Memphis is not the first town that springs to mind when one considers the state of Southern rap—for the longest time it was home to Three 6 Mafia and its immediate circle, and not much else. But the city boasts a vibrant scene, balanced on a dichotomy of heavy insularity and an earnest desire for national exposure. Perhaps no rapper better represents this push and pull than Yo Gotti, a Memphis stalwart rolling into town this week.
Though he’s a practitioner of the trap-rap style on which Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane rose to global renown, Gotti is more measured. He raps in an understated, jagged slur that conflates some syllables and extends others; a listener slowly gets sucked into his cadence, molasses-like in its consistency. Unlike Jeezy’s penchant for preacher-style immediacy, Gotti is a slow burner. He feels no pressure to scream himself hoarse; he anchors a track like the eye of the storm, letting harsh synths and sharp hi-hats whir past at a dizzying pace.
Still, after years of building support in Memphis, Yo Gotti is ready to shove off. Live from the Kitchen, his long-awaited debut album, features attention-grabbing names like Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Wiz Khalifa. But “Killa,” its best cut, presents Gotti as he likes to be: Alone and pensive, he goes into full-on Tupac “righteous thug” mode, engaging with an icy vocal sample in ways that lesser rappers would eschew. It’s a testament to Gotti’s ability to imbue his music with gravitas, a skill that can—and should—transcend region.—Drew Millard