Interview by: Martin Bauman
The Come Up Show caught up with Gemstones to discuss his upcoming projects and what brought him to where he is today. We spoke for over an hour, and the result is a 4-part interview series in which Gemstones opens up on a wide variety of subjects, from working with Lupe, to the death of his close friend St. Nic, to his beginnings as a rapper. Last week we gave you part 1, in which Gemstones talks about his upcoming album and mixtape, how he started rapping, meeting Will Smith, and working with Lupe Fiasco. In part 2, Gemstones picks up where he left off and talks about working on Lupe’s The Cool, meeting Kanye West on the Glow In The Dark tour, his friendship with St. Nic, and Chilly’s legacy. Read the full interview below.
Gemstones: After [the BET Awards], I believe we did Lu’s next album, The Cool. I produced and did a lot of writing on that next album.
TCUS: Oh really? What songs were you producing?
Gemstones: [I was on] “Dumb It Down”… the name of that song used to be called “Space Travelling”, and Atlantic shot the record down. Lupe turned the record in […] and they were like “nah, we don’t like it.” And Lupe called me up, and he was like “yo, we gotta get in the studio.” And I used to tell Lupe, “yo, you’re going over people’s heads, you need to dumb it down.” The lightbulb came, and “oh my God, there’s the record! Dumb It Down!” Bam. It was the first street single off his album.
He [also] had a record called “Go Baby”; I did some writing on “Go Baby”… He had a record on there called… it was some record where we were talking about food.
TCUS: Yeah, “Gotta Eat”.
Gemstones: “Gotta Eat”! My vocals are on “Superstar” [too], I helped produce “Superstar”. What other records are on that man’s album? Of course, “The Die”.
There’s quite a few records on there that I helped produce… Anyway, so now my name is circulating and the whole nine, [I’m] on 1st and 15th, but then my friend died. We went on tour, I forgot to mention that. We did the Food & Liquor tour, and we did The Cool tour. And then we did the Glow In The Dark tour; I came out on some shows for Kanye’s tour. Kanye heard me and was like “yo, what is Lupe doing with you?” [Kanye and I] got the chance to really meet, and sit down and talk […] He heard my music, and he was like “dude, I love your voice tone,” and the fact that I was creative, and he was just kinda confused, like “yo, what is Lupe doing with you?” Like “yo, what the hell?” You know what I’m saying?
But at this time, me and Lupe’s relationship was getting kinda shaky, for whatever reason. And then Kanye was like “yo, I’mma holler at [Lupe],” because I had this record [called] “We On”. Kanye [told me] “that’s my favourite record in the world. That’s your record?” He thought it was Lupe’s. I’m like, “no, that’s my record.”
He was like “yo, I love that [song], that’s my favourite song right now in the world. I was gonna use that record on my mixtape.” I was like, “that’s my record. I’m Gemini. I was just heavier then, with braids. I’ve lost weight!” He was like “dude!” So he said he would holler at Lupe or whatever, I don’t know what happened with that, it fell through. But I kept pushing.
TCUS: You talked about meeting Kanye in your song “Won’t Be Long”, right?
Gemstones: Yeah, yeah. Matter of fact, do you remember the record Kanye had [that went], “no-one on the corner has swagger like us, swagger like us.” You remember that song?
TCUS: Yes, yes.
Gemstones: I was there when Kanye was making the beat. He was backstage, that was Kanye’s first beat he had done in… he said seven months. Kanye was backstage, and I heard some music, I’m [thinking] “what is this?” I didn’t even know Kanye’s room was right there. So I walked down the hall, I turned the corner, and I didn’t care, I just walked in the room like “yo, whose beat is this?” So he’s playing there, I [tell him] “yo, this is dope!” He was in the room eating a salad. He was like “I’m making this beat for T.I.” I’m like “yeah? It’s nasty!” So he sees me vibing to it, he starts vibing even harder. He’s like “this is going to be T.I.’s record.” Then that’s when me and Kanye started talking. I’m like “yo, you know me and Lupe did Food,” and he was blown away by everything, long story short.
I’m still working on my album, Troubles of the World, though. We did my album Troubles of the World, Chilly went to jail, [who] was the president of the label… But after Chilly went to jail, honestly, everything went sideways. Because Lupe was just the vice-president, Chilly is the one who runs the label. You feel what I’m saying? Chilly was the one with the relationship with Jay-Z, and… Chilly is that guy. Had Chilly not went to jail, Troubles of the World would have been out. How about that? Had Chilly not went to jail, I know for a fact, I would be a platinum-selling artist right now. I’d be one of the biggest artists in the game right now. But he went to jail, and things went left.
