Yo Gotti is the sum of blood, sweat, and tears from his trials to triumphs. He grew up in the infamous Ridge Crest Apartments in a North Memphis neighborhood called Frayser. His childhood was typical for a poor ghetto youth from his era. Raised in a family of hard hitting hustlers and exposed to trigger happy times, the Tennessee Rap sensation soon turned to the only thing that he knew could get him paid, hustling. If it is true that the Rap game is the same as the crack game than it was inevitable that his actions would lead him to the studio.
Gotti's subsequent Inevitable releases included 2001's Self Explanatory and 2002's Block Burnin', Vol. 1. Soon his business skills paid off and he put his talents to the test once more through his distribution deal with TVT Records which put out the critically acclaimed album Life in 2003. “It sold about 40 or 50,000, with no promotions or video,” says Yo Gotti. “That record did what it did on its own.”
Gotti’s latest album is called Live From The Kitchen. A true testament to the southern underground, DX finds out how the rapper manages to talk about real issues and still whip a Lamborghini through Memphis streets. It's a balance of realness and rawness, as one of the quiet success stories opens his recipe book.
HipHopDX: This is the post Soundscan era, where everything is Internet-driven by how many hits or impressions you can generate. I see you just had some exclusive unreleased tracks for your Facebook fans, what do you feel makes a good digital marketing campaign?
Yo Gotti: To me, what makes a good digital marketing campaign or what I’ve been doing so far is just releasing material exclusively to my Facebook page or Twitter. First, before I release it, if I decide that I’m going to leave a track out for my mixtape or an album that’s coming up I’ll leak it there first and try to draw the people to it. There’s a lot of different ways to have a good digital marketing campaign. You can attack it with your visuals or video and just try and be everywhere.
DX: With labels trying to force 360 deals down artist throats, what other streams of income do you feel are viable for artist to still make a decent living?
Yo Gotti: I think artists have to get more focused on their merchandising. But you know according to the 360 deals, the companies can have some of that too though, so really you’ve just got to be a hustler. If you’re a hustler, then you already know that a part of the game is that things can switch on ya. If you ain't on your money over here, then you got to figure out how to get around it around or just be a survivor.
DX: So it’s well known that you grew up in north Memphis and you’re from the streets yet you persevered through and defined your own success. Would you say that you’re a product of your environment or are you a product despite your environment?
Yo Gotti: Umm... [pause] That’s a good question. I think it’s that I’m both! I’m definitely a product of my environment with the way I function and the way I think. All that comes from being from North Memphis. I learned the things I learned from being in the street. The way my mind structures even the hustler that’s in me - the way I hustle and continue to hustle non-stop.
On the flip side with what I’m doing now or when I go back to the hood I feel like I’m this in spite of my environment. When little kids see me pull up in the Lamborghini who’ve never even seen that car before in real life, it inspires them to work hard so that they can get one too.
DX: Memphis has always held its own piece of the musical pie. What do you think is the reason for this?
Yo Gotti: Memphis has always had a certain sound I mean if you take it all the way back to the R&B and Blues music. The Blues gave us that Soul sound and it was a pain sound. A lot of people when they hear my music, you can feel the pain in the lyrics, it’s not just words to you. They always said Memphis has like a Crunk sound, but I just call it energy cause I don’t really get crunk but my songs will give you energy in the club.
DX: So many new rappers seem to just sprout up over night without paying any dues or refining their craft is that even respectable in your opinion?
Yo Gotti: One thing I learned from the streets is respect, so I respect everybody. To me, you don’t have to be in a certain format. Like I ain't never been the type of artist to say that I don’t respect this type of artist because he makes a certain kind of music or because they didn’t have to go through the same path that I went through. Some artists get mad because they’re still living in the same state of mind that they first had when they came out, but times change and we’re just living through a different time.
DX: I think you’ve been able to build your brand slow and steady, leaving you with a great track record overall. You’ve created a fantastic blueprint for new artist to follow, who’s blue print or footsteps did you choose to follow when you first launched your musical career?
Yo Gotti: When I first came I watch Master P and the whole No Limit movement [click to read], 'cause they were doing it independently. I really studied P.
DX: Now you’re an artist that’s known for hitting the road to do shows. What elements do you bring to the stage so that the show is always on point without getting bored or burnt out as the artist?
Yo Gotti: We change the show up; we change it up according to if you’ve been there before, because sometimes we do shows in the same city maybe two or three shows in a one-month span. So you can’t do the same show; you have to change it every time. You also got to put the hot songs that’s popular in they area, you got to incorporate that into your show. It’s a lot of good little things you can do to make each show different just has long as you bring that energy out.
