Kicking It With Yo Gotti

yo-gotti-portrait-2014-billboard-650

One glimpse at the career of Yo Gotti thus far, and you discover a man who’s been on his hustle for a long time. More than 15 years deep in the game, with multiple successful albums and mixtapes under his belt, big name collaborations and all of the perks of being famous, the humble emcee from Memphis, Tennessee has come a long way.

You could probably forgive him for resting on his laurels, but Gotti’s last full-length album, ‘The Art of Hustle’, released in February, shows he is just as hungry for success as ever. His latest project is also his most successful commercial effort, with the album peaking at number four on the US Billboard 200 and lead single, ‘Down in The DM’, breaking the Billboard top 20.

Gotti will be the first to say that it hasn’t always been plain-sailing however, and he paints pictures of his upbringing and the struggles he had to go through so masterfully in his music. He takes the word ‘hustle’ and lives and breathes it, recognising that life itself is an innate hustle for everyone.

I had the chance to catch up with Gotti on his first visit to the UK, and chopped it up with him about ‘The Art of Hustle’, his relationship with Cash Money and what it takes to be a hustler.

Welcome to London, how are you liking it so far?

It’s cool man, I’m starting to realise that your money is worth more than ours so I’m just trying to figure that all out! We ate at Nando’s and went to the casino, we’ve just been floating around really. But I’m just trying to touch as many people as possible and try to find out who the hottest local artists are out here.

Are you familiar with any of the local artists out here?

Nah I’ve just been asking around. But I know that one record from Skepta; ‘Shutdown’. Its dope, it goes hard.

You’ve released a new album this year, ‘The Art of Hustle’. If you had to describe the exact art of hustling in a few sentences, what would you say?

I think hustling is a talent and I think you can hustle any product. It’s the talent and drive of knowing numbers and the drive of creatively marketing anything. If I sold different things on the street, I feel like I could use those same tactics anywhere and be successful. Whatever the product is, I can hustle with it.

I personally feel like I’m a born hustler; just like rapping, hustling is in my blood line. I sold candy at elementary school, washed cars at my grandma’s house. From as far back as I can remember I was always doing something.

You started the album with ‘My City’, which really struck me because of how powerful it is. Was that a very personal track for you?

It was one of the last songs I did for the album and when I got the record, it didn’t have any drums on it. When I first listened to the record, I was really waiting for the beat, and then we called the girl who did it and she said she would put the drums in once I laid the vocals down, and I was cool with that.

So when I started to rap over the beat, I realised I didn’t want any extra instruments on it, I just wanted to leave it like that. K. Michelle put the pain into the record that I needed. So to me, even though it’s a rap album, that record is more like poetry.

The success of ‘Down in The DM’ has been phenomenal. Did you expect it to get the response it got?

I was just doing music like I always do. I did five records during one studio session, three of which are on the album – ‘Down in the DM’, ‘General’ and ‘Bible’ – I do the records so quick and move onto the next one that I don’t sit in the moment and think one of them is a hit or is going to be a hit. It’s just onto the next record. I just put the music out and let the people tell me if it’s a hit or not.

It wasn’t surprising because all of the music is good to me, but I probably wouldn’t have said it would be a single or it would be the biggest record I got to date. I thought it was catchy and interesting because of the content. The way I approach music now is very conceptual and when I listen to a beat and like a beat I start to think about what the concept will be. I can’t even start to string words together until I know what the concept will be about. I thought it was a cool concept because I hadn’t heard a song that really captured that subject the way I did it.

You have Nicki Minaj on the remix, how did that come about?

I wasn’t going to do a remix at first, but when I started to think about it I started to wonder who would I do it with. If it wasn’t coming from a female’s perspective, there would be no purpose of doing it because I felt I had covered everything from a male’s perspective. So I went with a female and it don’t come better than Nicki Minaj!

You are really well connected in the game, just looking at the Art of Hustle tracklist but also your previous work and you have collaborated with some big names. Are these relationships with these artists more business ones or are they really close personal ones?

Anything under the Cash Money umbrella, I have close relationships with because I’ve been around those guys for so long. I really feel I got my start in the game because of them, and I learned a lot from them. I watched them a lot, and I had a production deal with Birdman a long time ago, so I was around them a lot, so any of those relationships are like family. With everybody else, I feel I’ve got a cool relationship with too.

I felt ‘Momma’ was probably the most personal song on the album, was it a difficult one for you to write?

