Yo Gotti talks about his prison-reform efforts with Jay-Z, recent investment in an esports company, and his upcoming album ‘for young hustlers’

Yo Gotti.

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Yo Gotti.
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Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Roc Nation rapper Yo Gotti spoke to Business Insider last week about his upcoming album, “Untrapped,” which is set for release on January 31, and his recent entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts.
  • We discussed Gotti’s coordination with Jay-Z to help more than a dozen Mississippi prisoners sue the state prison system over its conditions, and his various business investments, including in the esports company FaZe Clan.

In the lead-up to the release of his 10th studio album, the rapper Yo Gotti has been active on several fronts outside of music.

Earlier this month, Gotti and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation record label, helped more than a dozen inmates hire legal representation to file a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections over the conditions of its prisons.

Five prisoners died violently in the state between late December and early this month, deaths which the lawsuit called the “culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect.”

Gotti, whose real name is Mario Giden Mims, spoke to Business Insider at our Manhattan office last week about the lawsuit and his experiences of working with Jay-Z, his label boss at Roc Nation.

We also talked at length about his upcoming album, “Untrapped,” which is set to drop on January 31, and discussed the various business investments he’s made recently, including in the esports company FaZe Clan, and in real estate and commercial efforts in his hometown of Memphis.

Gotti has since announced his eighth annual “Birthday Bash” music event in Memphis, which is scheduled to take place at the FedEx Forum on June 19.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

John Lynch: I wanted to start out with the news of this week. How did the situation in Mississippi first come to your attention?

Yo Gotti: I first started seeing it from fans DM-ing me pictures on social media, and I was like, “What’s this? What’s going on?” Then I started seeing the headlines come out about it, seeing the pictures and everything that was going on. And I was like, “Yo, this is crazy.”

Lynch: So you had the open letter about it with Team Roc. When did you decide, “we should take legal action on this,” that’s the way to move forward on it?

Gotti: The first day I seen the pictures, I started looking into it. Me being from Memphis, Mississippi is like our tri-state area. It’s so close to home. Like it’s several red lights in our city you can go through, and once you pass that red light, you’re in Mississippi. So it’s literally like our backyard. My whole career I grew up coming through that tri-state area. When we first got word of the news and started seeing the pictures, I knew we had to do something immediately. Got with Team Roc, the whole Roc Nation team, who feel just as passionate, and the situation is just as important to everybody over there, too, and we decided to take action.

Lynch: And you’re in the room with Jay for these discussions. He’s been increasingly using his voice to shine light on this type of stuff. What have you taken away from his approach to making change happen?

Gotti: I respect him because he stand up for what he believe in, which I think every man should. You know, things that’s important to you, things you passionate about, you should fight for it.

Lynch: At the same time, you’re having conversations with this billionaire mogul. What have you taken away from him about what moves to make in business?

Gotti: I mean, having a conversation with a hustler, you know what I’m saying? Which I think is one of the greatest talents anyone can have. The talent of hustle. Just to be in the room and to seek knowledge from him. And I’ll be able to ask questions, whether it’s in general questions or if it’s more personal business questions, and get his intake on it. It’s valuable as a friendship and a business relationship.

yo gotti

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Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Lynch: You’ve made an investment in FaZe Clan, an esports company, as esports is rapidly growing. What drew you to that? Why esports, and that company in particular?

Gotti: Well, I think esports is like a big thing. It’s only growing, and it’s going to be an even bigger thing. And I think FaZe Clan is the best team. You know, I think they’re the coolest team, the most cultural team. If you look, I think they got the coolest players, the most influence. Like if one of our FaZe Clan players was to tweet out, “I’mma be at this location,” you have thousands of fans out there in seconds. It’s the same influence as hip hop and musicians. They line up. So culturally, I just think FaZe Clan the best brand.

Lynch: Do you have any talent for video games? I’m trash at it personally.

Gotti: [Laughs]. I grew up playing the games, man, back when it was just Nintendos and Sega Genesis. They way more advanced nowadays, but that was a big thing. I remember when we couldn’t afford to get the game. When all we wanted was the Sega Genesis, or something like that, for Christmas, you know what I’m saying? Just that one item. So to see how the whole gaming world has changed and everything. You know, I slide in my little son room from time to time, pick up the joystick, and see if I can give him a few rounds.

But I’ve actually been playing the games more, though, being involved with FaZe Clan. Actually being involved with FaZe Clan and the energy around them, being at the office and around the players, ’cause I’m actually cool with the players, like I’m in the community with them. This ain’t just like a blind investment type thing. I really rock with the players and the brand hard, so I’m around, it’s like a family. We go to games together, Rams games and, you know, be at the house, the mansion, chillin’.

Lynch: I know you have local investments in Memphis as well. How have you been looking at that?

Gotti: Yeah, real estate, commercial and residential, we’re involved in. Whether it’s flipping houses or fix some up and rent some out, to the restaurant business. We got so many things going on. I’m just hustling, man.

yo gotti

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Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Lynch: “Pose,” man. Judging by the cars driving in Brooklyn by my apartment, it seems like it’s moving. How have you seen that move as a single?

Gotti: Yeah, I like it. I like “Pose” a lot. I’m gearing up to drop an album, which “Pose” will be on there. “Put a Date” will be on there. Lot of more bangers.

Lynch: I mean, 10 albums in, right?

Gotti: That many?

Lynch: I think [laughs]. That’s what I counted. 10 studio.

Gotti: I would have thought more. I don’t know. I can’t even keep count, man.

Lynch: How has your approach changed to the buildup to that, the release of a project?

Gotti: Well, the game changed a little bit with the process of how you put an album out. Like I said, “I’m going to drop an album this month,” right? And I can not know the date today, and it could literally come out this month, and it’s going to come out this month. That’s how the game changed. Years ago, you couldn’t do that. You needed three, four months ahead of time just to roll it, just to put the album out.

Lynch: Does that affect your creative process at all?

Gotti: Nah. Actually, it gives you more time on it, you know what I’m saying. You could be in the studio longer into the last minute, adding or changing, if that’s what you want to do.

Lynch: What about your approach personally? Are you coming in with 40 songs? Narrowing it down to say, “I want these”?

Gotti: 50.

Lynch: 50?

Gotti: 50 to 60. That’s always the hardest part of my albums, ’cause I record so many songs, and I don’t record in albums cycles. Some people take off recording cycles, but I record year round. I believe that like, as a hustler, you know, how I’m a musician with no music? You get what I’m saying? Ain’t no off days. I don’t take off on no businesses I do. So I’m in the studio all the time, with so many records, and I guess it’s a good problem when it come down to it. You’re trying to just pick like what’s the 12 or 14 best out of 60. But it’s a hard decision.

Lynch: What did you bring to this album that’s different from what you’ve wanted to put out before?

Gotti: I think my messaging in this album is going to be very strong. The space I’m in today, the space I’ve been in in the last six to eight months, the things I’m talking about on the album. I just think it’s gonna be a strong message, really, for young hustlers. You’re a young hustler, you’re a young boss, this album really for you. Or you want to be a boss one day, this the project that’s for you.