King: Yo Gotti
Crowning Achievement: Live From the Kitchen, which helped return the city of Memphis to prominence in hip-hop.
Predecessor: Three 6 Mafia
Royal Court: Al Kapone, Miscellaneous, Young Dolph, Snipes
Memphis rap artist Yo Gotti first came to local prominence in 2000 with the release of his first full-length CD, From the Dope Game to the Rap Game, but his career had actually begun earlier than that. Growing up in the rough-and-tumble Ridgecrest apartment complex in the Frayser area of Memphis, Gotti first appeared as a member of DJ Sound’s crew, recording a mixtape under the name Lil Yo. Although Memphis was the home of a burgeoning rap movement throughout the 1990s, by the turn of the millennium, its music fortunes were on the wane, with the city’s best-known artists, Three 6 Mafia, moving to the West Coast. Thus, the unexpected success of From the Dope Gameput the spotlight on Yo Gotti, who was the first prominent new Memphis artist not from the Three 6 Mafia camp to emerge in nearly five years.
Gotti’s local popularity was solidified with the release of his second and third albums, Self-Explanatory and Life. Songs featuring Lil Jon, Bun B, and Eightball & MJG began to call attention to him on a national scale. Around the same time, Gotti began to record the series of mixtapes known as Cocaine Music, and launched his label, Cocaine Music Group, introducing his artist Zedzilla.
Unfortunately, Gotti’s rise to fame was not without controversy, including a dispute with Memphis rapper Miscellaneous over a song called “Memphis Walk,” and a high-profile incident in which an up-and-coming Memphis rapper named OG Boo Dirty confronted Gotti and his crew outside a Memphis nightclub, resulting in a shooting. But Gotti’s popularity has continued unabated, and since the release of 2012’s Live From The Kitchen, Yo Gotti can truly be called not only the most successful Memphis rapper today, but a bona fide national rap artist.
While Gotti may be the undisputed King of Memphis, there are other worthy contenders to round out the court, including Miscellaneous and the amazingly versatile Al Kapone, who was arguably one of the founders of Memphis rap back in the early 1990s and probably the only rap artist to perform with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Young Dolph may be the most popular new artist in Memphis, particularly with the teenage set, while Soulman Snipes resonates with an older, more mature crowd. The latter is a truly different, conscious Memphis rapper who often performs with his soul band Nu Session, and was chosen to represent Memphis at the Apollo in Harlem. The hip-hop future of Memphis is beginning to look brighter again. —John Shaw