With a pair of gold albums and a list of Grammy nominations under his belt, it’s surely safe to say that R&B crooner Kem has found success. Kemistry, his debut album on Motown Records, earned tremendous praise with its single “Love Calls.” His sophomore effort, Album II, sold over 500,000 copies nationwide and hit the top of Billboard’s R&B charts in 2005. In 2010, Kem released Intimacy: Album III. After selling 74,000 copies in its first week in the United States, it debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts. But prior to his ascent, the Detroit native’s life was plagued by hardships. In addition to being homeless, he also faced drug and alcohol addiction. Fortunately, he made an escape.
Kem shared his story at the opening ceremony of the 17th annual National Association of Drug Courts Professionals’ training conference on July 18 at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel.
Drug courts are alternatives to the traditional court system, wherein eligible persons are sent there and are provided with intensive treatment and other services that help them stay clean and sober. Throughout the country, 75 percent of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free for at least two years after leaving the program, and Drug Courts are six times more likely to keep offenders in treatment long enough for them to recover.
The AFRO spoke to Kem following his speech at the opening ceremony and discussed with him his thoughts on Drug Courts, his personal struggles and his career.
AFRO: You shared a lot about your hardships prior to your breakout in the music industry. When did you finally get a breakthrough?
Kem: My last drink and drug was July 23, 1990. I was sleeping outside on the streets of Detroit and I was trying to get back into a treatment center that had discharged me for using while I was in their program previously. As we say in recovery circles, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was in my early 20s and I could no longer continue the life I was living. Then, I surrendered. I gave up on my ideas on how to change my life and that made me open to allowing someone else to come in and show me how to live.
AFRO: You know about the struggles that people with drug addiction experience. Why do you believe the Drug Court system is vital in this country?
Kem: Drug Courts are important because they give an addict an option. It gives them support—and not just support to stay out of jail, but support to live. It restores them and gives them life. It helps them build lives for themselves and their kids as opposed to going to jail where the chances are greater for them to continue to repeat the same thing that planted them in jail in the first place. I think it’s a good alternative and it costs less money. You’ve got to love that! [Laughs].
AFRO: Explain how you try to convey your messages of encouragement to your audiences and fans.
Kem: My faith is my foundation. The principles that I’ve used to maintain my recovery are principles that anybody can use to overcome anything that they are dealing with in their lives. So, if you listen to my records you hear that in my music. When I’m on stage I talk about it. Myself and everyone who works on my behalf looks at [our job] as a ministry. We want to uplift people—we don’t just want to entertain you. Now, we want you to be entertained, but we want to add something of value to your lives. It’s very important that we do that and I try to do that in everything I do.
AFRO: Your last album was quite a success. What’s up next for you?
Kem: We’re out on the road doing shows. We’re just keeping it pushing and being creative. I’m trying to be a good steward in all that God has given me. Hopefully he’s pleased with what we’re doing—at least some of the things. [Laughs].
For more information on Kem, visit: Musicbykem.com. For more information on the NADCP, visit: Nadcp.org.