GemStones (aka Gemini), for those not familiar, gained popularity in the music industry as he came up through the ranks on Lupe Fiasco's imprint label 1st & 15th Entertainment. GemStones was featured on a few songs on each of Lupe Fiasco's hit albums Food & Liquor, and The Cool. GemStones utilized the platform that he and Lupe built and released his single "We On" feat. Lupe Fiasco & Pooh Bear. The song garnered a huge buzz.
Prior to GemStones album releasing in 2009, he dropped everything to follow Christ.
RZ: Most of our readers are probably not familiar with you, so to kick it off, if you can just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself, your childhood, background, etc.
GS: I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I go by the name of GemStones, formerly known as Gemini. My government name is Demarco Castle. I was signed to Lupe Fiasco's label, 1st & 15th Entertainment. I've been rapping and singing my entire life.
As far as my spiritual beliefs, I was baptized at an early age but it wasn't because someone told me, "Yo, you gotta get accept Christ as your Lord and savior." When I was little, I always heard that you can literally hear God talking to you under water. I was a curious little kid. I was maybe 7 years old and my cousins would always say, if you get baptized and you stick your head under water you can hear God talking to you. So at home I would always fill the tub up and stick my head under water... and I wouldn't hear anything.
/ So there was this neighborhood I grew up at that I talk about in my music, called Bush. There was this Christian church that used to come and pick up all the kids in a big yellow school bus. They would come get all the kids in the neighborhood and say they were going to take them to a carnival, but the catch is they would have to go to church first. So I went. When I got to church they were baptizing. So in my head I'm thinking God is going to talk to me. It was all grown men and women getting baptized but I raised my hand too. So I got baptized, but thinking back on that incident, I know God has always been in my life. Even though I was doing wrong, I know that I had the holy spirit in me because I wouldn't do certain things that my friends would do. I didn't know why but I just didn't do certain things.
RZ: So fast forwarding to 2001, you somehow met with Lupe Fiasco and began the part of your life that we know you for now. Can you talk about how you met Lupe and eventually signed to his label 1st & 15th?
GS: I ran into Lupe through this guy I knew named Eric. Eric was a rapper. We booked a recording session, and when I got there he was like "yo my friend's gonna feature on the record." So we waited on this dude to come for hours, and when he finally showed up this nerdy dude came through the door, and I'm like "yo this is who we've been waiting on this whole time?" So anyway, when he started spittin', he was really really good. Then he told me all the things he had his hands into and he was signed to Arista Records, and about to drop an album. He told me how he was working with Jay-Z, and he was then where I wanted to be and where I was trying to go. So we exchanged math. He liked the way I spit and he thought I had talent.
RZ: You first made big noise in the industry when you appeared on Lupe Fiasco's debut album, 'Food & Liquor' 5 times in 2006. You were on the first single from that album on the track "Pressure" which also featured Jay-Z. That album is certified Gold (over 500,000 in sales), and received 5 Grammy nominations. At that time, how did you feel being a part of all that?
GS: It happened all over night. It came and I wasn't expecting it. We were just two kids in the studio grindin'. Working with a dream. It's not like a job like you start work tomorrow 8-5, or it's pay day Thursday, or like college and you leaving on the 26th of August. So one day we woke up and it was like "Yo we about to drop the album, and it was like ... huh?" So what we did was just pick through all the songs we had been recording all year, and before I knew it the album was out. It never really hit me like it hit everybody else. It kind of hit me when I saw the album in the actual stores and I opened it up and saw myself on the inside of 'Food & Liquor'. It didn't really hit me until we went on tour riding on tour buses, and until I stood in front of 50,000 fans with people knowing my name and screaming my name.
RZ: So how old were you at that time?
GS: Around 22. I'm 29 now. But before Lupe's first album dropped we started doing the 'Fahrenheit 911' mixtape. Mixtapes were really big at that time and we made a big buzz with those. Then after Lupe's album dropped, I dropped my 'Untamed Beast' mixtape.
