You’ve been making a lot of noise lately, especially for your guest verses on Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. What have these last couple of months been like for you?
Hard work. These last couple of months I’ve been grinding hard. It’s step up time. I’m the next artist to come out. I want the world to know and to hear my talent. I want the world to know that I’m talented also. You don’t want to be in the shadows of anybody. You don’t want to be the Robin to Lupe’s Batman, but in order not to do that, you have to grind and you have to prove yourself, so I’ve been grinding and touring, just getting it in. I’ve just been getting it in and at the same time staying humble and putting God first. At the same time, it’s been crazy these last couple of months.
What do you have to do to not be in Lupe’s shadow?
Prove yourself. You have to prove yourself. If you want it, you have to show the world that you’re a No. 1 and not a No. 2. Either way it goes, I’m not going to be mad because Lupe’s my man. Before business partners, we’re friends. But being looked at as a No. 2, it’s really not a good look. You want to be looked at as your own thing, but in order to do that, you just have to work hard, man. You have to work hard to prove yourself and that’s what the world wants to see. Everyone wants to know who Gemini is and who is Gemstones and what does he bring to the table and why did Lupe sign this guy and is he who he says he is.
So you just basically have to work hard and prove yourself. And with talent, you can’t stop the sun from shining. It could be raining for 100 years and one day the clouds have to open up and the sun has to come out. And talent always wins in the end and the people will decide. They’ll decide if I am who I say I am.
Take us back a minute. How did you and Lupe initially link up?
Okay. I met Lupe way back in the beginning. I met Lupe back in 2000 or 2001. I did a studio session at this studio in Chicago. This was before he was really big. I was still Gemini. We were at a little hole-in-the-wall studio with my friend waiting to do a song. They wouldn’t let me start because Lupe had to finish his song and they said he was about to sign with Jay-Z and Rocafella. So I’m in the session and we were waiting for three hours.
Finally Lupe comes through the door. I was anxious at the time and I was thinking that I was the best rapper. Stack Bundles also walked by. He was signed to First and 15th at the time and he was Lupe’s first artist. God bless his soul. So him and Stack Bundles walk through the door. Lupe never recorded his verse but we had a big cipher. We went at it for like an hour. We were just throwing monster verses out and at the end of the session, Lupe asked us if we wanted to hear his album. Nobody really knows who Lupe is except for his guy George. He played us his album and it was all bangers. I didn’t know how to make songs at that point. I just knew how to rap. I didn’t know how to write 16’s. Lupe had songs and they were really good. He was name-dropping Eminem and Dr. Dre, saying that they were supposed to be working on the album and I believed him. You could hear it in his music that he wasn’t faking it. And you could also see it in the car that he was driving and the jewelry that he was wearing.
He was who I was trying to be. I just needed someone who was already on that. So we exchanged numbers and the rest is history. He heard what I do and he signed me. He brought me around everyone at the label. They had me rapping against a gang of dudes and I was running through everybody that they threw up against me. And then I started singing. I hit them with all of these songs and they was blown away. Before you know it I was signed. I was recording my album and I knew how to write songs. We formed a friendship and we’ve just been going hard ever since we met.
And actually, when I first met Lu, he told me he wasn’t actually looking to sign any artists. He had heard me the night we met. He heard me that night but he didn’t see my full potential, so I had to prove myself. So when I got up with him, he told me he would listen but he wasn’t going to sign anyone. That wasn’t enough for me and I wasn’t trying to hear that. I heard that at plenty of job interviews, like they’ll look over my application and call me. I knew what that was about and there were plenty of jobs that I didn’t get and I wasn’t going to have that. I ultimately made my way. If there is no way, I’ll make a way.
