From stumbling across his I Told U So Gangsta Grillz mixtape in high school when it dropped in 2006 to then digging for older work like his debut album Life (word to the headband), to following his scroll-long list of tapes that came after, one thing has become clear to me about Yo Gotti: consistency is his greatest feat. Sure, you’re not getting anything particularly original from Gotti in the arena of trap music but he always positions himself firmly in the middle of indistinguishable and exceptional; it’s good—seemingly authentic—trap music, but it never jumps out on you. Last year, through RCA/Polo Grounds, he released his major-label debut, Live From The Kitchen, which was essentially a mixtape that just so happened to be on sale at record stores. The production was a slight upgrade from the hood anthology that was his Cocaine Muzik series but its biggest hit was the then three-year-old “5 Star” and it had no progression in insight or overall quality to stamp it as his big arrival. Gotti has since then ended his relationship with RCA and hooked up with the L.A. Reid-ran Epic Records to release his “real” debut to the mainstream, I Am.
“Let me show you how to cook right/This what a millionaire look like” is how the album’s namesake and intro goes with its triumphant production. He scans over the times he was living like he rapped on I Told U So and uses it as anecdotal reference to let you know that you can make it through too. From the opening second you can tell he’s determined to make a grand entrance. “Don’t Come Around” is Yo Gotti 10x with the next-level production and it’s an extension of the intro’s looking back at who was real and who wasn’t. Things decelerate quickly, though. “I Know” features Rich Homie Quan and samples The Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” —something Yo Gotti should steer clear of. “Sorry” is a banger on the production side, but it’s pretty much a woman-hating anthem, which gets stale fast. His recruitment of the mainstream stars of rap’s youngest generation (Meek Mill, J. Cole and Wale) were attempts at hits that took on the personalities of the guest: “Cold Blood” is more struggle and pain rap from J Cole who says shit like “Tears soak the handkerchief” which is all you really need to know. “Respect That You Earn” is another notch on Wale’s corny song for the ladies belt and the Meek Mill-featured “F-U” had Yo Gotti adding speed to his bars to keep up.
The breath of fresh air comes with “Pride To The Side” which is basically his “Song Cry”. Not unfamiliar to Gotti who has had soul-backed confessionals since Back 2 Da Basics’ “We Gonna Be Alright”, it’s the album’s most transparent where he looks back onto a friend becoming addicted to drugs to not being able to look past his long-time girlfriend/mother of his children’s cheating even though he’d done it too. It’s the one moment on the album where things come to a halt, demanding your attention. The mixtape Gotti peaked back out. And it’s not like “This is better because it sounds like his mixtapes” more than it is “Yes, he finally let go, told a story and fucking rapped” which has consistently been his best stuff.
I Am is a really revealing album but not in the content of the music. It places Gotti in this weird space that questions “Can Yo Gotti be a star?” It’s like Carmelo Anthony with basketball; he’s the guy with as much talent as the biggest stars but when it comes to really making an impact with the highest stakes, he falls short. Yo Gotti is kinda like that. Mixtapes, no matter how great they can be, are low risks. There are no sales to worry about, you don’t have to compromise anything musically and you can make as many as you want. So, bad mixtape? No problem, drop another one next month. Most of Yo Gotti’s career has been under those circumstances. He dropped a few really good tapes but mostly, his catalog is just okay. But it doesn’t really matter because little value is put on them and he has a following big enough to keep him going with average material. Live From The Kitchen had good material for a mixtape but as an album it missed the mark of graduating to a higher quality and impact. I Am is Yo Gotti reaching so hard for the impact that it’s suffering in the quality department. Attempts at big hits work against him in songs like “King Shit” and “Act Right” but when he’s unloading without featured artists on “I Am”, “ION Want It” and “Pride To The Side”, the A1 production works in his favor. In dropping a decent, listenable album, he succeeded, but his path at reaching the level of southern artists like Jeezy and T.I. is still a long voyage.