RZ: Lupe's second album 'The Cool' dropped in 2007 and you were featured on there a few times. That album went Platinum (over 1 million in sales).
GS: Yep. That's when the touring started. That's when things got crazy. The videos, touring... I was actually featured on the first street single which was "Dumb It Down". I did some writing on that record. That's when people really knew who I was. Then we started working on my project 'Troubles of the World'. That album never dropped but I'm still going to release that album.
RZ: Why didn't that get released?
GS: I was getting ready to leave 1st & 15th. They took me as far as they could take me. It's like a bus. The bus took me as far as it could take me so it was time to jump off and take the bus going North which was the direction I needed to go.
RZ: So it didn't have anything to do with your beliefs and life changing decision?
GS: Yea it did. When I resigned from 1st & 15th my friend had just passed away, and then I went and got baptized. I got closer with God, but then I started straying back into the world. But then a month later another friend, my best friend, passed away and brought me back God. I'm from the south side of Chicago and being around death and murder is no thing, and didn't bother me anymore. But when my best friend passed away it woke me up. I conversed with God. I had a real deep, deep talk with God. He told me to leave music alone, which I did. He showed me some things. He stripped me of a lot of things. He stripped me of everything to build me back up. So I went back to 1st & 15th and said that I was going in a different direction and wished them the best of luck.
RZ: Praise God! So how did Lupe take the news?
GS: I broke the news to Chili, the president of the company. He was hurt. Lupe heard about it, and we had a conversation on the phone but we didn't really speak specifics. We talked about what needed to be taken care of so we can both move on. But I mainly spoke in depth with Chili about the situation. Chili told me that "something understood shouldn't have to be explained." So since then I dropped a new album called 'On The Road To Glory: My Story.
RZ: So what's your relationship with Lupe, Chili, and everyone on the 1st & 15th team now?
GS: We good. Everyone's doing their thing. I still love Lupe, Chili, Sara Green and the whole team. It's just time for me to grow and move on. Inside of me, and with God, I'm a leader. I'm required to be the head and not the tail. If I was at 1st & 15th I was a follower. That's why it wouldn't work. From then I took a break, and then said I was doing gospel music. Then I realized that the label "gospel music" would box me and God in, and that label is man made. So I went to God with it and showed me that I'm spreading the gospel with my music, and if I'm in the hood trying to talk to some kid and my album has "gospel" on it or I say it's "gospel" music then he ain't gonna put my CD in, he's gonna keep listening to that Jay-Z. They don't want to listen to gospel. If they are getting drunk and high they won't put something on if they know it's gospel music because they'll feel filthy listening to that and won't be able to vibe with it. If I give them my album without boxing it in, then they'll vibe with it and get the word. This is God's music, you can't put labels on God's music. I don't preach in my music. I don't come at them saying they'll go to hell. I give them my testimony so it's accepted and people relate and say "Stones that's real, I want to know more."
RZ: I read that you were newly married. How long ago were you guys married.
GS: It was right after my friend passed. It's been over a year. It was right after I gave my life to God. I said "we can't be shackin' anymore, so either you gonna marry me or we can't be together." She said, "Well lets ride, lets do it."
RZ: Congratulations on that. So was she saved already, or is she?
GS: She got saved with me after my friend passed prior to my best friend passing. So we both got saved but we were still shackin'. So we wanted to get right and grow together in Christ. So I told her "lets get married tomorrow," and she couldn't do it, but we ended up getting married that next Tuesday. We didn't have a big wedding. It wasn't about the big fancy wedding, it was about getting right with God and stopping fornicating and growing with this woman in God.
RZ: That's awesome! Let's switch it up a little bit... the camp you were from, Lupe was raised Muslim, and being vocal about his belief and going as far as redoing Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" to "Muhammad Walks". With Lupe's influence, did his belief spiritually influence you or the camp to become Muslim?
