Despite what’s seen in the majority of videos and songs, life isn’t a set with props of guns, money and masked men shooting up the city.
But, there is a war going on that’s often silenced and can be costly if one isn’t strapped –mentally. After a suffering some deep war wounds during his 15-year career, street soldier Yo Gotti decided to arm himself with some antiquated heat in the form of Sun Tzu’s classic book The Art of War, which is the inspiration behind his upcoming album The Art of Hustle.
After climbing out of the mud of Memphis streets to record deal, the 33-year-old rapper’s achievement was short lived. The deal was so sour that Gotti coughed up $400,000 to buy his way out his original contract with TVT Records — only to find himself in a unprofitable deal with Polo Grounds/RCA. So he dished out more Benji’s to exit the next record label. Fast-forward to nearly a decade later, and Gotti finally has a lucrative deal with Epic Records and backing for his CMG label.
VIBE caught up with the short yet brolic Gotti at Manhattan’s London Penthouse hotel after recuperating from the 2015 All Star Weekend. Surrounded by a couple of his stoned faced comrades, the exhausted hustler mustered up enough energy and a few grins to discuss his upcoming The Art of Hustle album, hip-hop contemporaries that he looks up to, rules from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and why he studies Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
VIBE: You shocked your label and fans with the Concealed mixtape. What’s up with The Art of Hustle?
Gotti: I don’t have a specific date but if everything be everything, I’ll still try to catch the first quarter. It’s over completed. That’s part of the problem. I’m picking through the joints right now. I got so many records that I’m just trying to decide which joints go on there.
On your track “Fuck Em,” you rapped: ‘Label told me not drop a tape, Fuck ‘Em.’ You’ve had label issues in the past, everything good over there at Epic?
I am the label. I’m CMG. But it’s just speaking for me and likewise artists. Labels don’t want artists to put out mixtapes because they don’t monetize it. But the streets want it and I speak for the streets. This is the way I’m always going to be.
No doubt. So this album was inspired by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, drop jewels on us, let us in on what you learned.
I think it’s just important to read the book just to be up on the game, whether you want to use it or not. To me, the most important part is being able to block it. So I read it from the perspective of being able to be in front of an individual and know if that’s what he trying to do to me. You can relate different ones to different scenarios, according to what the scenario is you can shift it around.
I’m a heavy reader and I’ve read Sun Tzu and Robert Greene jawns. I don’t agree with everything they penned. I feel like there are some Niccolò Machiavelli ideals tied into a lot of those works.
Some of the laws I agree with, some of them I may not. It all comes down to what type of individual you is.
Ok, let’s do this. I’ll throw a few laws at you and give me your opinion?
Let’s do it.
Well, the first law says, Never Outshine The Master:
I understand where they coming from with it because shit like that can cause jealously. The boss or master whoever, looks at you as a potential threat and may not want to keep you keep you in position closer to him.
You got niggas out here who think like that. So to me, if your boss is like that he ain’t a real boss anyway, he a jealous hearted nigga, you know what I’m saying? But that’s what you dealing with out here in life. But me personally, if I’m on a team with you and you on the head of the team, all the work I’m doing is for us to shine. None of my artists will never have to worry about that because you know, you get big, you making us look good [as a team]. Fuck that, outshine me if you on my team.
I definitely feel you. As a boss you should want someone to surpass you or equal you. Look at Kanye West and Jay Z. Law six says, Court Attention At All Cost.
I feel like it’s good attention and it’s bad attention. If you a rapper, attention can turn into money. The wrong attention will get your ass beat up when a nigga run into you — if you playing with the wrong person. Some niggas forget that.
In the streets, you don’t want attention from the feds. So it’s always different ways that you can look at the laws, and if niggas not smart enough to apply the laws to their life you can get fucked up. ‘Cause if you out here trying to get attention at all times when you in the streets — you inviting the feds.
Lets do one more. Law 11 says, Keep People Dependent On You.
I don’t believe in that one. I believe that if you got good people around you and they put in the work to help get you where you at, everybody should eat. No man should be depended on another man.
In the South, the Yo Gotti name is beginning to sound legendary. In New York, not so much. But, you’ve been around for more than a decade. At this point, in your career what are you trying to accomplish?
First off, I don’t give a fuck about not having attention in certain spaces because they know dollar for dollar — a lot of these rap niggas can’t fuck with me. They know club for club, packing it out, these niggas can’t fuck with me. They know who consistently putting out music, whether it’s mixtapes or albums. I’m going to deliver. So whether they want to accept that or not, they have to respect it because we ain’t going nowhere. That’s how it is. So I don’t be giving a fuck about this shit. We ain’t start this to be worried about what other niggas believe or what other people thought about us.
I’m one of the few artists who started from the ground up for real. Not taking no records to the radio station begging no DJ to play it. When DJs started playing my records they called me for them. I ain’t pull up and ask nobody for nothing, I ain’t pay nobody nothing. I was just making music, living my life and the shit was real.
What have you learned about yourself during this moment in your career?
It’s crazy because it seems like I learn something new everyday — in the studio or out the studio — because I’m a student of the game. I study the best, Jay Z, Diddy, 50 [Cent] — business wise. The business chess moves they make are so strategic. That’s what interests me. I don’t got to study nobody musically because making music is a talent. That’s a gift from God. So whenever I go in the studio, I’m do what I do regardless. I think it’s just different stories between different artists or stories told different ways. But, I’m looking at the chess pieces you move, you know what I’m saying? And I respect that from an executive point or boss point of view.
Speaking of boss moves, how is your restaurant PRIVE doing?
PRIVE is doing great, and we actually giving jobs to the community. Building the community up. It’s an upscale joint. Black owned. It’s great. Man, Ross eat there on the regular, shout out to Ross. My boy Meek Mill came through there. YG came through there. Stevie J and his girl, they was just in there couple days ago. Rico Love was in there the other day. All the NBA players from the town. Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Penny Hardaway. Everybody come to town stop through.
What other ventures are you into?
One thing about me is that I believe in ownership. You see, we own land. We ain’t doing no renting. Most of it, 95 percent of it, is in Memphis. But we trying to build out into the Miami and Atlanta area.
What’s next for CMG?
In 2015, we trying to put out four to five projects under the label between my project. Snootie Wild and Wave Chappell. We may do like Chapter 2, but we want to make it like a physical album this time. You never know, I may come twice this time. Everybody in the studio working. They understand that if this is their hustle, this is what you got to do. And working with somebody like me who never stop working, I’m pretty sure that they’re sure of that.
At the end of the day, this shit is business. Whether it’s with a record label or one of these rap niggas, this shit business. The nigga can be cool with you and it turn into some kind of business at some point. Or it play cool to a certain extent. It’s very few niggas who 100 percent stand up niggas, where you can say, ‘this nigga my partner.’ It’s very few niggas that you can say that about in this game.
Don’t get confused with the, ‘What up my nigga,’ the handshakes, the ‘It’s all love,’ ‘the 100s,’ the ‘we real niggas.’ No nigga, we ain’t shit. Because you’ll be trying to be a real nigga in a fake world. But you still have to remain yourself because if you a real nigga you’ll just have to stand on that and die on that if that’s who you are. But you can be that and know what you dealing with though. That’s what it took me a while to realize. The way I treat niggas or the way I would do certain things, this shit ain’t reverse in this game.