The mixed-kid-with-the-’fro isn’t such a kid anymore. Singer/songwriter Kevin Michael is a 27 year old man now -- a man with a message: Free as many minds as possible, make great music along the way, and be unafraid to take a chance to do something different in an industry dominated by numbers.
Big hair used to hide Kevin Michael, the R&B crooner, who built a legion of dedicated fans and won international acclaim with his booming ballads in 2008. Despite his initial rise to success following a deal with Atlantic Records, Kevin’s path became hazy. As he struggled to deal with his past and his transition to adulthood, complications with Atlantic left him not only without representation, but also empty, broke, and suicidal. After spending years honing in on a new, more mature sound, Kevin is back with his most experimental and personal material to date. A lot has changed, but the hair ain’t going anywhere.
"To call those dark days is probably an understatement" says Kevin. "I was young and didn't know how to handle having my
dream ripped away from me like that. Imagine being on tour with Maroon 5 one day, and dropped from your label the next?"
His whole life was plucked from him in an instant. From having his songs featured in films and TV shows like 500 Days of Summer and Lincoln Heights, to penning singles with Wyclef Jean and Lupe Fiasco, to performing at the VMAs and Lollapalooza, Kevin blew up in all the wrong ways.
In 2009, he hit rock bottom, but managed to scrape together enough cash to fill up his old Nissan Altima and hit the road. Determined and focused, Kevin left his home in Philadelphia and headed south to Atlanta. Knowing full well that his life as an artist depended on it, he synced up with friend and producer, Brian Kidd (Timbaland, J. Cole, T.I., A$AP Rocky), to channel those dark experiences into his music.
"Brian and I just get each other. We took all of that year  and did our own Rock n’ Roll History class. We listened to everything, but it was something about the 80's synth vibe
that kept itching me. We got stuck there. We felt like this was it."
Luckily, “stuck” meant picking away at a scab of sound and taking the best from an era known for excess, and synthesizing it down to its most elemental pieces. The result is a transformation in Kevin’s sound that shies away from stayed, mainstream R&B conventions that used to pollute the airwaves of previous decades. Instead, Kevin is helping to lead the charge of a new wave of “Indie” R&B artists.
With last year’s EP, LISA (Love Is So Amazing), we get a dose of Kevin’s explorations into neo-synth pop as it melts together effortlessly with classic R&B hooks and his incredible 5-octave vocal range. He notes, "I had to explore those sorts of sounds to understand where music was, and where I can take music now. Before I had no point of view, now I see this shit crystal clear."
Trying to push himself even further, Kevin recently released the ambitious Brainwa$h, which he calls a “meditative mixtape.” Incorporating both sound & visuals, Brainwa$h is the transcendental experience we’ve been waiting for in the R&B world.
"We’re so surrounded by consumption, especially with this genre of music. It’s inescapable, but instead of getting brainwashed and losing touch with who we are, let’s wash our brains, and take our feelings and thoughts back. That’s what I hope this mixtape can do for people -- free them from shit that’s holding them back.”
Even on the most casual listen, Brainwa$h won’t let you ignore it. "Memory Lane", the first offering of the set, invokes a sort of aural Déjà vu, where you’re transported back to Woodstock, 1969. Kevin sings of “wandering, traveling through space & time,” while also, “journeying to the hallways in his mind.” Though not an entire departure from his R&B/Soul roots, it’s certainly not your typical radio tune.
Other standout tracks include “Layercake” (the Com Truise produced synth-wave ballad about a bullied fat girl who loves her cake, in the musical styling à la Prince/André 3000), “Whoever U R” (an ambient guitar loop that looms over what the face of a future lover may or may not be) & “Spin the Bottle” (disguised as a lo-fi party anthem, but serves more as social commentary to the sometimes beautifully destructive world of internet communities, like Tumblr).
When asked about his retreat from the kind of music that once blasted him into the spotlight, Kevin retorts, "Being an indie artist gives you that freedom to do what you want, what inspires you. This is what is meaningful to me right now. I see no need to be involved with anything I can't take pride in from this point on. You can call my music whatever you like, as long as you call it good." Well, good it is.