There aren’t many who can claim success on the scale of Lemar. As well as awards, acclaim, platinum sales and sold-out tours, the North London singer/songwriter is one of a handful of artists able to balance incredible commercial success whilst maintaining credibility as one of the best ever UK vocalists.
To date, each of his albums – 2003’s Dedicated, 2004’s Time To Grow and 2006’s The Truth About Love - have sold in excess of 500,000 copies each. An incredible achievement for anyone, but particularly for a young man from Tottenham who, just months before selling half a million albums, nearly quit the music industry to do a computer programming degree.
Luckily, 'Fame Academy' called, and Lemar became its most successful graduate. With a vocal comparative to the late, great Luther Vandross, a humble, engaging personality and serious time spent on the live music circuit supporting Destiny’s Child and Usher, Lemar became the not-so-overnight success story of 2003.
In addition to albums sold and awards won, Lemar has helped redefine British pop music. Years before Adele, Duffy or Amy arrived, Lemar bought horns, heart and some serious soul back to the UK charts. Six top 10 singles including If There’s Any Justice, Dance With U, 50/50 and Time To Grow established Lemar as a successful commercial act, and proved that British soul music had the power to go pop. Both the record industry and music fans acknowledged Lemar’s contributions with two BRIT and two MOBO awards achieved over successive years.
Not only a major force in UK music, Lemar takes time out to help people in a less privileged position than himself. As well as working with young people as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, Lemar has travelled to Uganda and Ethiopia with Christian Aid to raise awareness of AIDs, violence and poverty in African countries. “It was very inspiring and moving, it was such an eye-opener,” he says of the work he has done in both countries. “I wake up and worry about my car not starting, but on the other side of the world people don’t know if they’re going to survive the day. Where’s there’s so much wealth and knowledge in the world, we should be able to put a limit on how ‘poor’ poor is. So I try and speak about it as much as possible. One of the fortunate things about being in music means you have a voice and you can help to encourage people to make a difference.”
Lemar is also about to spearhead the In The Pink breast cancer campaign, an issue that is particularly close to his heart. “My mum passed away just before Dance (With U) and that was definitely my lowest point,” he says of losing his mother. “Anything to do with cancer, I like to get involved and help in anyway I can. Knowledge is power, so the more people are aware of things, the quicker things can change,” he decides. “It was very hard losing my mother, but I know that she’s watching. Life throws at you what it’s going to and you have to deal with it and make the most of it. All I can do is try and make her proud.”
Lemar’s not about to stop succeeding just yet. Now onto his fourth record, The Reason is undoubtedly Lemar’s finest to date. Taking some time out following the birth of his daughter earlier this year, he wrote and recorded The Reason in LA, Miami and Sweden. Featuring production from Jim Jonsin (Lil Wayne), as well as Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, Gnarls Barkley), Jim Beanz (Timbaland the 10-track album is packed full of up tempo hits and searing slowies.
“I didn’t go into the studio with an agenda; I just wanted to make good music,” says Lemar of the recording process. “I took time to think about the reason behind life, the reason behind why I do music, the reason why I wanted to be an artist in the first place. I decided to let go and be a little experimental with this one.”
Lead single If She Knew, produced by Soulshock & Karlin (Whitney Houston) has contemporary synth-led soundscape with mid tempo beats and Lemar’s effortlessly distinctive vocals. If She Knew looks at love from the perspective of a man frustrated by his partner’s lack of understanding. “You're trying your best to make everything work and you feel like if she knew the reason you’re out, or why you’re home late, then she’d know it's for her and not because you’re doing this or that,” Lemar explains.
Possible next single Weight Of The World is also on an upbeat tip. Boasting punchy Miami bass with lyrics best described as haunted, the track is produced by hit-man of the hour Jim Jonsin, the man behind Lil Wayne’s US chart-topping single Lollipop.
Having written or co-written all but one of the tracks, The Reason is Lemar’s most personal offering to date. Lemar wanted the songwriting to reflect his current state of mind and also take a subtle look at the wider world around us. “I really wanted this album to be current,” he insists. “I wanted it to represent me now, but also look at some social issues and try to make sense of my life during the short time I've been here.”
One standout song that does just that is the incredible Mayday, a brilliant ballad that sits alongside the likes of Sweet Love and Another Day. Written and produced solely by Lemar, Mayday uses the metaphor of a fighter pilot falling to his death as both having your heart broken and taking a timely look at the state of the world in 2008. “I wrote that song while I was flying to Miami,” Lemar remembers. “I was looking out the window and I wanted to talk about the war, but I wanted to write a love song too. With everything going on at the moment, I wanted to reflect what I was feeling.”
Lemar has indeed risen to the challenge, creating an album that is melodious, moving and thought-provoking but above all a joy to listen to. Always driven by his sublime vocal, he continues to go from strength to strength. “I think all of my previous albums have come together for me to create this one,” concludes Lemar. “I feel comfortable as an artist and I feel I’ve contributed to British music."
The Reason solidifies Lemar as one of the UK’s greatest vocal talents, but as one of Britain’s finest singer/songwriters. Credibility, commercial viability are difficult to attain, yet Lemar has proven himself once more, beyond all reasonable doubt.