DX: How have the changes in the economy affected your grind as an entertainer?
Yo Gotti: They say people ain't buying music no more, so that may stop some people or may stop some promoters from booking shows but outside of that, I don’t really see it affecting me.
DX: You’ve already accomplished so much. Do you finally feel like you’ve made it?
Yo Gotti: No, but I finally feel like I’ve now gotten the opportunity to make it! I finally have got my foot in the door, and you know it. To me, this part of my career is what’s important it’s harder than the first stage because where you go from here is what will define you.
DX: In Jay-Z’s song “Off That” featuring Drake, there’s a line in the chorus that says “Oversize clothes and chains, we off that.” Now as a rapper who’s worked hard to make every dollar count, and can afford the luxury to sport nice jewels, does a statement like that effect or will it change your pace or are you going to keep your ice game coming brighter?
Yo Gotti: Yeah now I like diamonds, I’m addicted to diamonds. The only way I’m probably going to stop buying them is if I go to rehab. [Chuckles] That’s just a personal thing too me. Secondly, just because another artist said it, it won’t affect me. That’s their life, so yeah they might be through with it because they’ve probably been doing it long enough. They probably had their fun with it and now they’re done.
DX: Tell me something that Yo Gotti is not messing with no more cause you’re “off that?”
Yo Gotti: What I’m not messing with is I used to have to grill with the diamonds in the teeth and shit. The grills was big back in the day. I took that shit out because my little boy wanted one, and I told him that he couldn’t have none, then so asked me why did I have one then? And I couldn’t answer him, so I stopped fuckin' with that.
DX: So you’re now in a deal with Inevitable/Polo Grounds Music/J Records, how did this come to the table?
Yo Gotti: Well another company [The Orchard] had come in and purchased TVT, which was who I was signed with, and they gave me the opportunity to buy myself out of my current TVT contract, so I did. This made me a free agent again, so a lot of record labels started calling and offering a lot of money. Everybody was trying to do the deal, but to me, it made more sense to do the deal with J Records and Polo Grounds.
DX: Tell me about the new album Live From The Kitchen. What artist or producers will you be working with for this new project?
Yo Gotti: My main focus with the album is to try and make it a classic. I worked with so many producers [that] I can’t even remember all of them. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, [DJ] Toomp [click to read], Drumma Boy [click to read], Cool & Dre [click to read], and a whole bunch of up and coming producers. I got a track with Rick Ross [click to read], I got a track with Lil Wayne [click to read]. I’ve recorded close to 100 songs, and we’re only going to pick 16 for this project so we’ve been putting in a lot of work.
DX: You’re known as a reality rapper so what type of reality topics will you be hitting us with on your new album?
Yo Gotti: Always real life situations, always something that you or I have been through and seen or either know of somebody else who has been through it. That’s what I call reality music. Of course you’re going to put a couple of fun or club songs on the project too. My overall goal is to make sure that you leave the album feeling like you’ve been touched by the music. That you’ve found something that can help you get through whatever you may be going through.
DX: Being so reality based with your music and lifestyle, would you ever consider doing a reality TV show, if so what type? (Yo Gotti – Gets it -about hustling or Yo Gotti- Gots Me about finding Love.)
Yo Gotti: It would probably be geared more towards the hustling because I don’t’ believe you can search for love.
DX: What’s can we expect next for from the Cocaine series?
Yo Gotti: We’ve got Cocaine Musik 4 dropping soon with my new artist, then I’ve gotten Cocaine Musik 4 ½ which might be dropping a couple of weeks apart.
DX: What are your plans for your affiliates, like the All-Star?
Yo Gotti: All Star is still doing his thing he’s still with Cash Money working on his new album.
DX: Now your song “5 Star Chick” is a chart topper. I’m sure you have flocks of women chasing you down. What type of women actually gets your attention the assertive/aggressive ones or the quiet more reserved ladies?
Yo Gotti: Man, I like all kinds of girls they can be either way. It’s just once I get to know them they just gots to be real. The only type of girl I don’t like is an unreal one. I don’t want someone who thinks they have to go out of their way to suit you; I just want someone who is comfortable being herself.
DX: You give a nice description of a "5 Star Chick," tell me what would qualify an emcee to be designated as a 5 Star Rapper?
Yo Gotti: A 5 Star Rapper is a person who does this 24 hours. You’re a rapper 24 hours a day. That means even when you’re off you’re on. Like even when I’m not in the studio, and I’m riding down the street listening to music, I’m thinking of new words to throw on top of a track. It’s not just about being in the studio, it’s also what you do beyond that. I believe in practice too. I try and record at least 2 songs a day whether I’m working on an album or not. You have to practice to be professional.