Yo Gotti is the hardest working rapper. You don’t have to look further than his extensive catalog, comprised of 19 mixtapes and five albums, including his latest set, The Art of Hustle, out today (Feb. 19). Yo Gotti has been in the game for over a decade, earning himself the King of Memphis tag through his free music releases. As his Cocaine Muzik mixtape series kept his name buzzing in the streets, Yo Gotti’s career began to flourish in the mainstream when songs from those tapes bubbled up and became his biggest records.
Between 2013 and 2016, the 34-year-old rapper has broken into the Billboard Hot 100 with his street singles: the Jeezy and YG-featured “Act Right,” his The Art of Hustle warm-up “Errybody,” and his ode to flirting in Instagram private convos, “Down in the DM,” which got two lascivious verses by Nicki Minaj on the remix. On Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart, Yo Gotti landed his first No. 1 for “Down in the DM” during its twelfth charting week last month.
Since the release of “Down in the DM” last October, Yo Gotti has found success in maintaining his street credibility while crossing over commercially. There have been a variety of pieces that feature Yo Gotti breaking down the rules to getting down in the DMs, a fun and cheeky way to introduce the Memphis-bred rapper to listeners who are unfamiliar. Yo Gotti doesn’t necessarily have the pop instincts to draw the attention like T.I. or Jeezy has done in the past, but his method of churning out music at a fast rate has given him opportunities to maneuver among hip-hop’s popular stars, some of them even appearing on The Art of Hustle — Lil Wayne, Timbaland, E-40, Future, Pusha T and 2 Chainz to name a few.
The Art of Hustle is Yo Gotti’s way of reaffirming the notion that listeners are going to support your music if you’re authentic. Consistency is one of his best traits and he’s presented songs that range from introspective (“Momma”) to potential club smashes (“Law”). He also reflects on how Memphis raised him to never leave the streets behind. On “My City,” he raps, “It’s goin’ down in the DM / Nah, n—a, it’s goin’ down when I see him / Biggest record of my career, I’m becomin’ a star / And I’m shootin’ an AR at the car, just look at your favorite rapper.” It’s this type of duality that has made him an elder statesman in rap, where he’s able to walk the line without sounding fake. Some rappers have the charts, Yo Gotti has the streets.
On the title track, Yo Gotti educates up-and-comers on how to break into the rap game with their own set of laws. “I’m the hustler’s constitution,” he opens the song, later contemplating whether things would be different if he sold a ton of albums and got hot through that lane. “What if I sell a million records, would that change the culture? / Would my n—as try to betray me ‘cause I know they vultures? / Would L.A. Reid see my vision, that mean Sylvia Rhone / Creating a better way to put my people on.” In reality, the rapper gaining notoriety and his fortune in the streets has allowed him to give back to his community. When Epic Records signed him in 2013, they were fully aware of his influence. He knows it too, rapping on “Law”: “Trying to steal my swag, that copyright infringement / You can’t rock all white if your white be looking dingy.”
So, does Yo Gotti need more recognition from, say, the Grammys, a notoriously known outlet to snub the talents of the streets? He doesn’t think so.
On “Imagine Dat,” a deep cut on The Art of Hustle, he addresses how these award shows rarely shine a light on his peers. He illustrates a scenario of the “Hood Grammys”: Pimp C would be hosting, Black Mafia Family (BMF) would have a performance, and the realest in these streets would take home some brass. “If they give another award to another f–k n—a / I might jump on stage like Kanye / Got Taylor Swift and Beyonce nominated, what the streets say? Fuck a Grammy, I take a million dollar ride than that,” he spits.
He ends the song with a message: “Until they make that shit for real n—as, I fuck around and boycott that motherfucker. I have the hood protesting outside that shit or something. Think about it. We talkin’ legendary street n—as, never won shit. We got Rollies n—a, that’s our trophies. We take care of our family, n—a that’s our trophies. We got foreign ni–as, that’s our trophies.”
Gotti’s not the only one who has voiced his displeasure for Music’s Biggest Night. It’s been an ongoing discussion that hip-hop is often overlooked in the major categories at the Grammys. This year was the exception as Kendrick Lamar was the most nominated artist with 11 nominations, and swept the rap categories and took home five awards. He didn’t win album of the year and record of the year as many predicted, instead those prestigious awards went to Taylor Swift for 1989 and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” While it would have been a big boost for hip-hop if Kendrick’s name was announced, he made a firm statement in his televised acceptance speech for best rap album. “This [is] for hip-hop,” he declared, shouting out Doggystyle and Illmatic by Snoop Dogg and Nas, two artists who have been nominated multiple times but never won a Grammy. “We will live forever. Believe that.”
As this type of progress continues to put hip-hop into the right conversations, the genre won’t have to keep creating their own version of the Grammys. Originally done by Drake on Instagram back in 2014 with the hashtag #HoodGrammys, he gave awards to artists he felt deserved to be talked about. Among them: Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Boy” for best vocal performance of the year; Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” and Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” for best performance by a duo or group; OG Maco’s “U Guessed It” for best all around turn up, and iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” for best latin club anthem (strange selection, though). None of these names seemed on the radars of Grammy voters.
Furthermore, people still can’t forget about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist beating out Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city in all rap categories, as well as winning best new artist — a cultural moment that still leaves K. Dot advocates perplexed. It’s true the Grammys are working on diversifying their voters but small waves of improvement just mean they have a long way to go. Certainly Lamar’s impact and positive reception to his commanding performance of To Pimp a Butterfly songs “The Blacker The Berry” and “Alright” is a good sign.
Yo Gotti may have a point then: Who needs validation from the Grammys when you can earn respect on your own terms?