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Yo Gotti Talks Being Memphis’ King, ‘I Am’ and Working With Jadakiss [Exclusive Interview]

CMG/Epic Records

Proclaiming oneself the king of anything can be problematic. Doing so invites all types of contention and controversy. That goes double for anyone in hip-hop claiming to hold the crown of a major music city — just ask Kendrick Lamar. But Yo Gotti isn’t concerned about any of that. When asked if he’s the king of his hometown, Memphis, Tenn., he responds confidently and matter-of-factly. “I am. There’re no question.”

While Memphis has given us rap stars like Eightball and MJG and Three 6 Mafia and their Hypnotize Minds camp, the rap artist who’s become synonymous with reppin’ M-Town in the past decade is Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims. “It really ain’t no competition,” he explains. “It’s a difference between a good rapper and ‘king of the city,’ they’re two different things. You can be a better rapper than me, that don’t mean you’re king of the city.”

For Yo Gotti that title doesn’t just speak to the work one puts in standing in a vocal booth or onstage, it also has to do with being an established artist who supports up-and-coming talent, a businessman who invests in local businesses creating jobs and finally being accessible and present in the community itself — a true man of the people.

The combination of his hustler’s ambition, mogul’s business acumen and his gift for creating anthemic street music and club bangers has taken him from hometown hero to the national stage as one of the South’s premiere rappers. He’s formed a new partnership between his own Cocaine Muzik Group (CMG Entertainment) and Epic Records via the label’s boss L.A. Reid and released ‘I Am’ on Nov. 19. The Boombox sat down with Gotti to talk about ‘I Am’ and to soak up some game. Check out the interview below.

TheBoombox: A lot of big things are happening for you right now, the biggest of which is ‘I Am.’ What’s different about this record? What should people expect from ‘I Am?’

Yo Gotti: ‘I Am’ is the album that displays a little growth. The record, to me, is bringing the streets back. I think I’m one of them artists who touches on those street concepts and just reality as well — what’s really goin’ on in reality and [with] details. I’m trying to capture a lot of them subjects that touch people that’re struggling and [I’m] just displaying the pain that I have lived and been through throughout the album, within that, showing a little growth with that. That’s what my goal is on the album.

You know it’s interesting you say that about portraying the struggle and what’s going on. Hip-hop is in a funny place right now because there’s a lot of voices that represent the middle class or the upper middle class or even people who’re just newly rich, right? So, the dominant perspective has changed. Hip-hop used to be the “ghetto CNN” and now it’s more like ‘Family Matters’ or something. How important is it, to represent what you represent, and have that voice and that perspective out there in the music? 

I think it’s important ‘cause when I was growing up the music I listened to everyday was like the soundtrack [to my life]. Like when I left the house going to do my thing I put in music and it helped me get through the day and it helped me get through what I was going through or what I was facing or whatever. Nowadays a lot of music to me don’t do that. I ain’t saying it ain’t good music but it ain’t personal. You know what I mean? Like, it don’t mean s— to me outside of you just having a hard flow or the beat being hard or some s— like that.

Obviously you’re the creator and you’re the guy who wrote the songs but on ‘I Am,’ what songs are the most personal to you? What song speaks to you the most?

You’ve got records like ‘Don’t Come Around,’ the second song on the album. It’s impossible for you to be from that culture and not understand every word, every line that I’m speaking on that song. You got records like ‘Pride to the Side’ where I’m talking about relationship situations and my partner being on drugs. Real struggle, real pain s—. I lived s—, I’ve done felt s— so I know there’s somebody out there that feels the same way. You talk about a record like, the intro [to the album] called ‘I Am,’ it’s like a small biography of me, when I’m like, “I can show you how to cook right / Let me  show you what a millionaire look like…” I’m just going through like a quick summary of the s— I’ve been through, how I came up to where I am now. Just real life s—.

Exactly what does it take to be “King of the City?”

