If Yo Gotti seems a bit reluctant to talk, it’s probably not a reflection on how he feels about doing press or his demeanor. Chalk it up to an occupational hazard. He’s been in the Rap game since 1996 and learned some valuable lessons along the way. He spent $400,000 buying himself out of a $40,000 contract with TVT, and also dropped an undisclosed amount to extricate himself from a subsequent deal with Polo Grounds/RCA. Trade secrets are one of the few things that aren’t up for discussion.

“I’m very intelligent…very smart,” he says flatly. “I pay attention to marketing, and I know what niggas is doing. A lot of niggas getting this shit twisted. I’m an executive first, and I know what’s going on.”

As such, he met executive to executive with Antonio “L.A.” Reid to bring his CMG imprint to Epic. The 2009 singles “5 Star Chick” and “Women Lie, Men Lie” both made cameos on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” charts, with former enjoying a seven-week stint. And Gotti has set up a November 19 release of his I Am album with a mixtape, a 40-city tour and another “Hot 100” charting single in the Young Jeezy-assisted “Act Right.” As it turns out, Gotti approaches divulging his career highlights to journalists and fans the same way he approaches advising artists on his label.

“The best thing I can do for them is to show them what I’m doing,” Gotti says. The Memphis native will continue touring until his album hits shelves, but between now and then, he has plenty to say about how he achieved his success.

Yo Gotti Admonishes Rappers To Stop Abusing The G-Code

HipHopDX: We should probably start with your latest mixtape, which begins with “Gangstas Don’t Talk.” What made you feel the need to break it down to basics and tell people the G-Code line for line?

Yo Gotti: I think niggas are forgetting the code of the streets. Gangtas ain’t supposed to talk. The Internet done changed a lot of things, and I’ve watched so many niggas portray themselves as gangstas and use that name in vain. They talk about they’re hood or this and that, but to me all that shit is a way of life. It’s a culture, a way of thinking and shit that you stand on. I see niggas just abusing it by talking reckless on Twitter, putting guns up on the Internet and on Facebook and talking about what you’re gonna do to the next man. Where I’m from that’s insane… Any nigga I see tweeting about it ain’t finna really do that. If you do, you’re a straight up, damn fool.

DX: [Laughs] You mentioned the Internet, and it can be a great tool for building your fan base and prolonging your career. But there’s also all of the negatives you just pointed out. How do you balance the two?

Yo Gotti: I promote music and who I really am on the Internet. I’m a real nigga; I’m a stand up nigga. I’m a nigga who gets money. I’m a Memphis nigga who motivate the streets. I fuck with people, and that’s what I spread throughout the Internet. I ain’t trying to show niggas I’m tough on the Internet; that’s for a nigga to see when he run up here playing.

DX: True. Let’s get into another lyric. On “Sometimes,” you said, “Sometimes I think about that nigga Big Meech / 270 million but he never left the streets / Us dope boys salute you, homie you made history.” Can you break that down?

Yo Gotti: Yeah, it’s basically self-explanatory. I don’t know where you from, but where I’m from, there are a lot of dealers and street niggas. When we talking about $270 million? I personally don’t know Big Meech like that, but this is what it was documented that they say he had. And I don’t know no other nigga that was getting $270 million—not no nigga that wasn’t no cartel or no shit like that.

DX: Good point. I don’t even know what $270 million looks like.

Yo Gotti: That’s what I’m saying…I don’t know either. And I’ve been out here getting it for a minute.

How Birdman Helped Yo Gotti Focus On Music Full-Time

DX: I think it’s been an interesting summer for you. How have these high-profile features with the likes of Rich Gang, Hustle Gang and Cam’ron set up the release of your album?

Yo Gotti: I think I’ve just been blessed to stay consistent and keep dropping hot music. If you do that, this shit speaks for itself. If you put out good music and just be a good nigga, then shit comes to you. None of those features or anything were strategized. I’ve probably got four or five features for big artists that I gotta do now. They just call me because they want me to put that street shit on there. And I fuck with them, so this is what I do.

DX: For people that have been following your career, it goes back to Youngsta’s On A Come Up with you laying down tracks in Kingpin Skinny Pimp’s studio. What do you remember most about those times?

