didn’t fully allow – although they are amazing vocal performances – and Kem decided this one should also be a duet, and included another version of the song with Erica Campbell. There’s not really a difference on this one. Either one hits the same.

“Friend Today” is just kind of ok, but “Can’t Stop Giving Love” puts Kem in his disco bag, and I am here for it. I feel like this song was meant to end the album and then Kem got Toni Braxton and Erica Campbell to appear, so he included both of those versions on the regular album release. Either way, “Can’t Stop Giving Love” is a bop and a half. Go listen to it. I’ll wait.

Finally, for this deluxe album, Eric Hudson remixed “Not Before You.” This remix actually makes the song hit harder and it works better than the original. Which is funny, cause it also technically uses trap drums, which I summarily dismissed earlier on “With You In My Life.” Regardless, the remix of “Not Before You” is actually better than the original, and using it as the bookend of the deluxe album is an excellent creative choice.

All in all, Kem’s Love Always Wins somehow flew under my radar in 2020, and I don’t want that to anyone else. Go listen to this deluxe edition. It’s linked below. While the first five tracks are a rollercoaster of some minor inconsistencies, the rest of the album, including the two remix tracks, is worth the time of anyone. Doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a fan of R&B or not. This album is for everyone. Go accept the gift that Kem has given you, and then let us know what you think!

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