Nah those records really be the easiest, because a record like that to me means that you’re sitting down and having a conversation and I’m telling you my story. That’s how easy it is and you don’t have to think about it because you know what happened. You’re just talking on the beat.

Ok, some artists might not think that way and others open up their heart, which I feel you did in a great way. It really felt like you were telling your story and that you’re proud of it as well.

If an artist is trying to create a story it would definitely be a lot harder, it kind of becomes like a movie script where you have to make sure all of the stories line up. But when you’re authentic you’re just telling your truth whether people like it or not. You’re just keeping it G.

I generally feel the album strikes an equal balance between the hustle and success on one side, and then the struggles that come with it on the other side. Was that something you were consciously trying to maintain throughout?

That happened organically. You can’t tell my story or my family’s story and act like everything was 100% ups. If I had to decide whether there were more ups or downs, I wouldn’t know but where I am in my career now is the ultimate up. Everybody in my family is good off of music, something positive. I got the restaurant business and other businesses that I do, but going through it, it was definitely ups or downs. One year you’re up and the next down but you have to just stay in the hustle.

It’s also really a case of ‘you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve come from’ as well.

Yeah, and I think you respect things differently too. For example, I grew up being able to get all of the things that I always wanted so I would say I was used to money. So when I got money it was always cool but it didn’t mean as much to me.

I value loyalty and real people and relationships and shit like that way more than I value money, because I feel I’m always going to get money, whether it’s the right way to get it or the wrong way. As long as I’m walking and talking, I’m going to get money, through the street or the right way. I’m not meant to be broke and I never will be.

So, to you, does money buy happiness?

No, money really gives more issues and more problems and it turns the people that you think are supposed to be close to you against you. When you get money, some feel you should spend it the same way they would spend theirs. So if you do one thing for a person and this person doesn’t do another thing for a person, you may not be real in their eyes. But to me, keeping it real is, firstly, to keep it real with yourself and know what means the most to you.

But do you then feel conflicted when you get money and the people you grew up with or came in the game with start to switch up when you have money?

That always happens. Some people are always going to switch up. I remember a long time ago when Birdman gave me one of my first deals with a group I was with, and I was having a conversation with him telling him that I didn’t think the group was going to last. My homie here is acting this way, another homie acting another way, and Birdman told me when you start making millions and millions of dollars like me, when the smoke clears a lot of mother fuckers aren’t going to be around. You have to prepare for that.

So I think that’s in the same way of saying once you make money, people are, for whatever reason, aren’t going to be there. When you go to the hood and put 10 young niggas together and they’re broke, everyone is the realest nigga on Earth! When everybody is hurting together, everybody’s real! But somebody ain’t real as soon as the money comes. That’s just life I guess; people don’t understand that, to another person, I might be rich but to me, I’m not rich. I can’t make you rich because I’m getting money – I could probably help you if we do something together – but you can’t get rich off me. I’m not in a position to make you rich.

So, earlier in your career, was Birdman a mentor to you in any way?

Birdman gave me my first opportunity to get out of the streets. Through my first deal with TVT, I got to meet him and he wanted to sign me but I had just done the deal a couple of weeks before. So he took me under his wing and gave me a production deal to sign artists from me to him. He was really the first person to start giving me six figure checks and I was able to stop hustling for a minute and focus on music, but that’s not the most valuable thing he ever gave me.

I was able to hang with them and run with them and for the next three to five years, I was with them and in the rooms when Birdman was having meetings with executives, talking and getting game from them. I was in the house when Lil Wayne brought Tha Carter I for the first time, and seeing him go from that to the number one rapper in the game selling a million records, I was there during that whole process.

I had seen it with my own eyes and that was my biggest motivation because I was still halfway in the streets and seeing that shit motivated me and showed me that you could really become a rap superstar. And these were niggas like me, from the projects who I could relate to, so that was the most valuable thing I got from Birdman.

These were executives of multi-million dollar labels but they were still street niggas! I was really fascinated by that.

Who are you listening to at the moment? Are there any up and comers that are catching your eye?

I listen to a lot of up and coming artists because they motivate me more. I listen to a lot of Blac Youngsta and to the last Kanye album. The new 2 Chainz and Wayne joint too (Collegrove), I really rock with that. I like Madeintyo, he’s really catching my eye with his ‘Uber Everywhere’ song.

