One glimpse at the career of Yo Gotti thus far, and you discover a man who’s been on his hustle for a long time. More than 15 years deep in the game, with multiple successful albums and mixtapes under his belt, big name collaborations and all of the perks of being famous, the humble emcee from Memphis, Tennessee has come a long way.
You could probably forgive him for resting on his laurels, but Gotti’s last full-length album, ‘The Art of Hustle’, released in February, shows he is just as hungry for success as ever. His latest project is also his most successful commercial effort, with the album peaking at number four on the US Billboard 200 and lead single, ‘Down in The DM’, breaking the Billboard top 20.
Gotti will be the first to say that it hasn’t always been plain-sailing however, and he paints pictures of his upbringing and the struggles he had to go through so masterfully in his music. He takes the word ‘hustle’ and lives and breathes it, recognising that life itself is an innate hustle for everyone.
We had the chance to catch up with Gotti on his first visit to the UK, and chopped it up with him about ‘The Art of Hustle’, his relationship with Cash Money and what it takes to be a hustler.
Welcome to London, how are you liking it so far?
It’s cool man, I’m starting to realise that your money is worth more than ours so I’m just trying to figure that all out! We ate at Nando’s and went to the casino, we’ve just been floating around really. But I’m just trying to touch as many people as possible and try to find out who the hottest local artists are out here.
Are you familiar with any of the local artists out here?
Nah I’ve just been asking around. But I know that one record from Skepta; ‘Shutdown’. It’s dope, it goes hard.
You’ve released a new album this year, ‘The Art of Hustle’. If you had to describe the exact art of hustling in a few sentences, what would you say?
I think hustling is a talent and I think you can hustle any product. It’s the talent and drive of knowing numbers and the drive of creatively marketing anything. If I sold different things on the street, I feel like I could use those same tactics anywhere and be successful. Whatever the product is, I can hustle with it. I personally feel like I’m a born hustler; just like rapping, hustling is in my blood line. I sold candy at elementary school, washed cars at my grandma’s house. From as far back as I can remember I was always doing something.
You started the album with ‘My City’, which really struck me because of how powerful it is. Was that a very personal track for you?
It was one of the last songs I did for the album and when I got the record, it didn’t have any drums on it. When I first listened to the record, I was really waiting for the beat, and then we called the girl who did it and she said she would put the drums in once I laid the vocals down, and I was cool with that. So when I started to rap over the beat, I realised I didn’t want any extra instruments on it, I just wanted to leave it like that. K. Michelle put the pain into the record that I needed. So to me, even though it’s a rap album, that record is more like poetry.
The success of ‘Down in The DM’ has been phenomenal. Did you expect it to get the response it got?
I was just doing music like I always do. I did five records during one studio session, three of which are on the album – ‘Down in the DM’, ‘General’ and ‘Bible’ – I do the records so quick and move onto the next one that I don’t sit in the moment and think one of them is a hit or is going to be a hit. It’s just onto the next record. I just put the music out and let the people tell me if it’s a hit or not.
It wasn’t surprising because all of the music is good to me, but I probably wouldn’t have said it would be a single or it would be the biggest record I got to date. I thought it was catchy and interesting because of the content. The way I approach music now is very conceptual and when I listen to a beat and like a beat I start to think about what the concept will be. I can’t even start to string words together until I know what the concept will be about. I thought it was a cool concept because I hadn’t heard a song that really captured that subject the way I did it.
You have Nicki Minaj on the remix, how did that come about?
I wasn’t going to do a remix at first, but when I started to think about it I started to wonder who would I do it with. If it wasn’t coming from a female’s perspective, there would be no purpose of doing it because I felt I had covered everything from a male’s perspective. So I went with a female and it don’t come better than Nicki Minaj!
You are really well connected in the game, just looking at the Art of Hustle tracklist but also your previous work and you have collaborated with some big names. Are these relationships with these artists more business ones or are they really close personal ones?
Anything under the Cash Money umbrella, I have close relationships with because I’ve been around those guys for so long. I really feel I got my start in the game because of them, and I learned a lot from them. I watched them a lot, and I had a production deal with Birdman a long time ago, so I was around them a lot, so any of those relationships are like family. With everybody else, I feel I’ve got a cool relationship with too.
I felt ‘Momma’ was probably the most personal song on the album, was it a difficult one for you to write?
Nah those records really be the easiest, because a record like that to me means that you’re sitting down and having a conversation and I’m telling you my story. That’s how easy it is and you don’t have to think about it because you know what happened. You’re just talking on the beat.
Ok, some artists might not think that way and others open up their heart, which I feel you did in a great way. It really felt like you were telling your story and that you’re proud of it as well.
If an artist is trying to create a story it would definitely be a lot harder, it kind of becomes like a movie script where you have to make sure all of the stories line up. But when you’re authentic you’re just telling your truth whether people like it or not. You’re just keeping it G.
