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A Soulful Homage to the Secular Slow Jam

An ordained preacher at 15, 27-year-old Keite Young now aims to conquer secular music.
An ordained preacher at 15, 27-year-old Keite Young now aims to conquer secular music.

Keite Young has a musical split personality. An ordained preacher (at 15!), he now aims to conquer the sinful world of secular music. At 27, he possesses all the tools, including a keening tenor, a sharp falsetto and a thorough knowledge of both the gospel idiom and the school of funk. The Rise and Fall of Keite Young, his debut CD, reveals him to be a disciple of demigods like Prince, Al Green and the Isley Brothers, right down to the righteous wah-wah of an electric guitar.

The song "E.N.S. (Everybody Needs Somebody)" serves as Young's homage to the slow jam. In the best tradition of the singing preacher, he opens his sermon with a couple of falsetto moans, then moves into his natural voice to tell the familiar tale of how we all walk alone. But not totally alone, because "everybody needs somebody" — and in his case, he has in mind one particular woman whose voice pierces the darkness.

Sure, the lyrics are packed with clichés, but Young chants his lines with the passion of a true believer. All the while, a drum goes tock, tock, tock, reminding him to take his time while he sings and reminding listeners of the relentless ticking of time. His partner in slow-jam-dom is a high-pitched chorus, which sounds as if it took a tiny whiff of helium for an extra lift. These heavenly singers urge him on, humming, going "hey hey hey" and repeating the message. And, for those who remain unconvinced, Young sums it up, with pregnant pauses between each word: This. Is. True.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.