Johnny Kemp (August 2, 1959-April 2015) was a Bahamian-born R&B singer who came to fame with the 1988 hit single and “let’s party” anthem “Just Got Paid.”
Released during the Golden Age of music videos, the song rose to the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. It sold a million copies and was nominated for Best R&B Song in the 1989 Grammy Awards. (It lost to Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I Got.”)
It is an example of “New Jack Swing,” a genre defined as a fusion between the hard beats of hip-hop and the softer, smoother singing style of R&B. The producer Teddy Riley helped to popularize the style with Kemp and other artists, notably Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown.
“Just Got Paid” began as an instrumental track that Keith Sweat brought to Kemp, who helped write the lyrics. In an effort to sell the song to producers, Kemp recorded a demo, but his version was so well liked that it was released under his name on his second album “Secrets of Flying.”
The song has been covered or sampled by other artists, including ‘N Sync and Kurupt.
Other Kemp tracks to hit the charts were “Dancin’ With Myself” and “One Thing Led to Another” from “Secrets of Flying” and “Birthday Suit” from the soundtrack of the 1989 movie “Sing,” starring Lorraine Bracco of “The Sopranos” fame.
Kemp began his career in his native Bahamas, where he sang in clubs from the age of 13. It was around the time The Bahamas gained its independence as a nation and was searching to establish its own post-colonial national and cultural identity. In his book Funky Nassau: Roots, Routes, and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music, author Timothy Rommen notes the tendency of Bahamian musicians to look outside the country, to Motown and Soulsville, for sounds and styles they could identify with. It was within this context that Kemp formed and refined his musical style.
In the late 1970s, Kemp moved to New York City with the Bahamian funk/soul band Kinky Foxx. The group was a fixture of the New York Club scene, performing at venues as the Cellar Club. Kemp left the band before the recording of its single hit “So Different.”
Kemp continued to perform until his tragic death. His Twitter account shows appearances in the past few years with various Old School acts, and he was scheduled to perform on a Tom Joyner Foundation cruise.
This video shows Kemp as part of an all-star finale of “Just Got Paid” at Keith Sweat’s “Sweat Hotel Live.”