Memphis MC Yo Gotti wants to make one thing clear—he can stand on his own two. In a city where local success is easy, but getting national exposure seems to elude everyone but Three 6 Mafia and their affiliates, Gotti is the first artist to flip his local fame into a brand name without the aid of another crew. His company, Inevitable Entertainment, has a production deal with Cash Money, which allows him to distribute his own artists—including upcoming Nashville rapper All-Star—through Cash Money/Universal. As a solo artist signed to TVT Records, Gotti’s new album, Back 2 Da Basics, is set to expand on the buzz he set in motion with 2002’s slept-on Life. With appearances by Bun B, 8Ball, Lil Wayne, Slim Thug, Baby, Jazzy Pha and Scott Storch, the music industry seems to agree that Gotti is ready for the spotlight. To get the ball rolling, Gotti has teamed up with DJ Drama for a new mixtape called I Told U So, which will hit the street in a matter of weeks. Gotti checked in with XXLMAG.COM to talk about the simple mathematics of the music biz and address the rumors about his past beef with Three 6 Mafia. Don’t say we didn’t warn you—it’s ya boy Yo Gotti!
Until recently, it has seemed damn near impossible for a Memphis artist to break through on a national level, outside of 8Ball and MJG or the Hypnotize Minds camp. Why do you think that is?
We have three radio stations in Memphis, [so] you get your song on one radio station down here, and you think you a star. But you got to get on the road, you got to get your songs on all three radio stations in every city you can. I think a lot of local cats just don’t know the business, or understand the system. That’s one of the things I’m doing now, because of some of the people who made it, they never told nobody.
So you feel like people who already made it weren’t being as open with the industry knowledge as they could have been?
In Atlanta, even if you just started rapping this week, you know the ropes. Everybody doing it and it’s open and everybody showing you the ropes. [In Memphis,] not only do they not show you, but it’s like they hide it.
People in Memphis have access to Select-O-Hits, one of the last great independent distributors. Do you think that has made it less likely for them to go out and chase a major label deal?
I mean yes, a lot of artists want to be on majors now ’cause it sounds good. People make a lot of money through Select-O, more money than they make from majors. It’s simple mathematics, it ain’t a headache. For example, we get a song poppin’, we go out there to Select-O, we sell 200,000 records and we make $2 million dollars. It’s that simple. Going back and forth with a major record label—that whole bullshit structure—you sell a million records and you still may not see $2 million dollars.
You signed La Chat recently. Have you known her for a while?
Yeah, I was cool with her when she was with Three 6. We was always cool. A lot of people don’t know, but she tried to help me before I had all my deals. She was with Koch, and when I was struggling in the streets of Memphis she would call me with her A&R, trying to help me get signed and shit. It was more of respect than a favor. But I knew her situation was she wasn’t fuckin’ with [Three 6] and she was still trying to do something. I fuck with her ’cause I like her music, and I feel like when I was younger and trying to come up, she was trying to help me.
Rumor has it that you used to be down with Three 6 at one point. True?
Nah, never. I ain’t never done nothing. We ain’t never been to the studio together. I mean, like they tried to sign me before. This was probably like three years ago when I was hot, coming up. At the time, the only way I would’ve done it is do a [deal] that was 50/50, to do a joint venture, and I wanted to take it through Select-O-Hits. I didn’t want no money upfront, I didn’t want nothin’ ’cause I had my own money. And I wanted it to be one album. I pay for half of it; you pay for half of it. They would have to send my 50% check to me, your 50% to you. But they wanted to do more than one album. They said like, Aight, we cool, we gon’ do this. But then they sent my lawyer an artist contract. Then it’s like, I thought we were supposed to be doing this joint venture thing?
So how did you respond?
I never hollered back at these niggas. After a week or two after they sent the contract, they called me like, “Wassup, wassup?” I said , “Don’t play with me.” They like, “What you talkin’ about, man? My lawyers sent the wrong papers.” I said, “Nah dawg, don’t play with me, man. You know what the fuck you doing.” I’m a hustler first of all, so I’m about making money. I know if I had done that through Select-O-Hits, I was gonna sell 100,000 minimum. Independent, that’s $500,000 for me. I’m a hustler. I’m about making money, so I’m with that. But at the same time I’m a leader. I’m a boss. Feel me? I can’t run up under you. I got people I gotta look after. I wanna eat and I want my people to eat. The whole city of Memphis feel like it’s a better situation for me to come ’cause they know I’m willing to show other people how to come up and willing to give other people a chance.
