DETROIT (AP) — KEM already was a successful R&B artist, churning out a pair of well-received albums for Universal Motown.
His latest effort, though, "Intimacy," which was completed on the 20-year anniversary of his sobriety date and his 42nd birthday last summer, has taken KEM to a different level.
"Intimacy" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts (second only to fellow Detroiter Eminem), and he'll soon be heading out on the road, where his headlining tour kicks off Feb. 18 at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas.
To top it off, KEM picked up the first two Grammy nominations of his career, in the categories of best male R&B vocal performance and best R&B song, both for "Why Would You Stay," a confessional ballad addressed to a spurned lover.
He calls the double Grammy nods "the highlight of my professional career so far."
"I'm a different person now," KEM said in a recent interview, followed by a laugh. "I walked out of the house the next day, I was like, 'Yeah. It's different now.'"
In all, not bad for a guy who battled drug and alcohol addiction for years and, as he says, used to wake up thinking: "Where am I going to sleep tonight?"
Two decades of sobriety later, KEM is happy to report he'll be escorting his mother to the Grammy ceremony on Sunday in Los Angeles.
The Associated Press: Have you prepared a speech?
KEM: No. I'm pretty good, pretty adept at being able to speak in front of an audience. There's no speech. You just thank the people. I heard a comedian say, "Thank your momma, thank the Lord and sit ... down." (Laughs.)
AP: Who are your influences?
KEM: I'm more attracted to songs than to a particular artist. ... Cats get in my car and I have my iPod plugged up, and they're just like, "Dude, this doesn't make any sense." You go from Cameo to Jill Scott to David Bowie. Sting's "Sacred Love." I just like great songs. Good music is good music. It doesn't matter what the genre is.
AP: You're open about having had harder times in your life.
KEM: Drug addiction. Homelessness here in the city of Detroit and other places. I started using drugs and alcohol to motivate myself as a teenager, early as 13, 14 years old. I had a lot of what we would call today low self-esteem, childhood depression, anxiety — all of the normal things adolescents go through magnified by 50. Sexual abuse when I was a kid. All of these things laid the foundation for me to try to find something outside of myself to make me feel OK, make me feel comfortable in my own skin. That outlet was drugs and alcohol. I probably used from when I started to my early 20s, ended up on the streets here in Detroit, sleeping outside, the whole dance. In and out of treatment centers, soup kitchens, rescue missions, hospitalized because of my addiction, ruined all of my relationships, couldn't go back home. All of that. It's the best time of my life (laughs). I have no regrets about that at all.
AP: Explain that. Why don't you have regrets?
KEM: Because had I not had those experiences, you and I probably wouldn't be having this conversation. I have a tremendous life today, and I have an opportunity to affect and infect people all over the world with a message of empowerment, overcoming, perseverance. ... That you can go through all of this stuff and still find value and add value to not only your life but potentially the life of everybody you come in contact with.
AP: I have to ask: What is the origin of your name?
KEM: My given name is spelled K-I-M. ... Growing up, it was considered to be a girl's name, so I always tried to find all these ways to have a name without it being that. I would go by my middle name sometimes, which is Lamont. ... When I started teetering with the idea of being in the music industry, I was working with a producer out of Detroit. ... K-E-M just became something that we thought wouldn't be K-I-M.