For almost the past decade, my favorite emcee has been a guy out of Chicago named Gemstones. He was originally a member of Lupe Fiasco’s 1st and 15th imprint and Gemini. On Lupe’s debut album, Food and Liquor was released, I bought it the day that it came out. However, by the time I heard the hook on track three, I was blown away by whoever was singing on the hook. ‘Stones sang the hook for three tracks on that album. They would have been good songs with other choruses because Lupe was and still is dope; however, Gemini made those songs come alive.
At first, I just thought that Gemstones was just a singer. In 2007, I was visiting family in New York and was in Queens with one of my best friends, Gabe, who also was a producer beginning to make a buzz for himself making beats on YouTube. Because Myspace was the shit at the time, he randomly pulled up a page and I heard what was supposed to be Gemstones’ first single “We On,” featuring Lupe Fiasco. As someone who spent all of his adolescence and at the time, early twenties, engulfed in producing and creating hip hop, it’s very hard to impress me. I was blown away when I heard Gemini and Lupe going back and forth over the instrumental break of Denise Williams’ “Silly” over stutter-stepped drums.
With no exaggeration, that song changed my life. “We On” for years was the alarm on my phone. After giving thanks, my mindset is starting everyday with as much energy and execute with the precision as the verbal dexterity of that song. Hell, a couple months ago, I re-sampled the break from “Silly,” put new drums over it, and recorded me singing the hook just because I love that song…I just never quite found the words for it.
If Lupe was esoteric, Gemini was the street-savvy person who brought him back into a realm of understanding, for lack of a better expression. I could relate to him way more than I could Lupe. Gemstones was the singing rapper before Drake. In fact, there’s that one time he effortlessly bodied Drizzy on a track. Lyrically, his version of Lupe’s hit “Superstar” is better, too. See, anyone with a sense of humor and rhythm can write clever punchlines; but to flip words in multisyllabic patterns over and over is something very few can do and it seem like second nature.
I listened to all of Gemstones’ mixtapes and there was the evolution that took place. No longer going by the name Gemini, ‘Stones’ content had evolved. His second mixtape, The Testimony of Gemstones, resonated with me. When I was living in Atlanta, there were moments in which I could relate to “Sometimes I wish I had wings, I’d pack up all my broken dreams. Stand atop Cabrini Green, lean forwards, and fly away.” Somehow just saying those words were the freedom one needs in a moment of feeling overwhelmed, and by the next track, continue to let the “untamed beast” continue to do what it does: execute.
Gemstones’ album, Troubles of the World, was never released. He seemed to have disappeared. In 2010, the artist formerly known as Gemini reemerged under his birth name, Demarco Castle, with “On the Road to Glory, My Story.” Once I got wind of this, I listened to interviews. Castle had given his life to Christ after tragedy hit close to home. His music reflected his change in lifestyle. This was around the time Timile was pregnant, and I wasn’t sure why, but his new direction reflected how I felt inward: shit is getting real and I’m not sure what or how that will be. Nonetheless, I’m on my way.
Over the summer, Gemstones finally released his debut album, Blind Elephant. Speaking with conviction, I wouldn’t quite call his music gospel, because that would be pigeon-holing and doesn’t quite do this body of work justice. He’s simply addressing proverbial elephants in the room (hence the title) from many angles. It’s a much more mature effort than I could imagine anything he would have released in 2008 would have been. Hell, I haven’t released any music in well over ten years; but writing about my experiences as a single father for right now seems to be a step in the direction that I’m supposed to be headed in. Shit, anyone who knows me personally can admit that addressing elephants in the room is more or less a lifestyle of mine.
So the reason that I’m writing all of this is simple. Gemstones seems to always get me out of writer’s block.
Listen to Blind Elephant here…