“I make music for those that went through the same shit I did growing up,” admitted Yo Gotti to viewers at the premiere of his TIDAL exclusive I Still Am documentary Thursday night (Oct. 26) at the luxurious iPic NYC movie theater, where fellow Roc Nation artist Fabolous made an appearance in support of Gotti’s accomplishments. The 36-year-old Memphis native had a camera crew documenting his behind-the-scenes struggles and real-life experiences leading up to the release of his latest studio album, I Still Am.
The 25-minute visual brought in friends that played a role in the Memphis native’s rise since he was just a kid. Childhood friend Monk and Gotti’s first producer DJ Sound shared one-of-a-kind stories from their days in the “Crest” trap. The CMG artist delved into the loss of his manager, Mel Carter, who died unexpectedly in 2016 — a numbing time for the MC, who felt he couldn’t enjoy his industry success.
After the screening, Gotti sat down with TIDAL’s Elliot Wilson for a one-on-one interview, where he delved into his mental state while crafting the album, and the creative process behind No. 8 Hot 100 hit “Rake It Up,” which features Nicki Minaj.
“I knew the beat was special when Mike WiLL Made-It played it for me,” he said. “I went and recorded it right after he gave me the beat. I didn’t know the song was going to be this special and big as it became. I knew whatever project the joint was on it was going to stand out.” The Memphis rapper continued, “The good thing about the record was Nicki liked it so much you didn’t have to get her to do nothing. She was getting me to do shit. She was hitting me like, ‘The video can’t just be some strip club shit, it’s gotta be bigger.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m with you.’”
Before heading upstairs to the Tuck Room to keep the celebration going and play cuts from I Still Am, Wilson asked the “Down in the DM” rapper what I Still Am means to him. Billboard caught up with Gotti at the event to get his thoughts on the documentary, mentoring younger artists in Memphis and crafting I Still Am, which was originally titled Back to The Crest.
Billboard: What do you hope your fans, or even just a kid growing up in Memphis, takes away from this documentary?
Yo Gotti: I hope he takes inspiration and becomes motivated to know that he can go from Memphis to anywhere in the world.
Would you say this album is your most personal work yet?
A lot of my music be personal. I would say it’s personal for where I’m at in life right now. All my music be testimonial, just what I’m doing at the time.
When did you fully commit to rapping and abandon the trap life?
Back when I was growing up, I always had one foot in the street and one foot in music. For a long time I had one foot in both games. I never really committed until I met Birdman and the Cash Money family. When I started hanging with them I began to take it seriously.
Yeah, “Castro” should’ve been a hit record. Again, that’s one of the things you see me in the documentary talking about losing my manager Mel Carter, which was the person that introduced me to Kanye. He used to work for Kanye, so they had a tight relationship. Shit wasn’t connecting when I lost him. My mental space wasn’t even in marketing. After the record was gone I thought about it, but in real time I didn’t even care about the song. The whole project I put out I didn’t even have any feelings.
You’ve talked about aspiring to get that Kanye West feature. Who else is left to check off on your list?
What about working with Chris Brown? You are on each other’s latest albums.
I always wanted to work with Chris, and he reached out to get on his record, which was crazy because I always wanted him on one of my records. I would’ve got on his record regardless because I fuck with Chris.
Do you feel a level of responsibility as a mentor figure to the younger artists coming up in Memphis?
I try to. I respect them, because I understand the youth. Growing up I was ahead of my time, so I feel like they could be the young me in this game ahead of their time. When I was young I was getting more money than the old heads. I was smarter and tighter, so whoever’s team I was on was at an advantage. I want the same youngin’ on my team.
What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
I’m most proud of getting a No. 1 record. Getting a double platinum record off of me. I always wanted to get a No. 1 record because of [just] me; a lot of people’s first No. 1 records is because they had a feature, or this and that. I wrote “Down in the DM.” Of course it helped when I had Nicki Minaj on “Rake It Up,” though.
What made Nicki Minaj the right choice for “Rake It Up?”
After the first night we recorded it, me and Mike Will Made-It were sitting in the studio and were like, “Nicki would sound crazy on this shit.” We were kind of just saying it and not fully thinking we had time to get it done.
Being under Roc Nation management, what’s the biggest difference you see?
A team is powerful. The team of the right people is the most powerful shit you could do. Roc Nation is strong, I’m strong and powerful on my own and when we put it together we’re unstoppable. There’s so much shit they could teach me, even though I’m hip to the game. There’s still so many other things on another level I could learn from a JAY-Z.