Now that the album is out, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

A lot of touring is on the table, between my own headline tour and other tours so we’re trying to figure out which tours are the best fit. And I’ll be right back in the studio, I plan to drop another album this year.

You’re a seasoned vet in the game and still relatively young, what keeps you motivated to keep putting out music?

I love the game, and its way bigger than me. There are a lot of branches on this tree man, and I feel like we have to keep it going. I’m addicted to the success of hustling and I like to see anything turn into something; a hundred turning into a thousand, a thousand turning into a hundred thousand and so on.

Taking things to the next level, and meeting artists like Snootie Wild fresh out of prison, with his ‘Yayo’ record. I met him in Memphis and to see him having a Top 10 hit eight months later, and performing at the BET Awards, was a thrill to me.

I get the same thrill out of shit like that than I get out of when I was hustling. Like when I used to come into the hood early in the morning with no money and my pockets packed, and then doing another $10-15 thousand night and doing it again; it’s the same exact thrill.

Even when I do real estate and buy a house and its fucked up and we take the pictures, fix it and then sell it for a couple hundred thousand more, I still get the same rush and all of that, to me, is just hustling in different forms. I guess I’m just addicted to hustling!

Advertisements

A Chat with Asher Roth

[INTERVIEW] ASHER ROTH: NO LONGER A COLLEGE KID

Asher Roth is an individual who has fully reinvented himself since his breakout 2010 single ‘I Love College’; the squeaky clean, baby faced rapper that embodied that song is no more, and in his place has emerged a musician, singer-songwriter and a man who takes risks with his music. Incorporating rock music and other influences into his brand of hip-hop, Roth has grown as a person as his musical ideas have become more layered and daring, as his two studio albums and number of mixtapes have shown.

The Philadelphia native’s musical growth has also strongly projected his free spirited nature, and it is a willingness to blend in a range of different emotions and experiences that make the 30-year-old an unsung hero in the rap scene. Even talking to him you get the mellow, laid-back feel of a person who is very content with the decisions he has made in his life, with very few regrets about his journey up until now.

I recently caught up with Asher before his recent show in London (which was amazing, by the way) to chat about his recent collaboration with Nottz and Travis Barker, dream collaborations and sweatshorts.

Welcome back to London, are you a fan of the city?

I am, it’s a little cloudy here right now but being in LA for the past two years, it strikes a balance that I’m really happy with. Its good to wear a jacket and having a little weather in my life. LA is pretty much the same thing every day.

There’s this group over there called the Cloud Appreciation Society and they talk about how clouds are really important; how they spark imagination and break up the monotony of blue skies. They say clouds spark thoughts and imaginations. So its kind of the same thing over here – you may not get a lot of blue skies but you definitely get a lot to work with.

Some of the best music of all time comes from here so there’s got to be something in the water.

You released ‘Rawther’ with Nottz and Travis Barker recently, how did that came about?

Nottz and I have known each other for a very long time and he had a joint on the ‘Asleep in the Bread Aisle’ called Y.O.U. and we’ve had a close relationship since then, touring with people like Cudi and B.O.B.

We ended up going on tour with Blink 182 during their reunion tour because of Travis. He was lobbying for us to go on tour with them and Travis and I were already friends, so Travis and Nottz started working together and they both have really heavy drums – Travis more in the rock side and Nottz in the hip-hop world. So we kind of just married the two worlds together and we’re all friends so it was a very natural collaboration, and you can tell the music doesn’t sound forced but an organic lending of the two worlds.

How are they both to work with as individuals?

They’re both sweethearts, in the nicest possible way. They’re really nice dudes yet rough around the edges from their presence alone – from their tattoos and stuff you might be intimidated by them but Travis and Nottz are two of the nicest people you could meet. Very genuine, no bullshit, they’re not going to try to woo you and tell you what you want to hear. But they’re very smart, concise and it’s a pleasure to work with people like that because they just get to the point. There isn’t a lot of buffer.

Do you plan to put out any more videos to go with the mixtape?

What we wanted to do with ‘Rawther’ was make it a visual art project, and the video that came with it had three songs in it out of five. We wanted to introduce the music with the visual art component and I think that’s just what it is going to be. We’ll play it a bit, run around Europe a little bit and then we’ll start pushing new music.

Right now visual art is so important to the music as well, in my opinion anyway, and with the internet you really have a great opportunity to do a really visual art component with your music because people want to watch videos now so we’re just trying to introduce different elements essentially.