My friend St. Nic passed away. That was like my best friend. And after that, I didn’t see nothing the same anymore. That was the turning point of my life. And I then gave my life to Christ. I’m like, “I don’t want to live the life I’m living anymore, I don’t want to hang around the people I’m with no more, and I went to FnF and said “yo, I’m finished. I’m done. I’m out. I quit.” So I didn’t get dropped from the label, I actually quit. Shortly after that, I start hearing about Matthew Santos [getting] dropped, and I’m thinking “what is Lupe over there doing with the label?” Everybody got dropped after that, from managers [to] road assistants, and no-one had their jobs anymore over there. And [my contact with] Lupe was done. Like, I was on a whole spiritual ride. I actually walked away from music. I was gonna leave music alone, period. But then the fans were e-mailing me, and I started reading the comments online, and I couldn’t quit. So that’s when I gave the world Road to Glory: My Story.
TCUS: And that was dedicated to St. Nic, right?
Gemstones: That was dedicated to St. Nic.
TCUS: How did you and St. Nic meet in the first place?
Gemstones: He was with this group called White Chalk. Me and St. Nic met around 2001. My friend was telling me about these guys called White Chalk in Chicago, who do their thing on the rap scene. And they were heavy in Chicago, they had a big movement going on. I went and met up with these guys, and we had a cypher. One of the guys was from Philadelphia, and one of the guys was from Chicago. His name was Peter Pan, he’s still on the Chicago scene. We met and started rapping, and after that, we clicked. And we were best friends after that, like every day we hung out after that. And after that, dude, I woke up one morning and he died on his motorcycle. Actually, he was on his way to my house to pick me up. He taught me how to ride motorcycles. He said “I’mma teach you how to ride,” so I went and bought a motorcycle. And he showed me how to ride, and we were waiting on the weather to break, because it was cold outside. So the first sunny day [came around], and he was on his way to get me. And he got hit on his way, he never made it to my house. So I kinda felt I was guilty, I kinda felt like I was the reason he passed. Because he was on his way to my house, and… [voice gets soft] I don’t know, man.
But throughout my music journey, I had met a lot of people. Man, I remember we did Kanye’s party at the Louis Vuitton store. Kanye had his birthday party, [and] we were all there. The Clipse, Puff Daddy… I got to meet all these guys, man. Pretty much… there’s really no artist I haven’t met. I’ve met them all. But the thing that sticks out of my head [the most], I had a chance to see Biggie perform before he died.
TCUS: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that!
Gemstones: Yeah, I was front row. That was my favourite rapper. I didn’t know he was gonna die. But I was front row at one of his concerts in Chicago, Illinois. Bad Boy threw a show, the singing group Jodeci was there, Lil’ Kim, everybody. Junior M.A.F.I.A., the whole crew was there. And I got a chance to talk to Junior M.A.F.I.A., I didn’t get to speak to Biggie, but I got to speak to Junior M.A.F.I.A. and the whole family.
TCUS: How did you start listening to Biggie’s music in the first place?
Gemstones: I’ve got a cousin named… I hate saying this guy’s name, it’s Diablo. And he was like “yo, there’s this dude name Notorious B.I.G., come listen!” I’m a little boy at this time, mind you. This was like ’95, ’94. Man, he came over with that man’s music, I’m listening, and I’m like “whoa!” I was hooked ever since then. And then I tried to embody Biggie. The passion that he rapped with was the passion that I began to rap and write with. And I would mimic his lyrics, and try to rap [like him]. At one point in my life, I was rapping just like Biggie.
And after I kinda mastered Biggie’s flow, I [told myself] I would become a chameleon to master different people’s flows. [I did] Tupac’s, and Jay-Z’s, and Biggie’s… and thats where I would get my [sound]. It all made me who I am today, as far as my lyrical skills go. And I compiled them all in one, and made it do what it do, to create Gemini [and] Gemstones. But once Gemstones came, I pretty much started carving my own lane. I feel with Gemini, I was kinda being like a wannabe… to try to prove that I was the dopest emcee. But after Gemstones came, I felt as though there was nothing else to prove. I put my flow on cruise control, and I was like “yo, I got this.” I was just cruisin’ with my flow then. And whether anyone respected it or not, I [said] “this is who I am. I’m tired of trying to convince people that I’m dope, and that I can spit. And if they don’t get it by now, it’s cool.”
TCUS: I want to talk about this time period. Your song, “Free Chilly”, is one of the most honest songs I’ve heard, period. That song comes from right when you were changing from Gemini to Gemstones.
