Music: Gemstones for Life Interview
Man.. this dude. I have been railing for the last few issues about the tore up messages and quality of today’s hip-hop. I happened across a clip of Gemstonesforlife performing and, after hearing more from him, felt a little faith in today’s music artists restored.
Gemstonesforlife is a cool, level-headed cat that is building a massive groundswell on the web. I tracked this guy down to get his story and I’m glad I did.
V. RAY: I was very impressed with the momentum I see you gaining on the web. Do you have an album out now?
GFL: I’m working on my album right now. I’m putting together an album called “Elephant In The Room”. It will be out early 2015.
V. RAY: Oh OK. So you’re signed now? Will this be your first commercial release?
GFL: Well, I used to rock with Lupe Fiasco. I was actually signed with First & Fifteenth from 2001 all the way up to 2009.
V. RAY: So you had releases during that time? GFL: No, during this period I worked on The Cool, writing, rapping and singing. I also worked on Food & Liquor. I also toured. At that time I was rapping under the name Gemini. I was slated to do my own record but when the time finally came around I had a change of heart. I didn’t go through with it. It came to sign my deal and I walked away from it. I had good buzz from releasing two mixtapes in 2006 (Untamed Beast) and 2008 (Testimony of Gemstones) and I was on a bunch of freestyles during that time.
V. RAY: Why’d you walk away from the record deal you had on the table? GFL: I basically had a change of heart, bro. Over that time period I had grown a lot from when I first walked into the industry. And when it was my turn up to bat, I had a change or heart. I had grown spiritually, mentally and I’d changed physically so I was just in another place in my life. My goals had changed from 2001. My goals weren’t my goals in 2009. I had just given my life to the Lord and I didn’t want to… there was a lot of compromising going on at that time. And I didn’t want to be compromising my soul. So I left it all alone for awhile. I walked away from rap and just left it alone. I picked it back up in 2012 under the name Gemstonesforlife.
V. RAY: So you literally left money on the table?
GFL: I had to man. I struggled with that. They were trying to make me have a certain kind of sound; they were trying to make me.. the things they wanted me to talk about, my head wasn’t in that no more. When I say I had grown, I was on some different stuff. And I just didn’t want to talk about that stuff. And it was a big amount of money they were about to offer me. I literally turned my back on it. I was supposed to be that next big artist. Where Drake is today, that was supposed to be me.
V. RAY: Oh, it’s coming anyway bro
GFL: Maybe so, but now, my goals are different. I want to plant a seed now. For the kids that are coming up. Now, I’ve got kids. I’ve got nephews and nieces so before I leave this earth I wanna play my part. If I can reach one in a room of 10,000 my job is done.
V. RAY: You have a deal now?
GFL: I just signed a deal with Gospel label called Exist. I signed with them last year. I don’t particularly consider myself a Gospel artist but I wanted to work in the genre that was closest to the Lord. I don’t really think of my music as Gospel but message music. Inspirational, you know? I realized as I studied more that I don’t have to put a label on my music to define who I am. But I do make music for the Lord; for the soul. Uplifting and positive; whatever is moving in the direction of the vibration that I’m on. So the Gospel listeners migrated to me plus people that knew me from rocking with Lupe. In 2012 I did an underground release of a project also called “Elephant In The Room” that caught fire. It’s crazy because I performed at my listening party in the middle of a crowd, kind of pumping up that the CD was available. My homeboy videotaped it and it’s recently gone viral. It’s caught fire and it’s going all over.
V. RAY: That’s the first thing that I saw on you. It’s gotta feel pretty good. The implication that music is kinda timeless and relevant and seen as new a few years after it was originally created.
GFL: Well, when I sat down to write that project I really wanted to create music that would be timeless. So yeah, it’s dope that people are on it like it’s brand new and it’s from 2012.
V. RAY: Another question for you.. who’s doing production on your new record?
GFL: It’s a dude named J.R. and my boy named Stan Meeks. There are other producer’s in negotiation but I can’t say their names yet until the deals close.
V. RAY: I know you sing, but do you play any instruments?
GFL: It’s funny you asked because I’ve been wanting to learn to play guitar for the longest, since 2009, and I just picked up my guitar today to start learning. I’ve been practicing a few chords lesson for a few hours. I just wrapped up right before you called. Day one.
V. RAY: I’m gonna shift gears for a minute and cover a little of your background. For starters, where are you from?
GFL: Born and raised in the south side of Chicago. We call it Chi-raq.
V. RAY: Family? Siblings?
GFL: My mom had seven of us. Four boys and three girls. I’m the oldest of the boys.
V. RAY: What was it like growing up in that household in Chicago. I imagine it was pretty rough.
GFL: Actually, it was a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful struggle. When I look back. I call it a beautiful struggle because there was so much love in our home that I didn’t realize that we were poor. I didn’t know that it wasn’t the norm to have syrup sandwiches and sugar sandwiches and sugar water. I thought that was normal. Roaches were normal. Growing up I wasn’t afraid of roaches because they were just part of the environment. I didn’t know that when my mom was cooking off the hot plate that wasn’t what everybody does. I didn’t understand it but I didn’t know it wasn’t the usual. We lined up at the church for government cheese and powdered milk… I couldn’t wait to do it. All the kids piled in one bed with the stove on and the oven door open to heat the apartment.. that was just the way things were done. It was fun. It was beautiful. I appreciate the things that were done then when I got older and how my moms made it work and we made it through. I wouldn’t change it for nothing in the world.
V. RAY: In prepping for our interview, I see that you have a major buzz going on the web. I don’t think I saw a Soundcloud song or YouTube video that had less than 10,000 plays. Is that a product of your efforts personally or your new label’s handiwork?
GFL: Man that’s all God. I started it with Soundcloud one day because I saw a lot of other artists were getting them. I uploaded some songs and the people started to come. Everybody started rushing to my Soundcloud page. I started the Facebook fan page because supporters were rushing my personal Facebook page and blowing it up. Before I knew it, that release party video had almost 100,000 plays. The video had sat dormant for almost two years. God said “I’ll give you the desires of your heart” and He is proving that in my life.
The label is starting to get involved at this point and we’re moving on my project. Every stride made online prior to that was achieved by me and my wife. Those numbers you see are just me and my wife. This whole movement was a result of time, it was sleep lost, no real budget… so I know it’s God that’s making it all come together now.
V. RAY: OK, last question. Tell me about the safety pin that’s part of your logo. It seems to be part of your branding. What does that stem from?
GFL: It represents a collection of things for me. To me it represents love, hope, faith, togetherness and strength. See coming up, my grandmother used to always have safety pins on her night gowns and on her dresses. And they always came in handy. If a button popped off or something that safey pin was there to keep your pants up or if one of the kids kept dropping their pacifier she would use a safety pin and some string to attach the pacifier to the baby’s clothes. She made those safety pins work. They came in handy. So when my Granny passed in ’02 I decided to wear a safety pin on my shirt in remembrance of her. And the spirit moved me to decide to use that as my logo or part of my branding. The safety will be part of my identity and represents what my music is about; and that’s love, hope, faith, togetherness and strength.
I’m personally in awe of any artist that takes it upon themselves to have some integrity in today’s music market. Not necessarily to try to change the world but to change the conversation in the Black community. I hope to see Gemstonesforlife and other artists of his ilk help Black music turn the corner on negativity and set a trend in a new, constructive direction.