You were also in the video for ‘Sweat Shorts’ with Chuck Inglish and Helious Hussain, which had a great concept to it. Who came up with the idea for it?

The story kind of wrote itself. Helious Hussain who’s the third MC in the song, from Detriot, he has ideas for days and he lobbied for the concept as it became and we all got together one day and tod this whole story. But Helious is definitely the one who championed the video and brought it to life.

Nice, and will you ever get your shorts back?

I don’t know man! Its funny because I lost my bag. Flying out to Europe I lost my bag so what I’m wearing is all I’ve got. But if I don’t get my shorts back its ok, life will go on.

You announced a third studio album to drop this year.

Yeah, the cool thing about being independent now is that you’re on your own time and you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations or agendas except for your own. The next album is going to be called ‘Red Hot Revival’ and we’re going to bring in all the influence that we’ve been working with. Bring in that rock influence and the indie stuff that we toyed with on ‘RetroHash’ and then some of the older sounds that we were doing on ‘La Di Da’ and others from the first album.

If we want to take that alchemy and bring it together in one place, I think ‘Red Hot Revival’ is going to be a very forward-thinking, special album. Not a lot of people are messing with these sounds right now.

So we can expect that from the album?

Yeah, its going to be music. But for a while I’ve been interested in challenges in general. I’m pretty good at rapping and I have a grasp of rap music and now I want to challenge myself to be a better songwriter, with better concepts and narratives and things like that, and to give the listener and myself a more concise listening experience. I’ve been working on my song writing a little bit and I’ve wanted to bring that more into the music.

All of the artists that I’ve been listening to, like Tame Impala, Peter, Bjorn & John and others; I want to ring that type of feel to hip-hop as well. We’ll see how many genres we can marry but that’s what I’m really excited about because, in the position that I’m in, I have a lot to play with, so hopefully it can all come together exactly in the way I see it.

Yeah, and you don’t want it to come across as forced either.

Exactly.

Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with that you would love to work with?

I love what (A$AP) Rocky is doing, I love what Kendrick is doing, I love what Chance is doing. Those guys, I feel, are doing it for the right reasons and sonically, there would be spaces for us to collaborate as well. Tame Impala, Peter, Bjorn & John and Damon Albarn of Gorillaz would be great; I would love to collaborate with those guys.

So are those your favourite artists in the game right now?

Those are just examples of what I’ve been on recently, but I’ll be on jazz and listen to some Bobbi Humphrey, Donald Byrd and people like that. I never want to lock myself in one place. Right now in my life, I’m thinking of moving to Europe for a while for at least three-six months and pulling from new inspirations.

So at the moment, those are the artists that I tap into and they’re making an impact. You always want to make an impact and you don’t want your music to go unheard or heard by just 50 people – you want to reach as many people as possible. Those are artists that I look at think ‘you’re doing a good job’.

What music has stood out to you over the past year or so?

I guess it has to be more of the psychedelic, experimental stuff. Being in California I’ve gravitated more towards garage rock, stuff that isn’t very clean and is unpolished or made for the radio.

So like Mac Demarco, for instance.

Exactly. That kind of music is definitely a mood and that’s something I’m really attracted to.

You’ve toured around America and throughout Europe in your career. Which is your favourite city to perform in?

Its tough because each city has a specific reputation and you’ll go on and it will always be your own personal experience. London is beautiful to me, as is the rest of Europe because it doesn’t feel like their choices of music are dictated by top 40 radio, as it would in the United States.

In the States, and this is a generalisation, radio really does dictate who people are going to see and, as an American rap artist coming over here, it seems that my fans are a little bit more up to date because they’re not relying on the radio; they’re getting their music directly from me. So they’re more up to date with stuff like ‘Rawther’ whereas I think some of my American fans think that if I’m not on the radio I’m not poppin’.

I feel a lot of American artists feel that way; they say that European fans pay attention a little bit more.

Yeah, it feels that way and I remember when I put out ‘Dude’ and two days later I had to do a show in London, and the whole crowd knew it, and I was like ‘damn’. So Europe is great to perform in, that’s why I want to spend a little more time here because I feel there is a connection. Berlin was a great city for me, Copenhagen is a beautiful city.

But American cities are amazing too, although some of the bigger cities are harder to win over. The crowd come to check you out, they’re not really there to let loose and get down. Austin, Texas is definitely like that. Chicago is great, and my home state, Philadelphia, too.