Gemstones: Yeah, I was actually Gemstones then. When I went in the studio then, I was [thinking], “this new project… what am I gonna talk about? I can’t lie no more. I cannot lie to these people, Gemini is dead. I’m not shooting guns, I’m not selling dope, I’m not doing that.” And I had a daughter at the time, [and] I’m [thinking] “this music is a seed that I’m planting. What if there’s some dude having sex with my daughter ten years down the line because of my music? Because I’m his favourite rapper, and he’s listening to me disrespect women, and he comes across my daughter, and he does what his idol Gemini says to do. And he’s doing it with my daughter!” I’m talking about shooting guns, I didn’t know whose blood was on my hands. Because I’m talking about kicking in doors, and shooting MAC-10’s. Things I wasn’t really doing, but I’m on tour, and there’s kids in the hood who believe it. And they’re actually doin’ it! I didn’t know! So I’m like “this has to stop.”
“I had to switch it up, so I could let my wings spread/ It’s the Testimony of Gemstones, Gemini is dead.” – Superstar
More rappers should speak life if we hold life and death in the power of our tongues.
— Gemstonesforlife (@1Gemstones) November 11, 2011
So coming into my new project, I didn’t know what to expect. I said, “I gotta give these people the truth,” because I know you hold life and death in the power of the tongue. And what you speak… you speak your reality. So I got on the record, I told Lupe, “you’re not gonna rap to this record?” He [said] “nah, I just want you to sing on it.” And I’m like “yoooo, you’re not gonna spit on this record?!” And once he said no, I thought he was crazy, so then I said, “boy, you outta your mind.” And I [went and] destroyed his beat. And I’ll never forget, it was around twelve o’clock in the afternoon, I went in G-Ball’s studio… I told him to load the beat, because it was a First & Fifteenth beat, so I had the real beat, the real session. So I actually took the session that Lupe used, and then I went bananas. I just started spilling my entire life, of what I really felt, and people were in there with their mouths [wide open]. G-Ball was pumping his fist in the air, like “oh my God! This is incredible!”
And then, I got up with my homeboy Thatcher, with Taste Media Group, he was just like “let’s put a viral video out to it.” Like, “what’s the worst that could happen? Let’s just throw it out there.” And we threw it out there, and the world loved it. They loved that record. So when I would do shows, that would be the intro to my show. And every city I was going to [and] performing at, they knew the words to it. And it was amazing. And once I saw that they were taken to it, I [realized] “okay, it’s safe to be honest with everything that I’m doing now.” So that’s when I did the Testimony of Gemstones, and I was being honest with other records, and I’m just giving inspirational, uplifting music. And people were so inspired by the Testimony records like “Skeletons”, and “Low Key”… and I did a record called “Still Untamed”, to show people that I can still rap and body a record. So that’s how “Free Chilly” came about. And I dedicated it to Chilly, man. I wanted him to know that his hard work wasn’t in vain. He built 1st & 15th. But then he didn’t get to see the fruits of it, because he went to jail, serving forty-four years.
“They gave my homie forty-four years, Chill, you’re truly missed/ They trapped your body, not your mind, your dreams will take you where you wish/ Home is in your head, your sanity’s who you should move in with/ When you’re locked behind them bars, and your physical don’t exist.” – Free Chilly
And he did’t get to see the tours, and everything that came along with it. So man, I wanted to show my appreciation and do a record called “Free Chilly”.
TCUS: Do you still have any contact with Chilly at all?
Gemstones: Yeah, I do. But like I was saying, I fell back. When my friend died, I went into a dark place in my life, where I just didn’t want [any] involvements with the outside world. Period. So, Chilly didn’t withdraw. I withdrew, and I went into my own little place. It took awhile for me to come back out of my shell. And it’s crazy [that] you’re speaking of Chilly, [since] I was just on the phone with his daughter… I think [it was] the day before yesterday. And she’s taken his place, she’s running the label. And so she wanted to do some records, I’m about to start writing some records for the artists that she signed, for the up-and-coming future artists, whoever’s goin’ FnF. You know, I always knew we were gonna link back together, somehow, some way. So, I’m actually waiting on Chilly to call my phone now. Because he’s in jail, so you gotta wait on him to call you. We’re gonna talk more about it. I’m actually gonna go see him, also. I’m preparing to take a trip down there to go see him and go talk to him, ’cause I miss him.
Check back next week for part 3 as Gemstones talks about his faith, On The Road To Glory: My Story, and what he took from Gemini’s persona.