Yo Gotti? Yo Gaudy is more like it. One could be forgiven if, after examining the cover art for Yo Gotti’s new album, Life, he or she mistook it for a Wayans Brothers project skewering the worn-out conventions of hardcore rap. From the stacks of bills that tower over an ostentatious white mansion in the background, to the sparkling rims and dollars hovering before of a crouching Yo Gotti in the foreground, the whole joint is way beyond the limits of good taste.
But what does a white, twenty-something student like myself know about the streets of north Memphis that Yo Gotti came up in? And furthermore, what do I, a devoted fan of Quannum and Def Jux artists, know about the dubious sub-genre of “dirty south”? Not much.
That’s why, upon unwrapping the envelope that shepherded Life to my mailbox, I was nonplussed. How could my whitebread ass fairly critique this thing? It’d be like Jim Neighbors trying to write a review of a Kid Rock album. Still, I fought through the urge to just trash it, and slipped Life into my CD player.
I listened to Life at my computer at work. Co-workers were flummoxed. One guy, a rap aficionado who has a soft spot for Lil’ Jon (who helped produce Life), stopped to ask me what I was listening to. When I told him it was a Memphis rapper who was down with Lil’ Jon, he wanted to know more. So I let him listen to a few minutes of Life. Afterwards, he summarily pronounced it “pedestrian, dirty south, crunk shit”.
Still, I kept bumping Life. After a while, I started to get into it. I took a particular shine to “All I Ever Wanted to Do”, the album’s second track. It sounded good in my beige ‘92 Ford Taurus. I enjoyed how Yo Gotti’s voice is treated as an instrument in the beginning of the song, as the word “All” is sampled and then repeated over and over again at various pitches. Then Yo Gotti comes in, rapping, “All I eva wanted to do was lih’ da life”, after which he goes on to delineate the different things that entail said life (money, hoes, etc.). I can’t really relate, but I can certainly bob my head to it.
Yo Gotti’s flow is reminiscent of Nelly, but he lacks Nelly’s sunny disposition. Gotti takes pains to remind the listener again and again of the validity of his claims to realness. In theory, I understand the need for emcees to vehemently declare their street cred. But what I can’t understand is why so many gifted rappers fail to do it in an imaginative way. In Yo Gotti’s case, the only thing separating him from breaking the mainstream (which is undoubtedly his ultimate goal) is a strong dose of originality.
Take the track “Str8 from da North”. A slinky, vaguely funky bass line creeps and lurches in and out as Yo Gotti raps over backing female vocals. It’s good shit, and I made all my friends listen to it, because it deserves to be listened to. Unfortunately, Yo Gotti is lyrically indistinguishable from a sea of bitter, street-hustling rappers exactly like himself, so the song probably won’t ever get its due. Of course, Yo Gotti is young. Here’s hoping that with older age comes better writing. If he ever gets that down, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with beyond the streets of Memphis.