“When I was doing Fight Club, I used to go up to Shady Records all the time with Riggs Morales. Riggs was the A&R, so Riggs used to bring me up there,” he recalls of his battle rap days and relationship with the record executive (who now finds talent for Atlantic Records, part of HipHopDX’s parent company WMX).
“Riggs was like, ‘Yo, we want to develop you as a Shady artist.’ But I was going in and outta jail, I was heavily addicted to mad different drugs, and they just stopped returning my calls.”
The slight inspired Nems to respond with some ill-conceived disrespect of his own.
“I fucked that up. I fucked it up big time,” he remembers. “ I wrote ‘Nems Fuck Your Life’ on the front of the door of the Shady offices. They was on 80 Broadway, like right by Canal and Broadway. I was like, yo, if Eminem comes here, he’ll see that. But it worked the opposite.”
Paul Rosenberg — Eminem’s longtime manager and business partner — had Nems banned from the office.
“Paul was like, ‘Yo, when you did that, I told [the team], nobody in here better be fucking with Nems. He’s blackballed. Like, I’m not fucking with him.’ And I had never met Paul at that point and I fucked everything up with Riggs.”
After an eight-year run of addiction to heroin that found him homeless and in jail, Nems had what he calls an “out-of-body” experience and pledged to get his life together.
“I said to myself, ‘Yo, I could stop everything right now and live my dreams or I could keep going how I’m going and I’m gonna be dead real soon.’ From that day on, I never touched nothing; I don’t drink, I don’t smoke weed, I don’t do nothing. I just kept my head down.
“All the relationships, all the bridges that I burned, you can’t go to them and be like, ‘Yo, I’m good now.’ You just could show your work. Show your work consistently, consistently, consistently through the years.”
After linking with producer Scram Jones, Nems got a shot at redemption. They recorded an album during the pandemic and Scram suggested they reach out to Paul Rosenberg.
“Scram was like, ‘Yo, Paul’s my guy. Let’s sit down and play him the album.’ And I was like, ‘Bet.’ We played him the album and Paul was like, ‘I fuck with this. What do you wanna do with it?’ We told him, ‘This is what we want. This is what we’re thinking.’
“He was like, ‘Alright, you don’t wanna put it out on a major ’cause it’s mad red tape. You’re gonna be waiting another two years to put it out. You also don’t wanna put it out by yourself because you ain’t gonna get no support.'”
Rosenberg convinced Nems and Scram to give him some time and once he locked in his deal for Goliath Records through Virgin, Nems became his first artist.
“Full circle moment,” Nems says, filled with gratitude. “It’s like validation for years of hard work, man.”
In this latest edition of Play X Play, Nems takes us through a few of his favorite tracks from the album.
RISE OF THE SILVERBACK: WHY THAT TITLE?
In 2019, my two cousins right here [points to tattoos on his arm] Ricky and Takeover, they both got killed on the same night and it put me in a place where I didn’t want to rap. I never understood depression and mental illness until that happened. But when that happened, I didn’t want to get outta bed.
Then Scram hit me after like six months and he was like, ‘yo, let’s lock in now.’ I’ve known Scram for 20 years. He used to be the DJ at this open mic called End of the Weak. I was like 16, 17, rapping every week. We were cool since then. Then he blew up. You know, I was always trying to get beats from him.
He would gimme the runaround or just not return texts or calls, and I would be like, ‘Oh, he’s trying to play me now.’ I’m friends with him. That’s my guy. Now I know he wasn’t trying to play me. That’s just, he’s fucking scrambling. He’s all over the fucking place. So he finally called me and was like, ‘Yo, let’s get some joints done.’
Now, I didn’t wanna rap, but I also didn’t wanna say no to this opportunity. So I went locked in with him and the first couple songs were just anger and pain and aggression of my two cousins passing away. The killer still — at that time — wasn’t found. You know, police were looking for him. He wound up getting arrested in Rhode Island. He was like in a trap house hiding.
We did one song and then the pandemic happened and we just kept doing songs. I would drive to [Scram’s] crib in New Rochelle, just record. There was no rush on anything. It was just like, yo, let’s just make the dopest shit possible. And then “Bing Bong” and all of that shit happened.
And it was just like, I’m Gorilla Nems and we’re witnessing the rise of the silverback. All my albums have a gorilla theme. There’s Gorilla Monsoon, Planet of the Apes, Congo. And this just fitted well in that whole, you know, like Marvel universe of titles, Rise of the Silverback.
“KEEP ON” FT. TISH HYMAN
Okay, this first joint I’m gonna play you is just like a deep cut, “Keep On,” and it’s featuring Tish Hyman who’s an incredible singer. She got a song called “All That I Can Do” that is like one of my favorite songs. And I was like, ‘Yo, Scram, sample this.’ And he sampled it.
We sent it to Tish. We were gonna just sample her voice, she said, nah, send it to me. And she did the chorus and she added a bridge and it’s just a deep cut. It very like, you know, tells my story from, from young. “I was in the hospital watching my father die from AIDS…”
I feel like there’s a strength in vulnerability. Why did people love artists like DMX so much? Because he just laid it all out there. This is just who I am. People look at “fuck your life” like it’s negative — nah.
It’s just like, ‘Yo, fuck your life. I’m gonna be me whether you like me or not. Fuck what you got going on. Fuck your feelings about me. I’m gonna just be who I am. Take it or leave it.’ And. you know, my father passed away when I was four and he passed away from HIV virus, which a lot of people don’t like to talk [about] through using drugs.