So those cities are more of a challenge for you?

Definitely, and even when I mentioned Blink 182, its nice for me to go and perform in spots where people aren’t necessarily there to see you, because you learn a lot about how to put on a show. If a crowd comes to see you, the acts are kind of of a time and a moment. They can come and rap over their own vocals and it will be a great show but because there is so much hype around it, kids are just like ‘whatever’ and are all about it. Whereas I feel like we really want to put together a concise show where, even if you’re not there for me and you don’t know my music, you can still enjoy it.

With a third studio album on the way, do you have any other plans for the rest of the year?

Yeah a lot of touring and I’m working on a collaborative project with Oren Yoel as well, and that will be about three or five songs, and I’ll be singing as well so you might not recognise me. But its fun for me because, being independent, I can experiment a little bit more and we have multiple outlets now. So if I want to sing but do it under my Asher Roth moniker I might lose some people! But now I can make something up and put it out as a side project.

We also have retrohash.com, which will be our multimedia hub, where we can have all of our visual art, photos and music and a lot of our lifestyle stuff as well. We’re huge into the cannabis lifestyle and a sustainable lifestyle. We promote a lot of that on the site and public education reform as well, so all of that will appear on the site. Music is the lynchpin and it brings us all together; that will be the most important part of it but where do you go from there?

Now that people are listening to you because they like your music what do you do next? Some of the things I hold dear is having clean water and public education, so if you can get people somewhat educated and interested, whilst also giving clean water that’s a pretty good foundation to build a life off of.

How do you think you’ve evolved over the course of your career?

A lot of growing up. I shied away from celebrity and from being a product; it wasn’t about not being confident in my abilities; it just didn’t feel right. Making everything about Asher Roth and it all being under my government name was a little weird for me. I wasn’t a band or like David Bowie where I could use different monikers, it was authentic so for that, if I was going to come out under my government name I wanted things to feel really authentic.

After ‘Asleep in the Bread Aisle’ and the success of ‘I Love College’, which was awesome, they started to cater it to more vanilla, mainstream, white music and that wasn’t the stuff I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be famous, I wanted to make music and be part of entertainment and connect with people. So in scaling that back and taking on a career which is driven more by the art that you’re doing and conversations that you’re having and places that you’re going, rather than being popular, has really helped me grow at a much more sustainable rate.

I’ve been able to be present and connect with people on a real level, whereas if I had top radio hit, then I’m going to have radio reps here, and a stylist and this whole created world and we would have 15 minutes and then someone would come in and say ‘your time’s up, get out’. That type of atmosphere is very stressful and anxiety-driven and I see it – I’m friends with a lot of people who are ‘famous’ and when they get a chance to breathe its gold for them, and I would never want to sacrifice that.

I feel I’ve had a natural growth for the past six years. People may ask where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, I would say I’ve just been growing up at a natural rate rather than being in entertainment where you do all this stuff for other people and by the time you hit 35 or 40 years old you have no idea who you are, you have a bunch of fake relationships in your life and you question yourself.

Now I feel I have a great idea of who I am, what I stand for and what I want to do and it allows me to have calculated and understood actions. So it’s cool, I’m happy man.

I can tell. What do you think the game has taught you the most?

To be patient, and to know why you’re doing it. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, in terms of life, you’ll have a lot of people coming to you and distracting you. There are a lot of distractions out there, but be patient with yourself – we have a lot of time.

Contrary to popular belief, because of instant gratification and people getting things immediately, we’ve lost touch to planting something and waiting to let it grow and water it everyday and care for it. Doing the same thing with yourself is important, and I do want things to happen overnight sometimes and be as impactful as possible and sell a million records. But if you’re patient with yourself and appreciate the simple things, you get rewards that you can’t really put into words. I’m engaged in this journey and this process and finding the rewards along the way instead of striving for the end result.

What would you do if Donald Trump is elected president?

I’d move! I’ve got no time for that but in a way its good because it exposes the underbelly of humans and an intolerance to difference and in 2016, its unacceptable. But that’s why I love music; because you bring together people from all walks of life.

I have to be sensitive to the fact that I’m white, with blonde hair and blue eyes in the world of hip-hop and, right off the bat, people are going to assume certain things about me. But I’ve been able to connect with people all over the world and right now, in the United States, unification and coming together as one is the most important thing, and Donald Trump trying to separate us is just some old white shit that doesn’t fly.