I think there are a lot of good artists in Memphis and I support ‘em. I support ‘em, I help ‘em, but when you say you’re the king of the city like you’re taking on other responsibilities and I don’t know nobody else who is [like I am]. I don’t know anybody that’s traveled [throughout] the United States five or six times representing this s— on they back like that, [that] stands up for this s— like that. Or [anyone] who puts on at the magnitude that I put on or who has opened businesses around the city creating jobs. From the college basketball teams to the streets or whatever, it ain’t nothin’ happenin’ in the city that Yo Gotti ain’t a part of — that’s bigger than rap! I’m workin’ with families and communities and other s— that ain’t got nothing to do with music.

Tell me more about some of that stuff.

I’m a success story. Everybody from Memphis knows that, that’s why don’t nobody question it. You talkin’ ‘bout somebody from the straight projects, when all the odds was against him, who figured out a way… ain’t nobody took my hand and gave me a rap, showed me how to go out. I done this s— the hard way: figured it out, found my way through it, became successful, got on the road, went city to city, hood to hood and passed the music out and made a connect — this on the music side.

When I got my money right, I started openin’ up different businesses and invested in other people’s businesses and helpin’ other motherf—ers come up in the city. And [I'm] never on no hatin’ s— because any artist that come after me, I f— with ‘em in some magnitude. Whether it’s puttin’ them on shows with me, going into the studio with ‘em, giving ‘em game, all kinds of s—. I’m just a real n—-. I just believe in doing s— for people that [other] people didn’t do for me.

A lot of times when you talk to artists in a local scene you hear about that “crabs in a barrel” mentality, where everybody is only out for themselves. They don’t want to be eclipsed by anyone so they don’t necessarily make a way, or facilitate other people getting on. I think that actually holds back a lot of scenes from blowing up nationally. Tell me about some of the artists that you like, that are either coming out through your label situation, or just people you’re down with.

Any artist from Memphis that’s coming up I done reached out to. I might have chopped it up with them, I done gave ‘em game sat down with and let ‘em know, “Whatever you need from me just hit me, whether it’s advice or a favor whatever just hit me.” That’s first, period. Nobody done that for me when I was coming up. There were artists before me and no motherf—er reached out to me. When I say “reached out,” I don’t mean like the little artists are running around trying to get a number on me and it’s hard to catch up with me, I’m saying I reach out to them. I call around the city: “Yo, what’s up with Snootie, give me a number on him,” and I reached out to him. I’m gettin’ millions [but still] I got the time to know what’s happening in the city, and I reach out to them.

As far as artists go I like Don Trip. I think Don Trip is one of the coldest artists, that’s my little partner. I just spoke to him the other day, he’s on tour with Kevin Gates and Starlito. That’s one of my little partners I talk to on the regular. Kickin’ it with him, seein’ if he’s straight. Zed Zilla, he’s on CMG, he’s another artist coming up out the city. He on the team so you know most def I’m rockin’ him. I just signed a new artist that’s from here called Snootie Wild, he got this record called ‘Yayo ‘ that was on my ‘Nov. 19th’ mixtape.

Oh yeah, I know that kid. I haven’t really heard anything besides that song though. 

It’s like the hottest song in the area right now. So I went to the club one night, I heard this song. I had been out of town for a minute, so when I come back in the city, so whatever club open that night I’m poppin’ up, ‘cause I just want to go f— with the people and let the people f— with me. So, I went to like two, three different clubs, and every time they played this song, the whole club went crazy. So the next day, like I do, I called around the city to get a number on him, hit him up, told him to come holla at me. You know what I mean? I put a verse on the song the next day, you know what I’m saying? Then we chopped it up, and we ended up doing some business, so now he’s CMG. He got crazy records coming.

Tell me a little bit about the CMG/Epic relationship, and your relationship with L.A. Reid.