Yo Gotti: What I remember most about those days, is that out of 100 percent of my life, 75 to 80 percent of that was in the streets hustling. The other 20 percent was me doing music because I semi-liked it. I always had a passion for it, but the fact that I had people to feed… I had my mama’s bills to pay, and I had to do what I had to in order for my family to survive. I never thought that those percentages was gone be able to change, let along the fact that I’d be doing music 100 percent.

Every time I hear my old music or talk about it, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It’s like, “Damn. When I was doing this song, I had a whole thing on me on the way to the studio,” or some shit like that [laughs]. I think about what I was actually doing at the time when I recorded those songs. I might have had to stop in the middle of the song to go do this here, so all the shit that was related to the street comes back.

DX: As far as that split between the streets and the music, how responsible was Baby for changing that ratio?

Yo Gotti: When I met Birdman, I was straight up spending 85 percent of my life hustling, and the other 15 was about doing music. When I got with Baby and them, they motivated me, because these was niggas I would see on TV everyday. I didn’t know them, but there was always something about Baby, where I saw—I could look on TV and just by the way he talked and carried himself—that he wasn’t no different than a kingpin street nigga from where I was from. So I could relate to that. Me being a little hustler in my city back then, my goal was to be that kingpin nigga. So I could relate to him, and he was a mentor…even on some street shit. You know how you see a nigga, and then when you finally meet and talk to him, they’re just how you expect them to be?

DX: Yeah.

Yo Gotti: It was like that. And then, the nigga gave me an opportunity. He basically took me out the street. I was playing with some cool change, but for a nigga to give me three or four hundred of legit money? That gave me a grace period to put the street shit I was doing on hold, so I could actually focus on music. When Stunna gave me that check, I had a sack at the house. I hit my nigga like, “Y’all can take that sack and do what y’all do with it. I’m finna focus on this music shit.”

DX: You essentially had a production deal to funnel artists over to Cash Money and develop them. How did that shape what you’re doing now with Zed Zilla and the other artists on your label?

Yo Gotti: It helped everything, because not only did they give me a big check, but it was a big responsibility. I had to go sign the artists, develop them and bring the artists [to Cash Money] ready. The album needed to be complete, because they didn’t work with none of my artists. They did none of that, so it was all on me. They took it from there and put them in the studio with beats. At the time, you know the artists they had around there. So I had to try to make the niggas I was developing compete with the niggas they had in terms of talent, quality and production. So it was definitely a challenge.

Despite Commercial Success, Yo Gotti Says He’s An Executive First

DX: I want to take it back to the days when you were on Select-O-Hits, selling albums on consignment and building your brand. When you’re in a climate where albums aren’t selling, what do you fall back on from the consignment days?

Yo Gotti: I look at it like this here: to me, it’s based on what your goals are and what you set your success to be. Right now, I’m on a 40-city tour in a tour bus that your average artist ain’t riding on. I’m making millions of dollars right now having not sold shit [laughs]. You’ve got artists that have sold millions and millions of records who can’t move like I can and live like I can. They’re not grossing the money I’m making.

My brother is a true hustler—that’s all he knows. He’s in the venue right now setting up a stage, making sure the stage and merchandising gets right. My mama lives in the best community in Memphis, and my sister graduated from college. All my people—my cousins and shit—are going to college based off of what I did in music. So to me, I’m already successful. If I come out and don’t sell shit, can’t nobody tell me nothing to make me feel I’m less successful than anyone else. Some of these niggas with all the numbers, their mama’s and shit is still in the hood. Them mothafuckas in a 15-passenger van trying to get to a show. I’m not knocking their hustle, ‘cause they still could be grinding.

But it comes down to what success is to you and what something means to you. What means something to me is freedom and keeping my brother, my niggas and myself out of the federal penitentiary. I’m making sure my fans appreciate the music I’m putting out, so when my album is done it’s to the standard that my fans from day one expect. If they cool with that, and they’re waiting on the next one, then I can give a fuck what anybody else talkin’ about.

DX: As it happens, you’ve recently popped up on the charts a few times without having to compromise what your core fans expect. What kind of leverage did that give you when it came time to negotiate this deal?

