Kevin Michael: One Love

  While Pennsylvania’s claim as the birthplace of America is widely contested, it can confidently boast the origin of neo-soul. That distinctively Philly-centric genre is characterized by the jazz-inspired vocals and soul soaked percussions of which The Roots, Jill Scott and Musiq are its most noteworthy proprietors. Now, 22-year old newcomer Kevin Michael hopes to […]

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While Pennsylvania’s claim as the birthplace of America is widely contested, it can confidently boast the origin of neo-soul. That distinctively Philly-centric genre is characterized by the jazz-inspired vocals and soul soaked percussions of which The Roots, Jill Scott and Musiq are its most noteworthy proprietors. Now, 22-year old newcomer Kevin Michael hopes to join this esteemed roster. Hailing from the city of ‘Brotherly Love’, Kevin Michael is Atlantic Records’ latest vocal sensation aiming to readdress the balance between soul and success. Can he single-handedly spearhead a new Philadelphian renaissance? We recently talked hair, protest and world domination with Kevin. Alternatives: First of all, let’s start off with your background. You’re coming from the City of Brotherly Love. Do you have any brothers or sisters? Kevin Michael: I have two younger brothers – two badass little brothers. I was born and raised in a big ol’ hood, big ol’ ghetto. I grew up with my mom and my grandparents a lot and I’m mixed – half-Black. Well actually, to be honest with you – like you can’t tell from skin pigment and all of that – but I’m actually more Black then I am anything. My mom is half-Italian and my dad is Black so I guess you can say that I’m ¾ Black and ¼ Italian. I’m like a nerd in the ghetto and music is my life. Right after high school I graduated and I figured, “You only get one chance to be young and to go after your dreams so why the hell not?” AHHA: Do you see yourself living in Philadelphia permanently? Kevin: Oh hell nah! I love Philly and I love where I come from, but to me anything that’s not growing is dead. So I think I’ve conquered Philly, and I don’t think there’s anything left for me to do in Philly except to go out and share my music and represent, but I definitely see myself branching out. Like, I love Atlanta and that’s my next move. I love the A and I really wanna go down there. AHHA: Have you been Atlanta before? Kevin: Yeah I would say on and off I’ve spent mostly a month and a half in Atlanta. Part of my album I did songs down there so I’m probably gonna be down there next. AHHA: Did you work with any of the producers down there? Kevin: Yeah, I worked with a dude by the name of L-Roc. He’s an O.G. in the game, but a lot of people don’t know him because he works under Lil’ Jon and Jermaine Dupri, but you can literally pick up any Lil’ Jon CD right now or anything that he had production on and you can see L-Roc on it. I worked with L-Roc and a dude by the name of Brian King. Just wait ‘til we come out with these singles; they’re gonna be mad crazy. [King] was one of my favourite producers to work with now and he was underneath Timbaland for a very long time so he’s stepping out and making his way. I worked with The Clutch too, I don’t know if they’re from Atlanta but I worked with them in Atlanta. I worked with them in New York too. AHHA: You say you wouldn’t want to live in Philly but wouldn’t you say your music has that sweet Philly Soul? Kevin: Listen, I would say that yes we share the soul. I definitely would say that. Personally, growing up and doing my music thing, I try to stay out of Philly like honestly; my first show in Philly was like three weeks ago. That was my first time ever performing in Philly, it was so weird. Although I love that music, and have a deep appreciation for it and I learn a lot from it, when you are attached to that neo-soul thing it’s a stigma that you can’t get rid off. You know what I mean? Like you’re forever known as “Philly Kevin Michael the neo-soul dude.” That’s not me at all and unfortunately, as good as that music is, it doesn’t sell the way I want it to sell and that’s just real talk. AHHA: Maybe you could lead a new Philly renaissance? Kevin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I could be like the Philly Superman or something. Sure, I can live with that just fine. [laughs] AHHA: How did it all happen? Can you tell us about your journey into the music business? Kevin: Well I guess that I’ve been performing my whole life. I actually started getting a record deal and shopping around when I was madd young like 11 years old. I was way too young and way too scared, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So slowed back for a couple of years and in high school is when I started picking it up again. I said, “You know what, let me get serious with this and really dedicate myself to this.” So I started recording in studios and doing demos and trying to do whatever. I hooked up with my manager when I was 18/19 and we started shopping for labels and stuff. I did my label run and I met Josh Deutsche, who was working at Virgin at the time. He loved me, but he didn’t love the material I was singing so he worked with me for a lil’ bit to see if we could get new material with Virgin. I was there for probably a year. After the year was up they still didn’t get it and they still didn’t want to move forward. Six months after that, Josh left Virgin and started his own label, started Downtown and wanted me to be a part of it. My thing is, the music that I do is not easily categorized. I needed someone that was passionate about my artistry and music, and what are the things I want to say and do and Josh was the perfect fit