It seems like a lot of people who do end up signing with Three 6 or Hypnotize Minds end up leaving. Why do you think that is?
At the end of the day, we do it because we like it and because we tryin’ to feed our people off it. If you ain’t getting paid, you can’t stay with that.
One more thing about Three 6—I heard that you had a little tiff with them back in 2004 when Crunchy Black said some things about you on a local TV show. Is that true?
Yeah. He was on the local station and he was talking about a lot of Memphis rappers, like the old Three 6 rappers who used to be down with them. Then he said my name: “Yo Gotti, boy, you ain’t hot,” or, “You ain’t got no real deal,” or something. “You ridin’ in a rental car” or something like that. You know man, niggas get high and get on the TV station and go crazy.
So what was your response to that?
I really didn’t have to say nothing, because niggas in the streets know me. Probably some of them know him, and niggas know how I’m rocking. They know what I’m ridin’ in. Niggas out here know I have paper, it ain’t no secret. But at the same time, when you talking about a “real deal”… C’mon man, I’m a boss; you an artist, I’ll sign you. And if he had something to say, I felt like his bosses had to authorize it.
So you feel like Juicy and Paul were cosigning what he was saying?
Yeah, so that’s why it was just on with Three 6. But it wasn’t no thing as far as rappin’, ’cause [Crunchy] can’t rap. He can’t beat me rappin’. That’s a no brainer. You can’t have no rap battle. It was more disrespectful to me ’cause I really don’t know none of them. I mean, back in the hood, I used to see him in different spots, buying his lil’ shit and gettin’ high with it. So I had to see him more often, on [account of] them makin’ him get the lil’ shit to get high with. He would [say to me], “You jammin’, dawg. You this, you that.” And then for me to see the nigga on TV, I’m like, Damn, dude must be really high!
Did you ever reach out to any of them about that incident?
Once I jumped off doing what I do, they got to callin’ different DJs they knew I was cool with. They said they ain’t have nothing to do with Crunchy [speaking on TV] and they put him on punishment. He can’t get on no shows with them. That’s what they do with they artists, they put them on punishment and shit. So I’m telling the DJ, “Tell them niggas to call me!” And they just called back [the DJ] like, “Nah, man, as long as you don’t say nothing back to him he won’t say anything back. And I’m like, Look dawg, I don’t give a fuck about them dudes saying nothing about me. You ain’t no threat.
You released Life on TVT in 2002, at a time that the label was getting a lot of success with its Southern artists, like Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins. Why didn’t Life get that big video or that big promotional push that other TVT artists were getting at the time?
I think because me and this other company, Rap Hustlaz, had a 50/50 distribution deal with TVT. Everybody else was an artist on the label, but I wasn’t a TVT artist. We just wanted distribution through TVT. We was getting like $7.50 a CD through TVT on the Life album. But we didn’t do no street run, no radio promo run, we didn’t do nothing. I wanted to promote it, but the other company, Rap Hustlaz, one of them dudes got locked up, and me and the other dude weren’t really seeing eye to eye. TVT probably didn’t understand what was going on between us two. And when I dropped my single “Shawty” the song spread and I ended up talking to [TVT A&R] Brian [Leach] and [president] Steve [Gottlieb]. We did a whole ’nother deal with just me, so they do marketing and promotions now.
I also heard you were doing a Gangsta Grillz with DJ Drama.
It’s finished. It’s probably dropping any day now. It’s mainly original songs, ’cause I had like 70 songs to take the album from. I just got an email from Drama. I’m fittin’ to read it to you. Let me pull it up on my Blackberry. This from him: “Gotti, real talk: before I do a tape, I just ride and listen to it for a whole day so I can digest everything from beginning to end, so I can digest it. You made a classic.”