GS: At one point in time it did. I wanted to try it. I would see Lupe praying and I felt like I wanted to try it. I asked him about it, but I felt like it wasn't right.
RZ: Have you and Lupe discussed your faith at all?
GS: Man, he and I used to talk about it all the time. We would ride around on the north side of Chicago, go get pizza, and have these really long discussions about what happens after death. We never debated, it was just a dialogue. We actually agreed on a lot of things. I was like "Yo Lupe do you believe that one day Jesus Christ, is going to one day return?" He was like, "Yea I believe it." You know, spiritual things is really all me Lupe ever talked about. Ask him, he'll tell you. We hardly every talked about rap. We never rapped to each other unless we were in the studio recording.
RZ: Now that you are saved and have a desire to preach the word, do you have a desire to have those discussions with Lupe again now that you probably have more understanding of God's word?
GS: If the opportunity ever presents itself I will definitely talk to him about it again. I'd like to know how he feels since all of the success has happened. Now that you have tasted it, what do you think now? We used to always say that the industry didn't exist, it's all smoke and mirrors. I kind of renigged. When I was coming into the industry, I planned on being a monster and rapping about guns, drugs, women, but God had another plan for me. But I do want to talk to Lu again.
RZ: I would love to hear about that conversation after it happens.
GS: You know what, I had a dream, and God gave me something to tell Lupe. The last time me and Lupe talked, I told him what God told me to tell him.
RZ: Do you want to share what that is?
GS: (long pause) Nah. We'll see what happens when he drops his album. But I gave him a message that was given to me, you know God comes to you in your dreams. And when I woke up, I called that brother and told him what God gave me.
RZ: Well keep me posted! Recently another Chicago native, Rhymefest, did an interview with us. The interview was specifically spurred by his recent song and video "Prosperity". It was talking about prosperity gospel.
GS: I'm going to check that out, I like Rhymefest.
RZ: I've actually known Rhymefest since before he was signed and blew up, and have had the chance to see him grow musically from those beginnings when both lived in Indianapolis. He's always been a smart and clever guy. I knew that he was raised in a Christian home, but in recent years become Muslim...
GS: OH RHYMEFEST IS MUSLIM NOW??
RZ: Rhymefest is Muslim, yea.
GS: Oh wow, I didn't know that.
RZ: So you were talking about Lupe's beliefs as Muslims, and Rhymefest has also said, that they believe that Jesus was a prophet, and they hold true what prophets say, but they don't believe that Jesus was what he said he was, the son of the King, and our savior.
GS: You know what I always say? I always say, "What do you have to lose?" No one actually knows, its going off of your faith. I say, "What do you have to lose by believing that he is your Lord and savior?" I can tell you what you would lose when that day comes and you find out that he IS your Lord and savior, and it's too late!
RZ: Kind of like saying "There are no Athiests in hell".
GS: Right. All I know is there is no way to the Father but through Jesus. Every mouth shall confess and every knee show bow. Everything that is in the word has came to pass. That just made more sense to me than what Muslims or anyone else was saying.
RZ: It was clear online that people in the hip hop community were excited about your album coming out, but then read that you had dropped everything to pursue Christ and weren't doing music anymore. So almost a year later we have a new street album 'On The Road To Glory: My Story', and we posted that on Rapzilla and it received a great response.
GS: OH WORD?
RZ: Yea, but more importantly, on the secular hip hop sites I see that it's getting a great response there as well. Did you think that it would be received well there since you are speaking Christ in your music now? Or did you think that it wouldn't, and people would brush you off as the crazy guy that dropped all the success with Lupe to become a Christian?
GS: I did think it would be received well because I didn't box it in as gospel. God told me to strip that title. I don't want to talk like I'm talking all religious, but this music here is not for the church. If Jesus were here, he would be hangin' at the bars, strip clubs, but he wouldn't be in the church. He would be on the low end of Chicago, in the dice games, the shoot outs. So I could have done this music two ways. I could have done it for the saved and sanctified and preached to the choir and the rest of the world wouldn't have been able to relate. Or I could have done it the way I did to where unsaved people can relate to it cause I'm talking real and something they can feel.