I generally feel the album strikes an equal balance between the hustle and success on one side, and then the struggles that come with it on the other side. Was that something you were consciously trying to maintain throughout?
That happened organically. You can’t tell my story or my family’s story and act like everything was 100% ups. If I had to decide whether there were more ups or downs, I wouldn’t know but where I am in my career now is the ultimate up. Everybody in my family is good off of music, something positive. I got the restaurant business and other businesses that I do, but going through it, it was definitely ups or downs. One year you’re up and the next down but you have to just stay in the hustle.
It’s also really a case of ‘you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve come from’ as well.
Yeah, and I think you respect things differently too. For example, I grew up being able to get all of the things that I always wanted so I would say I was used to money. So when I got money it was always cool but it didn’t mean as much to me.
I value loyalty and real people and relationships and shit like that way more than I value money, because I feel I’m always going to get money, whether it’s the right way to get it or the wrong way. As long as I’m walking and talking, I’m going to get money, through the street or the right way. I’m not meant to be broke and I never will be.
So, to you, does money buy happiness?
No, money really gives more issues and more problems and it turns the people that you think are supposed to be close to you against you. When you get money, some feel you should spend it the same way they would spend theirs. So if you do one thing for a person and this person doesn’t do another thing for a person, you may not be real in their eyes. But to me, keeping it real is, firstly, to keep it real with yourself and know what means the most to you.
But do you then feel conflicted when you get money and the people you grew up with or came in the game with start to switch up when you have money?
That always happens. Some people are always going to switch up. I remember a long time ago when Birdman gave me one of my first deals with a group I was with, and I was having a conversation with him telling him that I didn’t think the group was going to last. My homie here is acting this way, another homie acting another way, and Birdman told me when you start making millions and millions of dollars like me, when the smoke clears a lot of mother fuckers aren’t going to be around. You have to prepare for that.
So I think that’s in the same way of saying once you make money, people are, for whatever reason, aren’t going to be there. When you go to the hood and put 10 young niggas together and they’re broke, everyone is the realest nigga on Earth! When everybody is hurting together, everybody’s real! But somebody ain’t real as soon as the money comes. That’s just life I guess; people don’t understand that, to another person, I might be rich but to me, I’m not rich. I can’t make you rich because I’m getting money – I could probably help you if we do something together – but you can’t get rich off me. I’m not in a position to make you rich.
So, earlier in your career, was Birdman a mentor to you in any way?
Birdman gave me my first opportunity to get out of the streets. Through my first deal with TVT, I got to meet him and he wanted to sign me but I had just done the deal a couple of weeks before. So he took me under his wing and gave me a production deal to sign artists from me to him. He was really the first person to start giving me six figure checks and I was able to stop hustling for a minute and focus on music, but that’s not the most valuable thing he ever gave me.
I was able to hang with them and run with them and for the next three to five years, I was with them and in the rooms when Birdman was having meetings with executives, talking and getting game from them. I was in the house when Lil Wayne brought Tha Carter I for the first time, and seeing him go from that to the number one rapper in the game selling a million records, I was there during that whole process.
I had seen it with my own eyes and that was my biggest motivation because I was still halfway in the streets and seeing that shit motivated me and showed me that you could really become a rap superstar. And these were niggas like me, from the projects who I could relate to, so that was the most valuable thing I got from Birdman. These were executives of multi-million dollar labels but they were still street niggas! I was really fascinated by that.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Are there any up and comers that are catching your eye?
I listen to a lot of up and coming artists because they motivate me more. I listen to a lot of Blac Youngsta and to the last Kanye album. The new 2 Chainz and Wayne joint too (Collegrove), I really rock with that. I like Madeintyo, he’s really catching my eye with his ‘Uber Everywhere’ song.
Now that the album is out, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
A lot of touring is on the table, between my own headline tour and other tours so we’re trying to figure out which tours are the best fit. And I’ll be right back in the studio, I plan to drop another album this year.
You’re a seasoned vet in the game and still relatively young, what keeps you motivated to keep putting out music?
I love the game, and its way bigger than me. There are a lot of branches on this tree man, and I feel like we have to keep it going. I’m addicted to the success of hustling and I like to see anything turn into something; a hundred turning into a thousand, a thousand turning into a hundred thousand and so on.
Taking things to the next level, and meeting artists like Snootie Wild fresh out of prison, with his ‘Yayo’ record. I met him in Memphis and to see him having a Top 10 hit eight months later, and performing at the BET Awards, was a thrill to me.
I get the same thrill out of shit like that than I get out of when I was hustling. Like when I used to come into the hood early in the morning with no money and my pockets packed, and then doing another $10-15 thousand night and doing it again; it’s the same exact thrill.
Even when I do real estate and buy a house and its fucked up and we take the pictures, fix it and then sell it for a couple hundred thousand more, I still get the same rush and all of that, to me, is just hustling in different forms. I guess I’m just addicted to hustling!
Interview by Yemi Abiade