Epic

In the midst of today’s increasingly popular fake gangster facade, one rapper has consistently proven his authenticity: Memphis’ very own Yo Gotti. Ever since his independent debut, Youngsta's on a Come Up, back in 1996, he has surfaced as one of hip-hop’s most cherished and genuine street rappers. Fast forward to 2016 and Gotti has a brand new project and perhaps the biggest hit of his career with The Art of Hustle.

The album, clocking in at just under an hour run-time, is a snapshot of Yo Gotti's life -- both past and present. The rapper’s biggest asset is obviously his storied past, which he so effortlessly turns into quality rap music. He doesn’t waste any time getting deep into the trials and tribulations he faced as a youth growing up in Memphis’ inner city. “My City,” the opening track with K. Michelle, is the album’s most honest ode. “Home of the poverty, home of the robberies/I be goin’ through some real shit like nigga don’t you bother me/It’s goin’ down in the DM/Nah, nigga it’s goin’ down when I see him,” paints a pretty good picture of where Gotti's head is at.

Having a song like “Down in the DM” become massively popular must feel strange for the rapper considering the role he plays in hip-hop isn’t exactly that of a hit maker on the Billboard charts. Just recently, the single went to No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart -- a first for Gotti. Whether he likes it or not, the majority of mainstream music listeners now strictly know him as "the 'Down in the DM' guy." But he's quick to give a reminder that he’s still that Southern gangster from Memphis -- regardless of his major hit and newfound success.

As the album progresses, it's clear Gotti values rock-solid production. “Law” with E-40 is a guaranteed speaker blower; this is a banger that should be bumped at loud decibels. Trap-influenced snares and thundering bass provide Gotti and 40 the foundation to outline the notorious street laws. The title track “The Art of Hustle” then pulls a complete 180, sounding like something out of Sunday mass. The soulful choir sample mixed in with triumphant horns is a polar opposite from the LP’s previous cut. The variance in beats, however, doesn’t sway Gotti’s lyrical content much at all. On this effort, it would have been exciting to hear Gotti really tap into his past and rap through a specific story from his wildly colorful come-up.

Once the middle of the opus hits, there are a small handful of songs that lose steam simply because the records at both the start and finish are so strong. Things pick up again with the Honorable C.N.O.T.E.-produced “Hunnid,” which features a lyrical tag team with fellow street rapper Pusha T. If there were two rappers today that could give each other a run when rapping about the drug game, it's these two. Gotti also does a surprisingly good job with selecting featured artists. There aren’t any irrelevant placements or show stealers. Lil Wayne is the only guest that doesn’t quite come correct but what he lacks in effort, Nicki Minaj makes up for in brilliance. There is literally no more fitting of an MC for a “Down in the DM” remix than her.

The Art of Hustle finds Yo Gotti sticking to his roots. His street-acclaimed catalog is what got him here in the first place and the project doesn't veer off course. He turns a track like "Smile" into a grimy symphony thanks in part to the Timbaland-crafted beat and his lyrics are a reminder that the money and power hasn't changed his ways ("I'm fighting pain, fame, I never want to change/I'm the same still running with the gang"). The LP, certainly the biggest release of his career, is a quality effort in comparison to his past projects. His hustle on this record can't be knocked.

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