yogotti

“I think it’s good for hip-hop. They having fun,” says Yo Gotti, when questioned about the recent beef between his fellow rap contemporaries, Drake and Meek Mill. Sure, the answer was generic, reeking of an “I’m not touching that” vibe. But on this particular dog day of summer, the only things weighing on the 33-year-old Memphis native’s cranium are the fall season, when his forthcoming The Art of Hustle album drops, the upcoming NBA campaign and the state of his beloved Grizzlies. “We’re one go-to shooter away from going [to the NBA Finals],” surmises the man born Mario Mims, before making a bold prediction. “I think we can go to the Finals.”

Call it bias pride for a Mid-South town that has adapted to the “Grit-N-Grind” mantra as of late. “[Memphis natives] always have to show and prove and work to get our respect,” he says. “We don’t want nothing easy. We gonna put in the work we get.”

The same thing holds true for the 15-year rap vet, who continues his own grind. Having dropped multiple independent albums since 2000, Gotti garnered a buzz that resulted in the release of his first major label debut, Live From The Kitchen, in 2012.

But when Gotti isn’t on tour, it’s not uncommon to see him kicking it with Zach Randolph and other players from the Grizz around Shelby County. “Me, Tony Allen, Gasol—we’re neighbors,” he reveals. “So, if you take a walk around the neighborhood, we’ll bump into each other.”

Another neighbor Gotti runs into is local legend and former Orlando Magic guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. When Gotti and his children aren’t working on their jump shots in Penny’s backyard court, they’re collaborating on the annual Yo Gotti Christmas Carnival, which spreads holiday cheer to underprivileged children in Memphis. “Man, Penny is big out here, he’s super respected,” Gotti says. “He’s done a great job in basketball, but the things he do in the city, people may not know about. He means a lot to the city.”

As does the game of basketball to Yo Gotti. Whether he’s attending the city’s annual summer league, The Bluff City Classic, or games of both the University of Memphis Tigers and, of course, the Grizzlies, Yo is a definite mainstay courtside.

“Man, I come in like the players. I coming up [from] under the tunnel, all that,” he laughs. “I’m sitting like I’m coming off the bench, ya heard me?”

Loud, proud and clear.