The power of vulnerability and expressiveness is what makes certain kinds of music special. When an artist combines these characteristics with intimate storytelling and tranquil compositions, it is a perfect recipe for fans who seek a personal connection.
Since 2016, Kenneth Whalum, a seasoned singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer, traded his saxophone for a microphone to utilize his voice, building off his contemporary jazz success to create soft ballads and pensive alternative soul. It was after touring across the world with Maxwell and working on his jazz album, 2010’s To Those Who Believe, that Whalum realized he needed words in his music. No longer playing support in the background, Whalum decided it was his time in the limelight as a solo vocalist. “The vulnerability of singing and not having been a singer before is what I became addicted to,” Whalum says.
Whalum, a Memphis native, has a career that spans almost two decades. You might’ve heard him on Jay-Z's “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is...),” Mac Miller’s “Ladders,” or was particularly moved by Whalum’s “Might Not Be OK” featuring Big K.R.I.T., a song in response to an unsettling racial and political climate that still exists today. He released Broken Land and Beautiful Ending in the latter 2010s. The projects contained gems like “Last” and “Ghost Town,” illuminating his gift of fusing soul, R&B, jazz, and blues. When thinking about music discovery, Whalum is part of a versatile community that includes Robert Glasper, Bilal, PJ Morton, and James Blake. “I’ve just always been different,” he says. “Everything I am doing, I know that I’m being completely myself. It’s not like I’m apologizing for being here. It’s not about notoriety because that’s all I’ve ever been around. None of that really pushes the needle in anything that I’m doing.”
In 2021, Whalum returned with “One More Kiss” and Broken Land 2. A highlight from Broken Land 2, “Prayer,” is a moment of reckoning, calling out to others to pray for him. In any of his new releases, pay attention to Whalum’s approach to his lyrics, which he calls a “dual perspective.” “It’s from my perspective. Sometimes it’s what the mirror is saying to me. Sometimes it’s what someone else is thinking about me” he says, further explaining, “You have to really look in the mirror and say ‘What is the truth of it?’ if you can’t see yourself.”
Outside his solo work, Kenneth keeps busy across many genres, recently contributing to Beyoncé’s Grammy winning, platinum selling album ‘Renaissance’ on the track entitled “Pure/Honey.” Whalum’s vision for his career is simple: “I want to be regarded as one of the greatest musicians of all time. I’m leaving a long-lasting legacy.” It goes hand in hand with an ideology that doesn’t follow trends, but rather sets them.