Yo Gotti: Even when I make different music—like “Act Right” or different sounding songs with a different flow pattern—that ain’t no new shit. I been doing that shit; I just ain’t been putting it on mixtapes. For what? You don’t put that type of music on mixtapes when you going straight to the streets. I’m very intelligent…very smart. I pay attention to marketing, and I know what niggas is doing.

A lot of niggas getting this shit twisted. I’m an executive first, and I know what’s going on. I know what to do. And I’m never gonna jeopardize who I am as a person, because the shit I say, have lived and have been through is what pays me.

DX: So along those lines, what’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned since you got into the game?

Yo Gotti: Watch your paperwork. I’ve been in two of the worst contracts you can ever be in. But I paid for that. I signed my deal with TVT for $40,000. At the time, I was a six-figure, young nigga in the streets. I ain’t sign the deal for the money, because I looked at it like it was a chance for me to get out the streets. The money didn’t mean nothing to me. For them two or three years, I went and got my own self hot. And when the company folded, I had to buy myself out of that same contract for a half-a-million dollars of my money. So they profited $460,000 on signing me…shit like that.

Then I went into another contract with Polo Grounds and RCA, which was similar. I’m not gonna really talk on the specifics of that, because business is business. I ain’t really got no bad blood with them, but the shit didn’t work, and I bought myself out of that contract.

Yo Gotti Details New Partnership With Epic & Work With A-List Artists

DX: We read the press release and everything, since you experienced those previous situations, what made the deal with L.A. Reid and Epic ideal?

Yo Gotti: I met with every record label in the fuckin’ game. I met with every rapper who tried to have a record label in the game. Once I bought myself out of the contract, I was a free agent, and everybody wanted to sign me. It’s common sense. Yo Gotti was already a multi-million dollar brand just from doing shows, merchandising and shit like that. L.A. Reid was the only person I met with that was talking the language I understood, and he understood the language I was talking. That’s why we’re doing business.

DX: You’ve got over 13 years in the game. What do you tell your artists based on what you’ve learned?

Yo Gotti: The best thing I like to do for my artists is to bring them around me. Zilla is on tour with me, and I’ve got a new artist named Snootie with me. And the best thing I can do for them is to show them what I’m doing. I let them see me pulling up in a city—from the sound production, to the stage getting set up and doing promo, radio and managing 20-something niggas on the road with me in different buses and Sprinters—and do it all. They see me talking to every individual myself and telling them how I want the lights and everything set up. To me, you can’t tell a nigga some shit like that and expect them to understand it. You have to show them. When they see you doing that shit, they know it has to be done. And if you ain’t watching over it yourself, niggas gone fuck up.

DX: That makes sense. This is bit of a tangent, but before your mixtape dropped, you were on “The Jungle” with Cam’ron. What’s your approach when someone sends you a beat that samples The Lion King?

Yo Gotti: It ain’t a beat a mothafucka could make that I can’t rip. I do this shit, holmes! I think the biggest misconception of me… I do this shit. People try to put me in a certain Southern box or whatever. My nigga, this is what I do. The beats I pick, I do that shit on purpose. When I want to make a simple song to rock the club, that’s purposely done. When I make a song like “Real Shit” or “Gangstas Don’t Talk,” I pick that beat purposely to show you that I can rap differently. When I pick a beat like “King Shit,” I picked that purposely to show you I can do that same shit. I put T.I. on there on purpose so you could hear me and him rap on the same song, and [see] that shit ain’t that far apart.

I’m gonna rap to the situation. Guess how many niggas I heard say, “Man, you stepped it up on that song with Wale on his album?” That shit is a trip like I don’t do this shit [laughs]. You feel me? I’m rapping for the occasion. If I get on a song with Wale, guess what? I’m gonna make sure that my shit is tight enough to keep up with Wale. If I get on a song with J. Cole [“Cold Blood”], you gone see the same thing. I got J. Cole on my album, and when you hear his song, you gone see what’s poppin’. If I’m getting on a song with a certain kind of nigga, and the shit is supposed to be simple, it’s gonna be simple. That’s what it’s supposed to be. If I’m on a song where the bars and shit are supposed to be stepped up, then that’s what it’s gonna be.

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