for that so I signed to Downtown last January and here it is in 2007. AHHA: You’re signed to Downtown Recordings, which has a pretty unusual line up including a Christian rock group, a British indie band and Gnarls Barkley, so what attracted you to the label? Kevin: Cause they’re fu**ing crazy, man. [laughs] No, the thing about Downtown is that they’re not into signing – excuse me if I say it – sh*t bands. They’re into really cool acts, really groundbreaking – not something that you’re hearing on the radio all the time, not the average singers being force-fed down your throats every five minutes on MTV. They’re really into pushing the envelope and breaking boundaries. I just love-love-love-love to think outside of the box. AHHA: Your first single “We All Want The Same Thing” is essentially a protest song disguised with a catchy hook and funk tinged instrumentals, would you agree? Kevin: [laughs] OK, so maybe you got me. I don’t know. Yeah, I would definitely say all of those things about it. I call it my Mr. Universe song, and I can’t wait to be at the Ms. Universe pageant and sing that song. ‘Cause honestly, when you think about it, I haven’t seen most of the world but for a 22-year-old, I’ve done my fair share of travelling and I’m not trying to be corny or anything but we really do all want the same thing. Like I’m looking around and it’s the same thing, different people, different countries, different places but at the end of the day, it’s all the same sh*t. AHHA: So would you say you’re a soulful rebel? Kevin: Yeah, [laughs] you could say that. Why not? Yeah, I haven’t thought of it like that but now that you say it, why not? AHHA: Why do you think the record companies passed on you when you were younger? Kevin: Because I was young and I didn’t find my voice and I didn’t know who I wanted to be. Whenever there’s something that’s unique and not like the rest, It’s hard to categorize it. “How we gonna market it and how we gonna sell it to people like is it R&B? Is it pop?” There’s a whole bunch of questions, and honestly being that age, you got a lot of questions your damn self so I didn’t really come into my own until I was around 19 years old. It was really hard because you feel like, “Should I stop being creative or should I make music that you hear on the radio?” And then there’s a point where you just have to break and you’re like, “You know what? F*ck that! I’m just gonna be me and if me isn’t good enough then that’s it.” AHHA: Your voice is very high pitched. Do you know your vocal range? Kevin: I actually do not know my vocal range at all. I don’t know anything about an octave or anything like that. I know how to open my mouth and sing. Growing up, I always had the high-pitched voice like – this is probably really embarrassing – like I used to be able to sing the Mariah Carey high notes… AHHA: As in the glass shattering high notes? Kevin: Yeah, yeah. I used to be able to sing those notes. Not no more though. Because I have a high-pitched voice I always listened to female singers. I guess in my adolescent years is when I really started to listen to men like Gospel singers and all that. I really learned from females because that’s more my range. And I’m totally like – and I’ll tell everybody – I’m a copycat. I was self-taught; I never had any vocal training and anything like that so it’s just me, God, and my stereo. AHHA: Ok, let’s discuss the hair. It’s pretty big. Kevin: Yeah I got big hair, so what! [laughs] AHHA: How long have you been growing it? Kevin: This time around, since my senior year high school…so 2002. AHHA: It must be pretty high maintenance to manage… Kevin: It is high maintenance and you know what it gets on my last nerves. But they always want the fro’; everybody wants the fro’. Y’all don’t know what it takes to get the fro’. First of all I gotta comb through this nappy ass head. That’s Number One. You wouldn’t believe how much shampoo and conditioner I go through in a week. Then you gotta let it dry, and blow dry. AHHA: I suppose you can endorse some hair products once you blow up Kevin: Oh yeah, Paul Mitchell holla! Like, I keep them in business. AHHA: Would you ever cut it off? Kevin: On a real, cutting off my hair now would be like cutting off my money and I don’t like to cut off my money. Maybe in the future I don’t know. I know once I get married I’m gonna cut it off ‘cause I know wifey don’t wanna fight me in the bathroom because I can fight with the best of them [laughs] AHHA: You’re already thinking about marriage. Can you envision life settled down with wife and kids? Kevin: One day, way, way, way far away. I gotta conquer the world first. AHHA: Who’s your favorite Philly Soul artist? Kevin: See now you’re gonna get me into trouble because I know some of these people. I guess I’m gonna have to say The Roots because they’re kinda like the forefathers. I look to them like “oh sh*t, that’s the Roots” like when I was in the studio with ?uest, I couldn’t believe that I was in the studio with ?uest. They’re like urban myths to me. It’s wow. So if I would have to pick and you’re making me pick right now I would say The Roots. But I love Jill [Scott]. I love-love-love-love-love Jill. AHHA: Finally, how would you describe your sound? Kevin: My sound is World Music. It’s the music that people are dying to hear but that everybody is scared to say. But at the same time we’ve had artists – and I don’t discredit anybody – [but] we’ve had artists that are a little bit different. Like Andre 3000 is my muthaf**cking idol. That dude is muthaf**king crazy. Like I love him, but Andre 3000 isn’t a singer. So I’m that dude who will take that risk and I got the voice. How you like me now? That’s how I feel about it.