I had to get up with those guys a second time and when I did, I knew it was either go hard or go home. I pulled all types of raps out the hat. I went hard. I went hard. And then I told him that I didn’t even want to sign. I told him that I wanted to sign, but that I wanted to sit back for a year or two and just learn the game and just soak it up and then when I was ready, I would sharpen my knife and let it out the draw. I told them that I wasn’t ready and that they couldn’t put me out yet. He respected it and the next time he heard me rap I went hard and they were blown away. They saw me and knew that I was that dude. They knew that my pen game and my songwriting game was sick and that my vocals were sick. They knew I was lyrically sick and that I was a monster. They knew they could mold me into something crazy and that’s what they did. They got me in the studio. There were producers giving me beats and I just grew. I started following Lupe and he started complimenting my style and I just got better and better and better and better. And before you knew it I was doing shows.
What kind of relationship did you have with Stack Bundles?
Me and Stack Bundles was cool. I respected him as an artist. Him being from New York and me being from Chicago, we were from two different places. We told each other our stories and we bonded over rap. We started talking about our upbringing and he was telling me all about how New York is, yada, yada, yada and I started telling him what it was like in Chicago and what to watch out for and how we get down and from then on, we had a respect for each other. We would talk on the phone and he would tell me that he would send me some of the exclusive clothes out there. We were always talking about clothes and getting these types of Air 1’s and this, that and the third. And then Stacks wasn’t on First and 15th anymore. For whatever reason, he ventured off to do his own thing with Dipset and Desert Storm and whatever he was doing, but every time I would go to New York and every time I saw Stack Bundles, he would show me the utmost love because he knew what it was before Desert Storm and Dipset.
We went to the Dominican Republic and Stack was performing with Jim Jones. He didn’t get to see me perform because he was late, but he saw me and he started screaming my name out. He was showing me ugly love. Every time we ran into each other it was love. And then it broke my heart when I heard what happened. I immediately dropped down to my knees and said a prayer for his soul. I hope God has mercy on his soul and forgives him for his sins. That broke my heart though.
You’ve been recording and touring with Lupe for a couple years now. How has that helped you grow as an artist?
I’ve really grown, man, as a person. Not just as an artist, but being able to get out of Chicago has been great. Here in Chicago, it’s just Chicago. The music scene is not really big here. You got a lot of talent, but there’s no Atlantic Records here in Chicago. There’s no Def Jam office here in Chicago. So it’s just a lot of talent here, but there’s nowhere to run unless you leave here and you have to go blow up somewhere else and then come back. And no one shows love, but we’ll get into that later.
So I just had a Chicago mentality, man. All I knew was Chicago. That’s all I knew. I just knew the scene of Chicago until I got out of Chicago and I was able to travel the world and see different cultures and different faces and stand in front of 20,000 people and rock and receive love. It let me know that I was just trapped here and it gave me a whole new respect for my art. It gave me a whole new respect for my music and it helped me grow. It let me know that you can just be yourself. You don’t have to make a certain type of music that you think Chicago wants to hear. I traveled the world with Lupe meeting different people and my songs were beginning to change and I was eating different food and I was growing. I was evolving into a whole different person. I was the same person, but I was just sharpening who I was. I was just sharpening that knife, that dull knife. I was just sharpening that knife and I’ve grown, man. I got a whole new respect for the game and how I think now. And then I come back to Chicago and I would see these guys with the regular Chicago mentality and I would try to tell them about it and help them see the picture because I know what is going on, but most of them are so trapped and lost. They’re content with where they are and I try to let them know that the sky is the limit and that they don’t have to do this. It’s bigger than Chicago.
And it helped me grow, man. What doesn’t kill you can only make you that much stronger. And then I got out on the road and saw guys who were 10 times better than me. One day I’m in front of a crowd of 17 people performing and then I’m in front of 10,000 people. It’s crazy. Whoa. And it just helped me grow as a person. I’m growing. And I respect life more now. I just respect everything to the nth degree off me growing and getting to see the world.
How is your debut album coming?
Troubles of the World. The album is crazy. Like, the album, and I’m not just saying it because you have to pump your own stuff up, but it’s really, really, really, really, really ridiculous. The album is finished and I was actually supposed to drop before The Cool dropped. We were actually supposed to drop Troubles of the World and they ran with The Cool. I thought it was a better look to feature Lupe first and then let me get my buzz up by being featured on his album. So I took my time off while they were running with The Cool. My thing is I don’t want to meet the deadline, I want to beat the deadline. So every day I’m making new songs and trying to outdo Troubles of the World. I started replacing songs and the album is just crazy. We mixed it down and before we mixed it down, Lupe was just riding with my album and just bragging on it real heavy. He was saying that he couldn’t wait for me to drop and that it was really art.
