They don’t call him Verse Simmonds for nothing.
With an incredible pen game and even greater love for music, the Virgin Islands native describes himself as an artist who wears a lot of hats. As much as people want to separate him from being a songwriter and musician, he just sees it all as one.
Some music he keeps for himself, some music he gives to his friends — that’s just how that goes.
What most people may not know is that’s actually his vocals on the hook of Kanye and Jay-Z’s “Who Gon Stop Me” off 2011’s Watch the Throne.
His songwriting credits include Justin Bieber and Chance’s “Confident” and Chris Brown’s “New Flame” featuring Usher and Rick Ross, the latter of which earned him his first Grammy Award nom (Best R&B Song).
Fast forward to 2019, Verse is determined to bring that same energy to his own records. With his forthcoming project Rude Boy, he represents for his people and hometown of the Virgin Islands, flying all the way home to shoot the visual for lead single “Guntown.”
AllHipHop: Talk about relocating to Atlanta 7 years ago.
Verse Simmonds: I’ve been in Atlanta for a little while, that’s where I got my first break I’d say. I was living in LA for a while before that. My first actual label that I worked on was with was Capitol Records. From there, I had got the money to move to Atlanta — this is coming from the Virgin Islands.
AllHipHop: Did you come for music?
Verse Simmonds: Yes! A lot of people have different avenues they try, music has always been my thing since I was a little kid. I just always stuck with it and some great things have been happening for me.
AllHipHop: Talk about your strong pen game, when did you start songwriting?
Verse Simmonds: I’ve always written songs, pretty much all of my life since I was in the 5th or 6th grade. I’ve always been able to just write songs, but I probably didn’t get to writing for someone in the industry until 2007. I was working with this girl from out here actually, her name is Accent. We had put out her album in Asia and it went Gold over there, it just snowballed from there. Then I moved to Atlanta and got my artist deal. Been doing what I’ve been doing ever since.
AllHipHop: Talk about working with Becky G out here in Los Angeles!
Verse Simmonds: Becky G, that’s little sis at this point. I’ve been working with her for a few years now and this is where she’s elevated right now to being one of the biggest Latin stars in the world. I’m excited to get her project out and get the music really sounding — because we are blending a lot of sounds for this. We’re blending the Spanish market, the English market, the Brazilian market, the Carribean in general. We’re doing a lot of really dope fusion type of sounds so our genres can rock with it, it’s really exciting.
AllHipHop: Can you bring us back to the studio session with Rihanna?
Verse Simmonds: I wasn’t there for “Man Down,” I tell people this all the time. You don’t know because that’s what’s published out there. The company that published that song, the producer is my partner. I published that song, that’s how I’m connected to that song. Rock City are my best friends who actually wrote the song, people bundle me as being in Rock City but that’s not the case.
AllHipHop: What about “Watch the Throne”?
Verse Simmonds: Yes Watch the Throne, that’s me. [chuckles] Watch the Throne was special. I did that with my partner Sham, we did “Who Gon Stop Me.” A lot of people don’t know that’s my vocals on the hook. People think it’s Kanye but it’s actually me. Apparently when he decided to cut the vocals, he liked how mine sounded so he just left it. It was so close to his that it’s like “alright cool, just leave it.”
AllHipHop: Can you talk about transitioning from songwriting to your own artistry?
Verse Simmonds: I’ve always been an artist so I’ve never really transitioned from being a songwriter to an artist, or from artist to being a songwriter. It just so happens that in certain periods of my career depending on where you come in, that determines what you know me as. You meeting me as Verse Simmonds the artist because you never met me in the studio, you’ll know me as Verse Simmonds the artist. Where as this other person meets me in the studio and may know some of my catalog, so they’ll be like “oh this is Verse Simmons the songwriter.” Sometimes they cross, sometimes they don’t cross. For me, I’m just an artist.
AllHipHop: Talk about your new visual for “Gunstown.”
Verse Simmonds: The visual for “Gunstown” is really special to me, I did it in the Virgin Islands Islands. I went back home to Saint Thomas to shoot it. I actually shot it in Saint Thomas and St. Croix, that’s where I’m from.
AllHipHop: How often do you go back home?
Verse Simmonds: Almost every year. I was there earlier this year obviously shooting the video and I went for Carnival in St. Croix. I’ll be going back down again by the end of this year, I’m trying to do some songwriting camps in the Virgin Islands. I’m trying to bring people to the Virgin Islands to work on their albums and work on their stuff there, because why not?
AllHipHop: What was Damian’s Marley’s influence on your own career?
Verse Simmonds: Damian Marley influenced me just as much as any other Caribbean/reggae artist. Most of my influence in the reggae probably comes from Buju than it does Damian, but I love him just the same. I love reggae music in general, I grew up on it along with Soca music, Calypso music. When you’re from the Virgin Islands, all of that is kind of one pot.
AllHipHop: Best memory from the video shoot?
Verse Simmonds: Really all of it. It was just good to be able to show my country and show where I’m from, basically tour the whole island and show you the inside of it. Because when most people see or hear about the Virgin Island,s they think of something beautiful. And it is beautiful, but there’s very much an underworld to it that’s a little grittier and a little rougher. I wanted to give people that feel because that’s the real Virgin Islands that I’m from, not so touristy.
AllHipHop: What can we expect from Rude Boy? Which puts on for this culture exactly.
Verse Simmonds: Rude Boy is a real special project, probably the most authentic album I’ve put together. Most people have known me thus far for doing a lot of Caribbean or hip-hop music, and might not even be aware that I’m Caribbean a lot of times. So for me, this is like a homecoming. This is where I show the world exactly who I am, what I do, where I’m from.
Rude Boy is a fusion album of reggae, dancehall, Afrobeat, and Latin music. It’s everything that I am because I’m born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Virgin Islands. All of that is in me, that’s how I grew up, so I want to be able to bring that to light. What I have on this album is going to be really special and people will receive it. People will get a good glimpse of who I really am. To me, Rude Boy is the title that best defines me.
AllHipHop: What are some goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Verse Simmonds: I want to headline my own tours at this point. I’m at that point where I want to do the bigger stage shows. I want to do the Coachella’s, the YLS’s in London, stuff like that. I’m ready to do those kind of shows, the music that I’m doing now more speaks to that audience. So what’s kind of stopping me from already hitting that thus far is now that I have the music to speak to those people, I’ll get to that platform.
AllHipHop: 3 things you need in the studio?
Verse Simmonds: Need is a hard word so I wouldn’t say need, but 3 things I like in the studio. I like to have tequila in the studio. Of course, I like to have my weed in the studio. And just good energy, I like good energy in the studio. Whether or not I have people in the studio, I need everybody to have good energy. Because once someone has weird energy in the studio, it throws the vibe.
AllHipHop: What do you want your legacy to be?
Verse Simmonds: I want to be that person people just know in all kinds of different ways, just as a creative and as an artist. Someone who’s not only able to impact my own career, but also impact other people’s career. When you look at people like Babyface, those go-to people who are able to sustain their own careers but they gave massive hits to other people as well, that’s what I want to be. That’s what I want people to look at me as, “Yo, but did you hear his s##t? His s##t is lit. That’s great he did this with x y z, but his s##t is lit.” That’s where I want to me.