Interview with 1st and 15th Recording Artist, GemStones, by Tolu Olorunda.
GemStones (formerly known as Gemini), is a recording artist on Lupe Fiasco’s vanity record label 1st & 15th. He was raised in Jeffrey Manor/South C on the South Side of Chicago. In 2007, he shot the video for the first single off of his upcoming album, Troubles of the World called “We On” featuring Lupe Fiasco. He appeared on MTV for “MTV Diary” and in August 2007, he was a “featured artist on MySpace.” In December of 2007 GemStones was featured on Fiasco’s sophomore album, The Cool. He appeared on tracks “Free Chilly”, “The Die”, “Go Baby”, and Lupe’s first single “Dumb it Down.” He recently endured a startling experience, which he aptly describes as his “transition.” He lost over 70 pounds, and picked up a socially-conscientious style of Hip-Hop. A highly articulate and lucid speaker, he claims to still posses the lyrical-velocity that accrued fans in the first place. Fresh off “The Cool Tour,” GemStones is now ready to take his place in the Mainstream. His mixtape, Testimony of Gemstones was released June 20th and his debut album, Troubles of the World is due to drop in fall of 2008. I had the pleasure of speaking with GemStones on his life, his music, and his overall outlook on a broad swath of issues:
Thanks so much for joining us, GemStones. Can you pls. inform us of your background, past projects and the struggle leading up to 1st and 15th records?
Well, I grew up in Chicago, as a rapper/singer. Originally, I adopted the name, “Gemini,” because Gemini is a sleek personality, so I was double-sided. My negative side was me rapping, and my positive side was me singing. I ran into Lupe (Fiasco) in 2001. I was recording in a studio, and Lupe walked in with the late “Stack Bundles.” At the time, Stack Bundles was also signed to 1st and 15th Records. When he heard my verses, he was so impressed, and before time passed, I was signed to 1st and 15th. I then began putting songs together for a whole year, by grindin’. I was living with a couple of producers, who made beats and offered them to me. After a while, I finally got a record-deal. Then I started recording with Lupe, and then he released his first major album, “Food and Liquor,” and I was featured on almost every song on it. And in 2006, when MTV did the special, “My Block Chicago,” I was featured as the headliner. I also hosted “Sucker Free Sunday.” And then late last year, Lupe released his 2nd album, “The Cool,” and I appeared on about 4 songs. I joined Lupe on “The Cool Tour” where we performed shows in almost every major city in the world. In the middle of the shows, Lupe would stop it for me to showcase my talents, and rock the crowds of sometimes, about 15,000 people. With all that, people began to notice me, and I got a whole page in the Source magazine, and a whole page in XXL magazine. And recently, I just released my major mixtape, “The Testimony of Gemstones.”
What are the lessons you’ve learned - musically and beyond - from working with Lupe Fiasco?
Well, I’m more conscious of what I say now, and what comes out of my mouth. In the beginning, I was just rapping to put rhymes together. I watched Lupe’s music evolve, and as I was around Lupe more, I saw the impact he was having on people, with his new brand. Lupe helped me find my voice; and his influence made it easier for me to find out what my calling was. My lyrics and my rhymes are a lot more potent than they we’re before. I’m still rapping with the same intensity that I was, but I’m just more socially-conscious.
Can you describe the radical makeover that you underwent, with regards to your musical and physical life?
I wasn’t eating good; I was out drinking and smoking, and wasn’t taking care of my body. I was injecting all kinds of toxic into my body -- and destroying it. I was up to 320 pounds, when I had a mild heart attack. I was out with Lupe one night in L.A, when I felt a numbing-pain on my left side, and all I could think of was the fact that I was about to have a heart attack. I thought about how I had survived the hood - with gun-shots and so much more - and how I couldn’t go out from food. After that, I went to the hospital, and got my body back on track. I started eating vegetables, chicken breasts, and drinking water. With regards to my music, I started transitioning from the bogus, negative style of rap I was performing, to what I’m involved with today. But, I didn’t plan for it to happen; everything just fell into place after my weight loss. Before I knew it, I became healthy spiritually, mentally and physically. In the past, I had catered to my fans and whatever they wanted to hear; I had degraded women, and with my mother listening to my music, it grew uncomfortable. With my new self, I wrote songs like “Skeleton” and “Good morning.” I realized that if I wasn’t part of the solution, I was part of the problem, and so I made a 180 degree turnaround.