I’m not just putting an album out so I can say I have an album out and just talk nonsense like blah, blah, blah. I’m talking about real issues that are going on in the world today. If you loved Food and Liquor and The Cool then you’re going to love Troubles of the World. I took you home with me. I could have taken this opportunity to talk to you about rims and big, fancy cars and went diamond. I’m just speaking. I could have went that route, but I waited so long to get here that I felt as though I wanted to share my life experiences with the world and let them know what we’re going through. I wanted to bring y’all home with me and we’re all out there. We’re all the same people and we all go through the same things in life. It’s the same doodoo, just a different toilet, and no one’s really talking about that now. Tell me about your upbringing before the rims. Artists are not doing it these days. That’s why I respect 2Pac so much. Even though I never met him, I know so much about him. You knew everything about him because he brought you home with him. A lot of people’s troubles were 2Pac’s troubles because he brought you home with him.
I’m letting you know what I was going through, what school I went to, how my father was on drugs, how there were six of us in a two bedroom apartment and how the lights were off. I talk about all of that and then I talk about how we are on tour and the rims and the cars. I don’t really talk too much about that but it’s going on. You don’t want to lose the people. You want to make it fun at the same time. I’m talking about the block and the good times and the bad times and plus I’m singing on it too. Ladies will relate to Troubles of the World heavy. It is what it says it is. Everything that I’m going through in my life, I guarantee you, 70-80% of it you’ll be able to relate to because we are the same people and we go through the same life experiences. It’s just a different toilet and the same shit. But Troubles of the World, I can not wait for it to drop and to bring y’all into my life and let you know what is going on.
Will Troubles of the World take you out of Lupe’s shadow?
Yeah, of course. See, that’s what I’m doing now. It all depends on how hard you work. It’s not just the album. When you go onstage and when Lupe gives you the opportunity to go onstage with him, you have to go onstage. When I get my own segment, I go out. You have to go out there and you have to stand on your own. God bless the child who holds his own. You have to earn it and nothing is going to be given to you. If I ever want to stand on my own, that’s what I have to do. I have to earn the respect that Lupe has. I have to go get it. I don’t mind working for it because the man who doesn’t work doesn’t eat.
This HipHopGame interview that I’m doing right now, this is helping me gain my independence. This is all part of the grind right here. Everybody who comes to the site is going to read this interview and they want to know who is Gemstones and why should they accept me. And I’m letting them know now why they should. This is my story and I’m bringing it and they can do research on me. They can go check me out and then they’re going to hear more from me. They’re going to love me and my personality and my charisma. They’re going to see that me and Lupe as a duo are crazy. But you gotta earn it. You gotta earn it. And I don’t want it to be given to me. I want to grind and get it because the joy don’t feel so good without the pain. I will respect it more going through what I’m going through now. When I finally get it, it will feel good.
How do you and Lupe work together?
Naturally. Once again, I’m not just saying this because it sounds good. I could do that, but I’m such a real person and I want to address it. For real for real, it’s magical. Anything you’ve ever heard me and Lupe on, anything, it’s natural and it’s ridiculous. I complement Lupe’s style good. I complement Lupe and I bring the beast out of Lupe and Lupe complements me. He brings the beast out of Gemstones. We just make the perfect marriage. I get so many requests that we need to do an album together because our chemistry is like white on rice.
For real, our chemistry is dope. I guess we respect each other’s craft. Like I know him. Lupe knows me. We know each other’s sound and we go in and we become one. And once we walk out the booth, it’s done. Crazy. We didn’t write “Go Baby”. We got the beat, he walked in the booth, came out, gave me dap, I went in and I did what I did. That’s how we did it. We just did it and we just kept going until the song was finished and we came out with that magic and we got Pooh Bear for the hook. We sent him the record and it came back and boom, it was a hit.