Both my parents were drug addicts. I came up in that type of environment. So, you know, there’s millions, if not hundreds of millions of people who have addicted family members or parents. We all go through that, man. Why front like I came up with a silver spoon? Nah. This is what got me to who I am today, so I’d rather just keep it real.
People know I could rap. I could go up to any radio show and do a freestyle and spit bars. If you want to hear bars, go play all my freestyles on fucking YouTube. But when it comes to an album, it’s about making good music, shit that’s going to last years. Or it’s about feelings. I’m from the thought process of, you know, real life shit over metaphors. When it comes to making songs, I want every song to be able to stand on its own.
“DON’T EVER DISRESPECT ME” FT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH
Ghostface spits fucking vintage “Bring Da Ruckus” fucking Ghostface lyrics. When he sent me that verse, I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ Everybody that sent me a verse on this album, I’m not gonna lie, they killed it. It’s like everybody gave me their best shit and I’m so honored and privileged.
But “Don’t Ever Disrespect Me,” this was probably the last song we did for this album after “Bing Bong.” I was just showing people like, yo, “Bing Bong” is not a one time thing. I make up fly shit whenever I want. Y’all might just be catching up, but this is what I do. So don’t ever disrespect me. So I was like, ‘We gotta put that on the album.’
When you heard Ghost’s verse, what was going through your head?
I was like, ‘Yo, Ghost just bodied me on my own shit.’ [laughs] But you know what? I’d rather get a verse where Ghost’s bodying me than get a [wack] verse. Not saying Ghost gives out wack verses. I don’t give a fuck if a legend bodies me.
If somebody new from my era that we came up together bodies me, nah, you ain’t doing that. If we laying our verse together, nah, you ain’t doing that. But if a legend bodies me on my shit, it’s an honor. And if it makes the song that much doper, so be it, man. Fuck it.
Ghostface is one of the reasons why I attack a track like I do when I get on, especially with features. When I do features, I make sure I attack the track like, “Ghostface, catch the blast from the hype verse.” Make sure you know I’m on this muthafucka and you’re gonna remember it. So it’s an honor to get legends like that on the song with me, man.
“DEMON” FT. GUNPLAY
Me and Scram was in the studio one day and Scram occasionally DJs for Rick Ross. When he goes to Dubai or other places, Scram is his DJ. I pulled up to Scram’s house and Scram just came back from Dubai with Rick Ross and he was telling me about the trip. He was like, ‘Yo, this would be crazy to get Rick Ross on a record, da da da.’
I was like, ‘That would be cool, but you know what would be real crazy? I fuck with Gunplay heavy.’ I always liked Gunplay. I always thought he was super dope and my man Shula The Don that shoots his videos, he put us in a text. I spoke on the phone with him. He was super humble, super cool.
We both relayed our verse to that. When he originally sent this verse, I guess he he was trying to be lyrical, like on my type of level, and me and Scram were both like, ‘Nah, we need that get hype Gunplay.’ So we told him and he was like, ‘No problem.’ Sent that verse back.
When he sent that verse back, I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t leave my verse how it is, I gotta now get on that level.’ So we both switched our verses to cater to each other’s style and it worked out. He was super cool. I’m still in touch with him to this day and I told him, ‘Yo, next time we link, we’ll get in there and really get barred up.’
How much do you think insurance is going up when this record comes out?
[Laughs] Car insurance, life insurance, jewelry insurance. Yo, all insurance is going up. You’re welcome, State Farm. You’re welcome fuckin’ Allstate. This is just mosh pit festival fucking slam dance music, and this shit is crazy.
“DIRT” FT. PEEDI CRACK
Peedi, he DM’d me. He was like, ‘I fuck with your shit heavy.’ And I was like, ‘Bro, I’ve been a super fan since you first came out.’ I was like, ‘Yo, I’m in Philly on a regular basis, I got peoples in Philly.’ I fucking love Sin City, the strip club in Philly. I’m there whenever I’m in Philly.
I just love Philly. It reminds me of like old Brooklyn, like ’80s, ’90s grimy Brooklyn, you know? There’s an element of danger wherever you go, but the people I’m tapped in with are some good people that make sure I’m good.
I went there, we tapped in, we went to the studio together, we wrote our verses together, wrote the hook together and it was just a banger and it was meant to be on this album. ‘Cause I played a couple beats — not all of them were Scram’s beats. And once I played this beat from Scram, he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’
Scram played that beat and I was like, ‘Bro, that beat is fucking phenomenal.’ But it’s not like it has a lot of drops in it and empty parts with no drums, so it was like challenging in a way as a writer to just find the right pocket. It was different than just attacking it like I would Ghostface-inspired type shit
I don’t know. That was just what was on my mind, blicky shit. I was just like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna just say it over and over.’ And it just came about dope. Everybody, when we played it for Paul Rosenberg who just signed us, he was like, ‘That’s the one right there.’ He was like, ‘That’s the one we’re gonna push.’ So it was super dope.
Do you remember your first blicky?
Absolutely. That shit didn’t have no safety, but I look back now, I’m like, ‘Bro, I coulda shot my dick off.’ ‘Cause I used to just keep it in my waistband, but that shit didn’t have any safety. It was like a hairpin trigger and I was walking around Coney Island with it. Thank God it never went off on me.
So that was my first one. It was a fucking rusty piece of shit. Probably didn’t even shoot, to be honest. But I knew it didn’t have a safety when they gave it to me. They was like, ‘Bro, this don’t have a safety so be very careful.’
Nems’ Rise of the Silverback is out now on all streaming platforms.