SOUTHERN RAP'S TENACIOUS ELDER STATESMAN SCALES UP HIS BUSINESS
Yo Gotti, Memphis rap's most popular rapper and visible ambassador (pop star Juicy J notwithstanding), has been working for almost two decades, enduring market shifts from actual tapes to out-the-trunk CDs then monetized Vevo players like the sly small businessman whose main street store stubbornly refuses to go under. Speaking about some of the peers he outlasted, he told FADER two years ago: “I think when some of them people had their spot they didn’t allow it to grow. They done what they done and they done that good but they didn’t grow." On his upcoming album, I Am, his sixth official LP and second for a major label, Gotti makes explicit plays for new audiences—with an of-the-moment West Coast beat, a Ne-Yo hook and a peacocking T.I. anthem. He's been promoting that album, out next week and up for preorder now, on an ambitious national tour with YG, protégé Zed Zilla and GEN F alum Shy Glizzy. Photographer Ryan Lowry joined him as the tour came through Chicago in October. Below, Gotti opens up about making the jump from the Southern club circuit to 18+ venues, and the importance of both compromise and independence. naomi zeichner
Yo Gotti: This is my second national tour. I did 32 cities last year. I had learned a lot from that, about how to maximize on opportunity, things you can monetize and ways you can give the fans that attachment to you. This year, we’re doing like 40 or 45 cities. We’re way more organized. You’re with the same people every day. We have merch now, we got different devices for people to pre-order the album. My whole thing is: try to touch as many people as possible in every city you’re in. I don’t want to just pull in late and hit the stage. I want to get in early, do radio, touch colleges, go to stores and just be out and touch as many people as possible. We’re travelling with three other rappers, but it’s my tour. I’m hands-on with it, so I make sure everything is going right and get the numbers right. I be involved in a lot of the business parts of it to, so everybody else who’s with us don’t have to deal with it. Working and playing shows is all I know. Once I get off this tour, Imma go right back into the studio for a minute. And then I’m trying to go right back out on another tour.
It’s different doing shows Monday to Monday than doing shows at a club on a weekend. It’s a way bigger, more diverse crowd. When I’m in a venue that has the doors open at 6 and I’m onstage at 10, the crowd is way bigger and more diverse than when I’m doing a club, getting onstage at two in the morning. But I like these venues, because we’re performing so early that you still can go to the club after. In the Southern markets, we do that. After the show, we travel to the next city overnight so that we’re all ready in the morning. I think we don’t get much rest that we probably should be getting, but we still pull it out. We try to eat right as much as possible. My family flies out to see me on the weekend. I’ve got three kids, two girls and one boy. Their too young to come to the shows, but they try to stay up until I leave the show.
I’m not against team-working to win, but I understand that it’s important for my vision to be on the table. I’m cool with disagreeing and then coming to an agreement, all that is part of business. But I’m independent and my mindset is independent. I’m never gonna just sit back and not do something that I know we should be doing, or allow anything to be going on that shouldn’t be going on. I’m always going to voice my opinion on what I think my career should be or what my vision is. For this album, I just felt I had to diversify what I was doing, and to tell my story in different ways. It’s still the same story—I come from the same life. So that’s all I can tell you about, but I wanted to find more creative ways to tell it you, putting different production around the way I deliver my message. I Am is put together better than my last albums. It’s way more thought-out, from the production to the collaborations to the song titles I picked. I think these 13 songs go perfect together.