Artist: Yo Gotti
Album: Back 2 Da Basics
Label: TVT Records
Rating: 7 / 10
You have to admit that calling a more widely marketed release “Back 2 Da Basics” is prone to cause a bit of confusion. Isn’t expanding beyond your natural habitat the exact opposite of going back to the basics? If Yo Gotti, despite all the responsibilities that come with going national, actually succeeds in taking it back to the beginning, more power to him. Don’t ask me whether he succeeds or not, because I wasn’t there to witness the moves he made in the local Memphis scene for the past ten years. I mean, I’m the type of misinformed guy who thinks somebody misspelled the Kurupt alias Young Gotti when he first hears the name Yo Gotti.
That didn’t prevent me from taking an instant liking to last year’s ‘Full Time’ single. Supported by a distorted guitar riff slowly grinding away, Gotti sung the ever-popular praise of the relentless hustler, contrasting his “full-time boss” status to that of his “part-time CEO” competitors: “I’m a part-time rapper, full-time trapper / Cop my own bricks and shit and own my own masters / Done this shit myself so I can get it done faster.” It was hard to argue with the man, especially since his teeth-grinding delivery and dark drawl suggested that the North Memphis native knew very well what he was talking about.
“Back 2 Da Basics” confirms most assumptions one might have after being exposed to this hustler’s anthem (which was also featured in “Hustle & Flow”). The album touches on the expected bases with hired guns and hometown goons, shopping sprees, cock and cat fights, club tracks and – as Oakland rapper Kool Rock Jay dubbed it way before any of you knew of Yo Gotti, John Gotti or any other Gotti – tales from the dope side. Since it’s the thing to do these days, Yo hooks up with Cash Money’s Lil’ Wayne and Baby over a Fate Eastwood beat employing dramatic strings and a Big Tymers sample to relate some of these tales on ‘I Got Them,’ the album’s third single.
Subject matter aside for a moment, it was a pleasant surprise to realize that Yo Gotti is capable of adjusting not just his hustle but also his flow, often rapping in a less rugged tone. Just check his punchy delivery on ‘Where I’m At’ (which at least for this reviewer marks the comeback of producer Slicse Tee, whose credentials include working for Suave House), the detailed appendix to the more general ‘Full Time’:
“I’m in the crack house, I’m at the dope spot
I’m in the hoe house, I’m at the ‘dro spot
I’m at the crap house, I’m on the hoe track
I gotta, I gotta, I gotta bounce back”
Musically, ‘Back 2 Da Basics’ hits the right notes most of the time. One contributor stands out in particular. Carlos Broady, once one of Puffy’s Hitmen, returns to his place of birth, blending right in, be it with the Marvin Gaye-sampling ‘Gangsta Party’ (f. Bun and Ball) or the uptempo ride ‘Spend it Cuz U Got It.’ A graduate of Bad Boy’s drama school, Broady also assists Gotti in his attempts to add a little substance to his song material. Clad in 21st century blues attire, ’25 to Life’ lets you know what it really means to take these penitentiary chances, while ‘A Part of Thugs’ is evidently inspired by Jay-Z’s ‘You Must Love Me,’ using both the same sample and the same apologetic tone:
“I was ruinin’ her dreams by livin’ too wild
She said I need to calm down and act like a man
And my response was like, What the fuck is you sayin’?
Cause I was so caught up into movin’ that white
that I was gone 24-7 at night
And I didn’t give a fuck if I was wrong or was right
cause I was a d-boy livin’ a d-boy life
And she was a school girl slash d-boy wife
And it was in with the wrong and out with the right
Cause she was traffickin’, manufacturin’ drugs
But that was all a part of fuckin’ with thugs”
The album’s most touching song is another Gotti/Broady collabo, ‘We Gonna Be Alright,’ where the rapper takes the opportunity to strenghten his family ties, drawing inspiration from his incarcerated brother. Not all tracks here cut that deep, but the message mostly comes across clear, despite the genre-inherent rhetoric. ‘That’s Not Yo Bitch’ is Gotti’s way of saying that some (if not all) women are independent, while ‘Shawty Violating (Wup That Hoe)’ finds him encouraging hoe-to-hoe mud-wrestling (which I understand can get particularly messy around his way). ‘Cold Game’ is a clear enough warning of the repercussions of living foul. ‘That’s What They Made it Foe’ has a message very similar to ‘Spend it Cuz U Got It,’ but both songs are catchy and clever enough to meet minimum songwriting standards, the former featuring a slightly worried Gotti urging us in the intro, “I paid like 10 bricks for this one, come on!” But hey, let the man spend it, because after all, he got it: “Went from a boxed Chevy to a Box’ Porsche / from a $100 beat to a Scott Storch.”
Saving the worst for last, ‘U a Gangsta Rite?’ and ‘I’m a Thug’ fail to revive the tired discussion about realness, while the closing ‘Warrior’ and ‘Shawty’ are as formulaic as they come, especially ‘Warrior’ being an absolutely inadequate answer to Destiny’s Child’s ‘Soldier’ the way it exclusively focuses on appearances. Ultimately, “Back 2 Da Basics” is insofar a standard Southern rap album in that it has more to offer than most haters would admit, and at the same time falls short in a very fundamental way. But if you’re already down with the South in general or Yo Gotti in particular, there’s little fault to be found here.