Speaking over the phone to Billboard as his icy, diamond-studded groove “Juice” breaks the Billboard Hot 100, Memphis rap veteran Yo Gotti is explaining what it means to have, well, juice.
“Juice, it means you’re lit, you know? You’re poppin,’” Gotti offers, pausing a moment to consider. “It’s your confidence. Whatever it is about you that’s your swag.”
Of this, Gotti has plenty. The 36-year-old rapper and Roc Nation signee has managed to remain a consistent figure in hip-hop for nearly a decade — logging six weeks on the chart so far, “Juice” marks his tenth Hot 100 entry, and his latest since fiery Nicki Minaj collab “Rake It Up” tore up the ranks in 2017. (With “Juice,” Gotti also hits a new peak of No. 13 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop for the chart dated Jan. 20).
Roughly one year since joining the Roc Nation family — at a time when hip-hop is bigger than ever — Gotti credits phone calls with JAY-Z for keeping him on his game (“he’s a real big homie”), touts an ever-growing jewelry collection (“D-R-I-P-P-I-N-G”) and is prepping a collab with breakout rap queen Cardi B.
Below, Gotti explains the idea behind “Juice,” how Roc Nation is changing his career and why hip-hop will only grow more popular in 2018.
How did “Juice” come about?
Me and my producer Ben Billions were trying to create a song that when it comes on, people immediately feel good, feel like partying, which we call a vibe. I like to make music from a personal standpoint, and the music that feels good to me, and when the music becomes big, it’s even better because it’s an even more organic feeling than when you, like, tried to make the hit record. When the record turns out to be as big as [“Juice”], that’s a great feeling.
What does it mean to have juice?
It means you lit, you’re poppin’. It’s your confidence. Whatever it is about you that’s your swag. You create your own juice — you just gotta do you.
“Juice” is full of references to jewelry (“D-R-I-P-P-I-N-G / I got that VVS I-C-E / Frozen like a cooler / Juice, blame it on my jeweler”). What’s your favorite piece in your collection?
My favorite piece of jewelry is a watch that actually doesn’t have any [diamonds] in it. It’s a platinum Rolex, and it doesn’t have one stone. It just has a cool color — a blue face.
We know you have a collab with Cardi B in the works, and in “Juice,” you rap “I’m on my Cardi B.” What’s the story there?
That was the last line that I [wrote]. There was another line right there at first, but it was mediocre to me. Then, I was just listening to [the “Bodak Yellow” line], “if I see you and I don’t speak, that means I don’t fuck with you.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the song, so I made a reference to it in my record. I’d met Cardi B on tour, running around. We’ve run into each other.
What was filming the music video like?
We were trying to create a runway. We had the Porsche posted up, and you had girls coming down the runway, and it was dope, with cool lighting structures. The thing is, the runway was really slippery and [everyone had on] heels and different things, so the girls in the video really tried to walk down it and not fall. [Laughs]
I thought I glimpsed Tory Lanez in the video, but he’s not featured in the song.
Yeah. We just were kickin’ it [before the shoot], so he just came out. I was like, “come on, hop in the joint.”
“Juice” is your tenth track on the Hot 100. What does that mean to you?
It means a lot, with all the doubt [I had] when I first started making music — you know, “he’s a mixtape rapper,” or “he’s a trap rapper” or whatever they may say. To get any accomplishments, to me just shows that they were wrong, and that they don’t know me.
How has your career changed since joining Roc Nation?
I wish it could’ve been sooner. It feels like one family — JAY-Z’s one call away for any advice, any questions. He’s a real big homie. You’re only as good as your team, so if your team’s strong around you, it just puts you in a greater position. Everybody has great advice and the same intentions, so there ain’t no small goals.
We’ve reported that R&B/hip-hop was the biggest genre of 2017. What are your thoughts on that?
I think hip-hop always shifts culture. What’s going on [in the news], whether it’s controversial or political, hip-hop always weighed into all these things,. I always said it was a matter of time before hip-hop would become more important and more popular.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of Billboard.