Why the name-change from Gemini to Gemstones?
Well, I had some legal trouble, where someone already owned the name, so I had to make the fix and change it to Gemstones.
What is your overall perspective on Hip-Hop today - especially in the Chi – which is widely rumored to be the next biggest thing?
I think Hip-Hop will be good. I never thought Hip-Hop was dead, but I also thought it was on life-support. And, with cats like Common, Lupe and myself - keeping it strong when things weren’t going as good - we helped it. It was because of cats like that who didn’t sell out for a dime -- that Hip-Hop never died. And if you notice, things are starting to get better – it’s recovering. In Chicago, we hold the elements of Hip-Hop down. We have always made good music for the soul. I also believe that with my transition, I’ve made a big impact with keeping Hip-Hop alive. Even in the clubs; the music that is being played today, trumps that of 3 yrs. ago. Yet sometimes, I feel that rap has to be responsible for some of the more negative things that happen around us. And, whether we as rappers want to admit it or not, the kids are listening to us. When young girls start to believe that they can’t be lawyers and doctors anymore; that all there is to be is some video vixen, you have to take it seriously. The tongue is mighty, and when we realize that we can speak things into existence, we might become more conscious of our lyrical content. I think that if we could turn the negative to positive, we would become so strong as a people.
What’s your take on Barack Obama, and do you have any criticisms of his campaign?
I say thumbs up to him. It’s good to see a black person in a position like that. We’ve been held back for so long, and for any black person who’s doing something positive, I’m always with it. I wish him the best of luck.
You come from a rich musical background. In fact, you describe it as being vital in your shaping. As an artist and entertainer; how concerned are you that many public schools are slowly but drastically losing their music programs?
I’m very concerned, and I think that we as adults and entertainers need to step up and step in. We need to put our foot down. As soon as we start doing our job, things would start to turn around; but I’m hopeful that we’ll be alright though.
Can you tell us about the Testimony of Gemstones – which is your latest mixtape?
The Testimony of Gemstones is me testifying and apologizing to all my fans, who I might have misled in the past. I might have led people to destruction with some of my past lyrics. I don’t know what to call what I do, but it’s not rapping. I’m telling the truth; it just happens to come over a beat. Rapping seems to be ‘just putting words together because they match.’ The Testimony of Gemstones is all about real life and inspiration. I came from nothing, and I’m testifying to everyone who can relate to me, and the subjects that I touch on in the mixtape, are rarely touched on by most of these rappers. Ever since the release, I’ve been getting ‘5s’ all across the board, and people are going nuts over it. The response so far has been amazing, and it is an orientation before my album, “Troubles of the World” drops -- which is slated to drop later this year. I made the mixtape to prepare the public for Troubles of the World. The album is so raw, that I had to ‘dumb it down’ for them in the form of this mixtape.
Lastly, what advice do you have for aspiring artists and entertainers, hoping to get ahead in the ‘wildfire’ industry of Hip-Hop?
Don’t sell your soul, and don’t ever sell out for a dollar. People chase the dollar and miss the pot of gold at the end of the road. Also, never give up on your dreams – which is the main thing. Kanye West once told me, “to be with greatness, you got to play with the greats.” Lastly, keep God first and stay humble; patience is a virtue, and you can ‘Touch the Sky.’
For more information on GemStones and his latest/future projects, visit: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=66875165
This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for YourBlackWorld.com