When we did “Pressure”, I laid the hook. Everything we did is magical, fam. We complement each other very well. That’s why Lupe can’t wait to release my album just to hear what the world has to say about me. He wants to hear what the world has to say, not just because I’m his artist but because I’m his friend. He knows I’ve worked hard. He wants me to have. He knows that I want to work for it. It can be given to me, but I would rather it not be given to me. I want to work for it.
From listening to your solo music, it seems as though you put a big emphasis on putting out music that has a positive message.
Oh, yeah. If you go back to my Gemini stuff, it was all shoot ‘em up, bang bang stuff. Just being a rapper, man, I was just being a rapper. I was putting words together because they matched, because “he” rhymed with “she”, I said it. After I hit the road and I started growing, the whole change came and the whole evolution came. It was either I was a part of the problem or a part of the solution and I’m glad I changed. All this murder and all these killings that are going on in Chicago are crazy. I don’t want to promote that. I want to promote that you can follow your dreams. I changed at a good time and I changed for the better. I was one of those rappers who was talking guns and drugs.
But, fam, I never sold drugs. It sounded good to say it, but now I’m content with who I am. I’m not questioning myself. I know who I am. I’m confident in myself. Look, I don’t sell drugs and I’m glad I never sold drugs to kill my people. I tried it. I couldn’t sell drugs. I tried it, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t even sell drugs. I tried to let my cousin do it for me. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t for me. There are probably other people who think it’s cool to sell drugs but it ain’t cool. I’m glad I changed because now I have a positive message. Experience is the best teacher and I’m a role model now. Kids look up to me now.
It’s okay that you’re not moving a bird. It’s okay to be you. It’s okay to be who you are, fam. It’s okay that you’re about to go to school and it’s okay that you’re about to go to college. It’s okay to have a girl and to love your girl and to get married. We be so messed up as a people that if you say you love a girl, you get talked about. If you say you’re getting married, they say you’re throwing your life away. Marriage is a beautiful thing. It’s okay to say you love a woman, but then they say, “We don’t love them hoes.” We call our sisters “hoes” and that ain’t cool. But it’s cool, man. It’s like everything that you think is good for you, we make it seem like it’s bad for you and everything that’s bad for you, it’s like good for you. So when you go to sleep with 30 girls, they give you dap like you’re the man. But when you only have sex with one girl, you’re a lame. They make you seem like a lame and that you’re uncool because you never had sex when you’re 25. But actually it’s good because you’re not supposed to have sex until you’re married. But I’m trying to get all of that out on Troubles of the World. It’s all right if you’re still a virgin. Hold onto it until you’re married. It’s okay.
I’m trying to give out a real positive message and be real motivational. Kids hit me up on MySpace. One kid said he was contemplating suicide and he heard my record and I saved his life. He said that he can look up to me and Lupe. He said I saved his life and he didn’t put his knife to his wrist and cut it and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Job done.
That’s gotta mean more to you than any album sales.
Man, that’s priceless, yo. That’s priceless. You have to know, man, Biggie is my favorite rapper. I was young and I was looking up to these rappers and looking at the cars and the girls, I was in it for that. I was in it for the money and I wanted to see what it felt like to have a million dollars and drive nice cars and wake up with naked women in the bed with me. I wanted to know what that felt like until I began to grow and I wasn’t in it for the money no more. I don’t even really want to be rich. I just want to be wealthy. I just want a family to take care of and my mother to not hurt. I want my family and my mother to not hurt for nothing.
I want the kid who’s rolling with a gun, I want to roll up on him and tell shorty to jump in. I want to take him, open him up a bank account, put some money in it to where he can’t touch it until he’s 21 or done with college and take him shopping. Take him out those dirty shoes and take him out to eat and then bring him home and just be a big influence on him and make him go to school. I want to do that and then turn around 15 years later and see that he’s going through college and take my hat off to him. I want to do things like that and help people and let them know that they can do it.