But I didn't because when you are not of the world, the world hates you. Because you don't do what the world does. But I knew that the world wanted to hear me because I had the ear of them before. So they wanted to hear, to judge me. They wanted to see if I fell off. But when they heard it, it hit their soul. Real always wins. The issues I'm talking about whether you are saved or not, everyone can relate to my music because everyone is human and I talked to about life and what people relate to. So it was good music, they could relate to it, and oh, who is this Jesus guy? So now people want to open their ear to Jesus.
RZ: On "On The Road To Glory: My Story", you gave it to us pretty thick. The content was heavy, and I enjoy music like that with a lot of substance. The song "Heartbeat of the World" was one of my favorite songs on the album. Can you talk to us about that song?
GS: That song was from straight from heaven. The diamonds, the drugs, the fornication, those are the ills of the world. I've lived it, I'm in it, but I'm not of it. I had to get out of that or it was eternal death for me. I had to tell people I can't be of that.
RZ: I read that you only had a week to record the album. The album had 21 songs, haha. Why did you do it that way?
GS: I was pressed for time. I set a release date but the studios were just booked. The release date was getting closer but I still hadn't written all the songs. So I had to find an engineer that would find the time for me, and by the grace of God, Joe aka Dante DeVino, and two others all squeezed me in. So I was hittin' three different studios to get it done. There were songs that didn't make the album because of time. I wanted to put more on there.
RZ: 21 records is a lot. Why so many?
GS: You can't get bored with 21 songs.
RZ: Now that you are a new man, what's on your iPod now?
GS: I don't really listen to music. The music game is terrible right now. I have been listening to Cee-lo and Gnarls Barkley. But I don't really listen to music too much right now.
RZ: I feel you. As I get older I find it hard to find real quality hip hop music, probably because of my age range and coming from the golden era. I can't really play the rap I used to listen to because I have Christ in me now and most of it doesn't sit well.
GS: Yea, you don't want that stuff playin' in your soul. Those songs can play into your spirit. Music is powerful. Music can make you want to hate, have sex, kill someone, you have to be careful.
RZ: Do you know anyone that is a Christian that is doing hip hop or doing Christian hip hop?
GS: Nah, I don't know anyone. I have a question for you. Do you think that calling something Christian hip hop, and putting a title on it, that you are stopping growth?
RZ: I do. That's something I personally struggle with, is using that label. So the struggle is within this niche genre, there is music like yours that people within this genre would call Christian hip hop because of the Christ centered lyrics, it's hip hop, and they can relate to it. Music like yours is presented with the goal that people not in the church can relate to it and not feel alienated. There is also hip hop that is for people that are in the church.
GS: But the thing is, is we are all human and struggle from the same things whether we are in the church or not. My music is a light and I need to go somewhere it's dark to shine my light. Why am I gonna go somewhere and shine my light where its already light? For what?
RZ: I feel you, but on the other hand there is music meant for praise and worship which gives God praise and strengthens believers. That translates to hip hop as well, which is hip hop that is meant for praise and worship to the Lord. There is meat and there is milk. There is definitely a lot of opinions on calling it Christian Hip Hop or just Hip Hop, but I'm on the fence for the sake of not preventing someone from listening.
GS: Hmm. Yea I feel you.
RZ: So since this album is out for free, do you have plans to release an album that will be on iTunes?
GS: This album will be up for sale but I didn't want to be selfish and wait for things to happen so it could be on iTunes, I wanted to get it out immediately. There could have been someone about to do drugs, or commit suicide or commit a murder that would stop after hearing my music. It had to be out. But I'll get it up on iTunes. We are about to shoot a video too though, so look out for that. The video will be for the song "Exhale".
RZ: Thanks a lot for your time brother. I'll shoot you some hip hop by some Christians that you'll probably enjoy so you have something new to ride to.