YoGotti.jpgYou gotta appreciate Yo Gotti’s hustle. After a handful of respectable independent releases, the Tenn-a-key rapper landed a deal with TVT and dropped 2003’s Life. Despite not having a strong marketing or promotional push, the project still sold almost 40,000 units, which was five times more than his most successful indie disc. Now armed with proper support from his label, Gotti’s ready to finally give the people what they want with his latest offering, Back 2 Da Basics.

Unlike his Memphis peers, who tend to focus on stayin’ fly and poppin’ their collars, YG opts to flex his conceptual skills as well. Backed by Carlos Broady’s syrupy piano chords for “We Gon’ Be Alright,” he pens a poignant tale about his older brother gettin’ sentenced to a lengthy bid. Then he skillfully lambastes those who cooperate with the Feds over the gritty electric guitar riffs of “U Niggas Should Be Killed.” But Gotti’s skills truly shine on “25 to Life,” where he expertly flips numbers like a bank teller: “Picture 25 hours a week/Picture 24 hours a day/But only 25 niggas asleep/25 niggas with shanks/So that’s 25 niggas to outthink.”

Despite the display of lyrical skill, there are instances where Gotti’s Southern drawl isn’t as engaging. His horrendous interpolation of Bill Withers’ lyrics for the Slim Thug– and Lil’ Keke–featured “Lean on Me” will undoubtedly help listeners catch up on their sleep. The same can be said of the Swizzo-produced “Cold Game,” where Yo’s gargled hook does little to uplift the track’s basic drum pattern. Luckily, the Tennessee Titan quickly redeems himself with “Gangsta Party (Remix),” where Young Buck and newcomer Allstar chip in to show some hometown love.

Flip-floppin’ between gripping introspection and cliché Tony Montana boasts, Back 2 Da Basics is far from a masterpiece. Still, Yo Gotti manages to pull together a decent effort that proves his hustle and flow should be respected.—PAUL CANTOR