Kaleem found early success as a featured artist on Tchami’s club hit Promesses, which propelled him towards collaborations with producers like Snakehips, Shy Luv and The Code.
He went on to share stages with acts like Miguel and Boyz II Men before releasing his own EP Vision in 2017.
Blending silky neo-soul, raw lyricism and futuristic R&B, Kaleem looks set to dominate the scene.
This year he has already released the singles Not Alone, and Fault, with the promise of an EP in the not-too-distant future.
Kaleem is also about to embark on a UK and European tour, but before that we caught up with him to chat about his career so far, his current projects, and the future…
What gave you the initial motivation to begin a career in music?
There were some good friends around me – I always used to sing songs and just mess around, nothing serious – but one of them in particular, who had a studio, actually suggested making my own song, or our song really. It was like a collective, we were working together. One of our friends made beats, one had a studio, and another one had mic. We collectively sat in a room and just started making music really. So, it was through friends, they kind of suggested it really.
Who or what are your primary influences?
I always lead back to Stevie Wonder for sure, D'Angelo as well. They’re just people that I listen to a lot, so I’d always try and sing along to their songs. I don’t know how much it’s translated into what I’m doing now, but just based off what I listen to quite a lot, I’d say those two, predominantly. They’re big names. They’re big, big names, man.
How has your sound evolved since your early recordings?
I think it’s evolved massively, just because I spend more time thinking about what I want to say. I think before it was kind of just saying things that sounded cool, or kind of went together, finding easy words to rhyme, I guess.
I don’t know, because it wasn’t really something I planned on doing. It wasn’t a dream from the start, I wasn’t always writing songs and stuff.
Over time, when you go through certain things – and my love for music has always been there obviously – but as its grown, career-wise, it’s always given me more things to talk about. Content-wise, it’s got better.
I’d say how I sing has got better over time, by doing it and practising it’s got better.
I think an understanding of what I think I sound good on and what I feel good doing, because there’s a lot of trying things out and seeing how they go, whereas now I kinda have a better idea of how to be on a song.
Your sound is often described as futuristic R&B, how important is it to you to push the genre forward?
I think it’s important to me because it means a lot to me, the genre itself. I spent a lot of time growing up listening to R&B, it’s what I know. So, it would just be cool if more people wanted to hear it or more people realised there’s a lot of stories or a lot of feelings, things that a lot of people are feeling are being spoken about in R&B. It’s like a cool environment.
If you think about how R&B was before. I just like whole idea of it, I like nineties stuff. It’s cool for me to be in a position of being seen as someone who pushes it forward, but I just want to continue to get that sound out there. I think it’s important for the feeling as well.
It’s good to hear people say those things, like futuristic and kind of like a blend of two, I don’t do that intentionally, but it’s kind of cool that people even get that.
I don’t really talk too much about maybe things I’m going through or things I’m feeling. That could be like a friend or a partner, whoever you’re with, whatever it is you’re doing, but sometimes I kinda hold back on some things. But I’ve started to realise that it makes sense to just talk about how you feel and you don’t need to doubt whether someone’s gonna listen because people will.
I’ve realised that people will listen to what I’ve got to say, I don’t need to feel alone because there are people there. For me, who I am, always keeping things to myself, it’s harder for me to be that person who says, “okay, I need help.” If I’ve got a problem, I just deal with it and then once it’s out of the way, it’s like I haven’t had to speak about it, it’s done and I keep moving. But sometimes it’s a bit hard to do that and then you realise that there's relief of talking to someone.
You’ve worked with producers like Snakehips, Memeb, Shy Luv and The Code, how have those collaborations fed into your music?
Everyone obviously has their different sound. So, either as a producer there’s certain things you hear that you might want from an artist, that sometimes the artist can’t give you. You’ve just got a vision in your head that they can’t give you – as a singer you’ve got that same kind of vision. Even as a writer, you’re gonna have your own ideas.
When you’re in a room with someone else you bounce off that person, you trade ideas, so there might be times when you think this is fire, and someone’s like, “yeah, it’s cool, but maybe we could try this.” Then you try that and its better than what you were doing.
So, I’ve been able to be in those sessions and take little things from just being in that environment. Not all of it is what I would do, but it’s made me realise that I can actually sing like this, for example, I could maybe write something a bit different here or even have a different concept or whatever.
I’ve taken little bits of each producer and writer I’ve worked with over time. The blessing is when I make my own music it’s purely down to me, so as much as I take little bits, it’s ultimately something I’m going with and feel.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
There’s a few actually. I never used to answer this question because I wouldn’t want people to feel like I was reaching, but I love James Blake, I would love that. I love Frank Ocean, he’s amazing to me.
A dream collaboration could come from anywhere though because you could work with someone who’s got 2000 followers or 20,000 followers or 2 million followers, for example, but you might make the best song you’ve ever made. So, I’m saying all this about people I would potentially like to work with, but you never know.
If I could work with some people, there are different reasons why, some people for their writing, some people for their voices. Ultimately, I just want to make some good music. It is what it is really.
I don’t think you can ever really know for sure, but I always get a really good feeling about a song or I wouldn’t put it on a project. Like when I do a show, I don’t know how people are gonna respond, but it’s good when you get a response and you see how they feel about it. But you never really know until you do it, or you put it out, or how it feels to you.
To me, I wanna be proud of it, not feel ashamed of anything. I just wanna be proud and have a good feeling really. Hopefully that can translate to the shows or to people listening.
You have a UK and European tour coming up, how do you approach recreating your material in a live situation?
It’s a lot of rehearsals. It’s hard to explain how you’re going to get it across. I care about the music so much, I really want to do things right. So, I try and make sure I’m singing really well. I want people to know that I really want to sing and perform for a crowd.
I might not be the most eccentric, or loud, or in your face, but I feel like people see how I respond to my own songs. I’m closed off as a person anyway, so it comes across as a real intimate, personal thing. I think.
I don’t really need to think too much because I feel like I’m being me onstage, this is who I am, so it’s kind of easier in a sense. I’m not putting on something to be something I’m not.
I hope people get it, they seem to get it so far. I’m happy with the responses I’ve had so far. It’s always a nice moment to share your songs, it’s amazing really.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
I wanna put out this EP. I want to put out another song first, and then I’m gonna put the project out. But I’ve been working on an album, finally. I know it’s hard to really say what is an album now or what is an EP, because everything is just music. But now I wanna do an album and take time to put something together.
I’m particular, so I feel like with these projects I put out there’s a concept, there’s an idea behind it. I feel like now with an album I want to work with some people, get some different sounds, and push myself a bit more.
That’s the plan for 2019, to keep making music, keep sharing music, and keep performing.
Forthcoming live dates
Apr 10 Yes, Manchester
April 11 XOYO, London
April 12 Hy Brasil Music Club, Bristol
April 15 Melkweg Upstairs, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oct 5 Ideal Bar, Vega - Musikkens HusCopenhagen, Denmark
Oct 6 Mojo Club, Hamburg, Germany
Oct 7 Musik & Frieden, Berlin, Germany
Oct 7 Kantine am Berghain, Berlin, Germany
Oct 8 Blue Shell, Cologne, Germany
Oct 9 Zoom, Frankfurt, Germany
Oct 10 Strom, Munich, Germany