I want my voice to be strong. I asked God to anoint my voice so I could touch people and that’s the response that I get from people when they hear my music. “Your voice is so powerful. It touches people.” Keep going because of me. Keep your job because of something you heard me say. That’s what I want to do. It’s not about the money. I don’t care about the money. I wasn’t born with it and I went this long without being rich, so come on, man. I know what it feels like to be broke. I know how to survive. I’m rich in heart. I may not be rich in the pocket, but I’m rich in the soul. I would rather die broke and be rich in the heart than to sell my soul. That’s real. So money means nothing. I just want to go out there and perform in front of 10,000 and when they leave, I changed their life in some type of way and have an impact on them. That’s what Gemstones wants to do. And that’s why I’m putting Troubles of the World out.
And a big reason why I’m doing this is my mother and Ms. Gill. Ms. Gill was a teacher I had in high school. She would never let me slack off and she believed in me. Ms. Gill affected me a lot.
Did changing your name from Gemini to Gemstones hurt you at all?
It actually helped me. It actually helped me. I feel reborn now. The Gemini thing that I was doing was real negative. Back when I was doing that I was overweight. I was 320 pounds. I couldn’t perform on stage long and I was smoking cigarettes. Gemini was drinking. I just had so many things on me. And then I changed my name. The name Gemini wasn’t even really buzzing until I came about and Lupe started buzzing and Lupe started putting the cameras on my name and then my name started getting bigger.
And then the name “Gemini” started ringing, but before that, the name “Gemini” wasn’t ringing and there wasn’t a face to the name “Gemini” so kids were hearing “Gemini” and whoever had the name “Gemini” before me, they were getting the credit for it and they were taking the credit for working with Lupe. Whoever was out there with the name “Gemini,” there name started buzzing and people were saying that they heard of him, but they never did because it was really me. All the other Gemini’s were getting the impact for it and finally the face came along for who Gemini was and that was me. They told me I was about to get sued. I was finna get sued and I had to change my name. So I changed it and now the name “Gemini” is about to die again and now it’s about to be Gemstones.
But I thank them for it because it helped me grow. I lost weight and I cut my braids off. I changed my name and all this negative shit that I had went out the door. I stopped drinking and I stopped smoking and now I’m able to stay on stage for over an hour now. I’m able to rock with Lupe for two hours now. It took 10 years off me. I got like 10 years of my youth back just having the weight and those braids off. I look like I looked back in high school and it all fell in place for me. I’m a whole different person. People are saying that they didn’t even know it was me. And now the music is different than what I was doing. I look different and I feel different and I’m rocking stages better and things are looking on the up-and-up for me. I feel like a brand new artist and I’m glad, but if you go into my life and you ask me, I’ve been with Lupe. I’ve been met Jay-Z. I’ve been around. I’ve been around all these guys and I’ve been met these famous people, but it’s a whole new look right now. Everything starts now because I got history. I got history, real talk.
What’s the next move for Gemstones?
Just getting my new mixtape Testimony of Gemstones out. It’s crazy. It’s basically a sneak preview of the album. I don’t want to give it to you at a level 10 because they might not understand it, so I want to dumb it down and give you a sneak preview of it so they can understand it. It’s like a high school orientation so you can see what you’re going to be dealing with. It’s coming and it’s the orientation for the album. It’s due to drop soon and everybody is waiting on it. They’re anticipating it. They’re going crazy for it. I’m getting calls all over for it and people are asking me if they could get it in advance but I still got a couple of records to do. That’s why kids don’t got it yet. I got this joint with me and Sarah Green that hasn’t dropped. HipHopGame will have it first before I give it to anybody. It’s a crazy record with my and Sarah Green. It’s crazy! It’s called “Skeletons” and y’all will have it first. Lupe heard it and lost his mind. So I’m doing this mixtape and the album and the Glow in the Dark tour. I’ll be out there in Chicago performing then. I’ll just be grinding. Grinding, grinding, grinding. It’s just road trips and performing. It’s doing shows and getting this album out and getting this internet going crazy and releasing records on the internet. That’s what’s in the works for Gemstones right now.