Yo Gotti is middle school handsome. For a long time he used headbands to cover an exceptionally large forehead, one that is magnified through a high, almost military fade, but today, swimming in a white Polo hoodie underneath a heap of diamond necklaces, his boyish look betrays a grind now a full decade deep. What his appearance conceals however, his voice concedes, a weary rasp revealing that if this isn’t his last interview today, it most certainly isn’t the first.
Yo Gotti released his debut album From Da Dope Game 2 Da Rap Game independently in 2000, while still trying to make the title’s transition. The album, along with his second, Self Explanatory, bought him a calendar full of fruitless major label meetings. “I hear rappers all the time say, I want to do this for the street, I ain’t going to go commercial,” he says. “If you really from the hood, like you were really hustling where you can lose your freedom or lose your life, then what the fuck you mean you trying to stay in the street?” Nevertheless, it was the street that gave Gotti his wings, spellbound by unrepentant tails of cocaine spoils and the frustration they beget, all delivered through his slurred Memphis porch speak.
In 2003, Gotti signed with TVT Records, immediately released Life and, three years later, a heavily under-promoted Back 2 Da Basics. “I think that [TVT] deal—even though I hated it and hated being in the situation—now I look back and I’m glad I went through that shit,” Gotti says. “Because I know how bad shit could be.” What TVT would come to understand to find out is how good Gotti could do for himself churning out street albums under his Cocaine Muzik series and forging what would prove an invaluable alliance with a then still-bubbling Gucci Mane. And the same consistency that pushed his show money into arena territory is just now beginning to reach mainstream consciousness.
Signing with J Records earlier this year after buying himself out of his TVT contract, Gotti’s getting ready to release Live From The Kitchen, his first official album since Back 2 Da Basics. A remix of the first single, “5 Star,” an ode to the highest caliber of ride-or-die chick in production, featuring Gucci as well as Nicki Minaj and Trina, has made it to number three on BET’s 106 & Park, a first for Gotti. “I ain’t the type of nigga to be like I’m finally getting what I deserve,” he says. “I feel you get out what you put in, you know what I’m saying? I’ve been putting in work, now I’m getting what comes from putting in work.”
Stream: Yo Gotti, Cocaine Muzik 4