Yeah it’s partnership with CMG, Epic. I’m trying to be on my label, what I’m trying to do is I’m tryin’ to be what Roc-A-Fella was to Def Jam, what the Ruff Ryders to Def Jam or what Murder Inc., was to Def Jam, that’s my goal with CMG/Epic. So we trying to make sure we got the hottest bodies, most consistent artists, the most hustlers on the team, and really just beat it up and get this money. Like I said, right now we’re working with Zed Zilla and Snootie Wild and myself, them the main artists on CMG right now.

We looking for artists you know, if they got the right music, we try to work with you. You know, far as Epic goes, I done the deal with L.A. Reid because I believed that he believed in what I was trying to build. Point blank, period. It ain’t about no check, it ain’t about nothin’ else, it’s about a person having belief in your belief. I turned lot of companies down, a lot of money down, because if you don’t believe in what I’m doing, your money’s no good to me — I got money.

You’ve collaborated with everyone from Gucci to Jeezy to the Clipse to J. Cole. I feel like you made a decision awhile ago to really diversify and not just be kind of localized to one audience. Tell me about someone people may not have known you have a relationship with.

I’m doing a whole mixtape with Jadakiss. Me and Jadakiss started recording a whole mixtape. We’re probably 10 songs in. We tryin’ to figure out a way that we can put it out as an album because the music is so crazy. Some of the things that the fans and the public don’t see is some of these artists I’m up in the studio with all the time so they’ve heard music on me that’s never been out. They’ve heard music that you don’t hear, so they know what type of artist I am. They know I ain’t just quote unquote the artist that they try to put me in the box [and say I am] that’s how I end up on a lot of these records.

At the same token, everything is strategy, if I’m making a mixtape, where I’m trying to f— the streets up, I’m puttin’ simple records on there, simple records with street terminology and phrases and that’s the theme of what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to put a record like ‘Cold Blooded’ with me and J. Cole on a mixtape, because it’s a record, you don’t throw it away like, it’s not gonna be respected on a mixtape. Like that’s a record that’s for an album, it’s not for a mix tape… I been making these records five or six years ago. I just ain’t put em on a mixtape because I felt like that wasn’t the platform for that. But like I said, a lot of the artists they already know, I’ve been doing this type of music. I actually started off doing that type music before I was doing club music.

Tell me a little bit more about this Jadakiss project, how you guys met and how this came about, because now you just dropped a bomb on me. That’s like some, you know, cross-country hustler s—.

Well first, Jadakiss one of the first artist from New York who reached out to me, like years ago, to do a song with him. And I’m a big Jada fan, so I’m like, damn, Jada want me on his song? So I ended up doing the record with him, then I sent him the record, and he ended up doing a record for me. I think that’s what created a relationship, the working relationship. So one time I came to New York, I reached out to him, and he actually came to the studio or whatever, we were just kicking in the studio playing records. So I think the more and more records I let him hear, it was like, oh OK, “This n—- on some other s—.” And from that point on, we just been cool, we been rocking.

I bring him out for different shows I had a show in Memphis. Not too long ago I brought him out to perform with him… and we just clicked up. We just said, you know what? Let’s do some s— together. I had sent him a couple of records, he sent me a couple of records and then we went in the lab. The music is crazy, I think we gonna f— the whole game up when we drop this s—. One, n—-s ain’t gonna see it coming. Two, when they hear how it’s put together like not just some feature s—, but we’re going back and forth on different records, he go, I go, he come back in again, I go again, and when they see how we put it together, like we really went in on s—.

See, that s— has me excited. I really feel like it’s so unexpected, but like the perspectives that you each bring to the table. What’s the production sound like?

The production crazy. We got some club bangers beats on there because you know Jada gonna kill anything. There’s some South sounds as well as some of the East [Coast] sound because we wanted to merge both sounds and show both of us on both sounds and bring it together where it’s like the whole complete project it just feels so natural.

Thank you for giving us the scoop on that. I think people are going to anticipate that. I think ‘I Am’ is going to do really well, and people are checking for it, you know we’ve been supporting it on The Boombox, posting up all the stuff. Any final things you wanna tell the people outta here?

I’m good. [I] need everybody to pick up the album.

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