"Man you're wishy-washy. A while back, I recall you dogging Kem. Now you're praising him," Cory the barber said placing a hot slice of pizza on his plate. We set across from each other at Mama Rosa's, a pizzeria on Mack Ave. Every so often, Cory the barber and I have dinner together. He suggested this small family restaurant that's walking distance from his apartment. The pizzeria is cozy. The servers wear chino shorts and their hair styled in a ponytail. Above the cash register hangs a framed photo of a middle-aged Italian man. The sign above the framed reads: We miss you Tony. I assumed Tony used to own the place. I liked the restuarant because it feels homey.
Before the waitress served the pizza, Cory and I had just polished off a plate of breaded zucchini. I lost a bet I had with Cory, so I had to pay for dinner. Cory chose the restaurant. I figured he was going to stick it to me by picking a swanky a restaurant such as the Dirty Dog, the Whitney, or Opus One. He picked Mama Rosa's, a cozy pizzeria known for good affordable Italian food and ribs. While waiting for a table, the couple behind us said they eat at the restaurant all the time. They suggested I try the ribs. I wanted to tell them I’m a vegetarian, but I thought doing so would be rude, so I thanked them for the suggestion.
Tuesday the hometown R&B crooner Kem new album "Intimacy Album III" hit the streets. Cory raved about it. He knows I am not a big fan. Kem's first album, "Kemistry" was okay. It sold over 500,000 copies, which by today's music industry expectations is a big deal. Cory urged me to buy "Intimacy Album III". He bet me dinner I would take to it right away. I am against any sort of gambling, but I figured this was a sure thing, so I bought the album. Cory was right. I loved it right away.
Cory took a small bite of the pizza, then quickly dropped it on his place. He fanned his mouth with his hand. The hot cheese burned the roof of his mouth. I shared my feeling about 'Intimacy Album III". He knew I would really dig the album, but it surprised him when I announced it was a great album.
"I figured you would love it, but calling it one of the best albums of the year is a stretch, given how hard you were on his first two albums". Cory said.
"You think I should support him just because he's from Detroit. I refused to jump on your bandwagon. I thought his first two albums were flawed," I said. I folded a slice of pizza into half. Then I took a significant bite. By now, the pizza was warm enough to eat. Cory makes it a plus to support local musicians. Kem is his favorite. He met Kem once before the singer made it big.
The singer worked at a coffee shop on Lafayette. Cory forgot the name of the shop, but he remembered it was near John King's bookstore and the Greyhound bus station. He recalled Kem singing while serving the customers. Cory believes music critics who compared Kem to Al Jarreau were wrong. Cory never heard the similarities. From the beginning, Kem had his own thing, and music journalists and critics found it difficult to categorize his style. Was it smooth jazz? Was it Neo-soul? Was it his take on R&B?
Cory give the now lukewarm slice of pizza another shot. "Most of the Neo-soul crooners you can't tell them apart. When you hear Kem you know that’s him right away".
“It’s obvious he labored over every song. A lot of contemporary singer's albums are so all over the place. No one can say that about 'Intimacy Album III'," I said, sprinkling some cheese on my slice.
"Kem sounds like he's love struck."
"You'd have to be to write love songs so convincingly and so passionately. That's what makes this album so damn good. He's really a songsmith. Plus, he knows how to deliver a love song. Songs like 'Love Never Fails', 'Share My Life' and 'You're On My Mind" would give the devil goose bumps and make his old-lady blush. The other night, the wife and I went for a long drive. We listened to the album. It was so sensual. I felt like I did when I met my wife for the first time," I confessed.
"Just last month you're talking about getting a divorce. You mean to say, the album was that good it save your marriage."
"Don't be a smart-ass. You know what I mean. His music hit certain senses and emotions," I said. The waitress stopped at our table to ask how the pizzas tasted. I gave her thumbs up. She refilled our water glasses.
"I'm kidding, man. Chill out! I know what you are getting at. I feel the save way when I listen to cats like Smokey Robinson and Musiq Soulchild. Did you like the cut with Jill Scott?"
"Yeah. She's not the greatest singer in the world, not even close. But she can write her ass off. She's a real poet in my book. Her writing is what I like most about her records," I said.
We were stuffed. We had polished off half the pizza. The pizzeria started to fill up. I beckoned our waitress. I asked her for a doggy bag and the bill. Five minutes later, she reappeared with a pizza boxed. She boxed the remaining slices, and she slid the bill toward Cory.
"Are you a Kem fan now," Cory asked pushing the bill toward me.
"I'll always buy his music. That's the only way to tell if it's worthwhile. He really nailed it this time around."