Changing the Game and Controlling the Ship: A Conversation with Yo Gotti [INTERVIEW + MIXTAPE STREAM] by Christopher A. Daniel @YoGottiKOM @Journalistorian

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Politics in the music business have been a recurring test to Yo Gotti’s recording career. Releasing a total of six studio albums, the North Memphis-born rapper and businessman famous for inundating the mixtape circuit signed deals with TVT Records, Cash Money/Universal Records and Polo Grounds/RCA Records. Along the way, he survived label bankruptcies, not having his music properly promoted, and witnessing first-hand executives deciding to shelve his material, leaving Yo Gotti to wonder if he never needed major label support in the first place.

The entrepreneur had no qualms about putting up hundreds of thousands of his own cash to buy himself out of one bad deal after another. A self-motivated CEO, Yo Gotti founded his own imprint, Collective Music Group (CMG), in 2013 and continued to tour, packing venues across America. Now, he’s one of the most prolific and economically successful hip-hop artists from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

“Everybody knows I went through a lot in the game with record companies,” proclaims Yo Gotti. “The label made profit off of me. I spent more money getting out of situations than a lot of these niggas made in they whole fuckin’ career.”

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Those bad business deals coupled with Yo Gotti’s inherit self-sufficiency strengthened his decision to remain a free agent. “Anything I do, I always wanna be the executive behind it,” he says with his scoured and thick North Memphis accent. “We don’t do nothing free. We wanna work hard for everything we got.”

Born Mario Mims, Yo Gotti has just dropped his latest mixtape, The Return. The smoky, gravelly-voiced rapper famous for his Cocaine Muzik mixtapes has cranked out banging singles since the mid-2000s like “Gangsta Party,” “5 Star,” “Errrbody,” “Cold Blood,” “Act Right,” “I Know,” “King Shit” and “Rihanna.”

The Return features production from beatmakers Boi-1da, Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, Marvel Hitz and Ben Billions. Artists Fetty Wap and Boosie Badazz, along with Yo Gotti’s CMG artists Zed Zilla, Snootie Wild, Wave Chapelle and latest signee, Blac Youngsta, all make cameos. Filled with a host of soulful samples, The Return was in part inspired by Memphis musical icons like B.B. King, Stax Records, Issac Hayes and Willie Hutch.

“All that good music is part of our city’s culture,” says Yo Gotti. “We grew up on that. That shit just feels good to us. When you try to put that pain and struggle out, those samples excite that.”

Like most bona fide hustlers, an extremely confident Yo Gotti stands firmly by his product. “I feel good about the tape, [The Return],” he says seated in the studio where The Aphilliates host their SiriusXM radio program. “We got club shit. We got the real shit. Anytime I’m involved, you gonna always hear real shit. You ain’t gonna miss that out of no project I put out.”

Yo Gotti celebrated the release of The Return and debut of Blac Youngsta at DJ Drama’s Mean Streets Studios in Atlanta. He says he decided to release The Return to excite his fans until he drops his next full-length LP, The Art of Hustle. He recorded 10 tracks for The Return in New York two days prior to its release. Just a week before that, Yo Gotti laid down and sequenced five to six tracks. “I went in to do one thing and ended up coming out doing something different,” says Yo Gotti, “but I fuck with it.”

Pictured (L-R): DJ Drama, Yo Gotti, Blac Youngsta [Photo Credit: @WhyCauseICan]

Pictured (L-R): DJ Drama, Yo Gotti, Blac Youngsta [Photo Credit: @WhyCauseICan]

Known for always taking his music directly to his fans, Yo Gotti had been earning six figures as a teenager off directly selling his CDs to his customers, which enabled him to support his family. Money, Yo Gotti claims, was never an issue. When major labels started seeking him out again, he was determined to resist signing a deal. He set up meetings anyway because the executives continued to contact him.

Yo Gotti made an unlikely alliance with Epic Records’ chairman and CEO, Antonio “L.A.” Reid. He says the veteran executive who co-founded LaFace Records was the last person he met with. Reid encouraged the rapper to bring his business savvy into the mix. “After meeting with all of the other people,” he says, “they wanted to give me a lot of money, but they didn’t want to let me control the ship.”

The rapper also weighed whether he would possibly want to keep an artist independent or allow them to sign with a major record company. “[L.A.] understood it,” adds a slightly hunched over Yo Gotti. “He gave me the situation to run it how I wanted to run it. That was the only way I was gonna do a partnership with a major.”

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Now Yo Gotti is just taking his time to figure out when he wants to release and promote The Art of Hustle, a project he confirms was recorded twice but is finally completed. Film projects funded by the rapper are currently in the works as well. Yo Gotti is also concentrating on his real estate and investments. He owns a great deal of commercial properties, upscale housing, a restaurant, land and has some other silent partnerships throughout Memphis. “We venture with different people,” says Yo Gotti, “but we let them be at the forefront of it.”

Music will always be the nucleus of Yo Gotti’s legacy. Being a hustler is the quality that drives everything else he touches. The elements, he says, that defines his hustler’s spirit are his ambition, being consistent and always trusting his intuition. “Most of the time, you always gotta go with your gut feeling and common sense,” urges Yo Gotti.

“It’s a different time nowadays. It ain’t about the single no more. Motherfuckers come out now with no single. The game changing, and we’re in the middle of a shift. We just trying to change with it, but I will always control the ship.”

EXPLORE Yo Gotti’s discography via Amazon | iTunes

STREAM Yo Gotti’s The Return Mixtape here:

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