The customary “new year, new me” pledge behind most New Year’s rituals often looks like unusually crammed gyms, newly-organized office space, or a sweep of Instagram unfollows.
Yo Gotti’s version of this pledge looks much different because it doesn’t take on any specific look or behavior at all. Instead, it materializes in a mentality required for any self-avowing pledge, which dawns upon his first musical entry of the new decade, Untrapped.
The album emerged on Friday (Jan. 31) as the Memphis-hatched artist’s tenth studio album. Inspired by a shift in Gotti’s homegrown hustler’s mentality, the album displays his cognitive growth in a palpable way. Though he acknowledges this shift didn’t happen overnight, his decision to flip the name from its original working title, Trapped, did. “I woke up one day and I felt like I was no longer trapped,” Gotti shares with me from the backseat of his Cadillac Escalade. “When I came up with the title ‘Trapped,’ I was going through a lot of personal stuff. There were a lot of things in 2018 that had me in a trapped mentality.”
Gotti has witnessed several manifestations of this psychological imprisonment where he’s from, like the possession of a $100,000 car, but a $20,000 home, he expounds. The fashion statement of a $6,000 purse, but an unpaid phone bill. Backward priorities are only but a fraction of the project’s theme— a theme that’s strategically interwoven through the tracklist’s architecture. The intro track, “Trapped,” confines the listener within the aforementioned mind frame.
“The things I’m talking about on that record are things like buying yourself a Cuban [link chain] and a Rollie before you buy yourself a house,” Gotti explains. “It’s just being in that trapped mentality that’s in the hood.”
As the album unfolds track by track, the trapped mentality unravels string by string down to the unveiling of the final and title track, “Untrapped.” The song opens with a shout-out to the late and great Nipsey Hussle, whose entrepreneurial blueprints are cherished far and wide among his fans, and whom Gotti credits as the inspiration behind the single.
“I’m just saying sh** like how we fight over blocks that we don’t even own,” Gotti adds. “It’s like me waking up and maturing. So, we’re just showing people one mindset to the next.”
By this virtue, the journey of Untrapped authenticates Gotti’s street dictum while amplifying his lyrical facility in a way not previously seen in his discography. The album purposes vulnerability and introspection in the same vein as his 2017 I Still Am and 2015’s Concealed. It sets the tones for authority and grandeur found in 2016’s Art of Hustle and his Cocaine Muzik series of the earlier 2000s.
But, uniquely, Untrapped feels much more specific and targeted in its motive to educate and elevate the streets in a way that deviates from those projects. Gotti’s ear for permeating production and variant tempos excel in singles like “H.O.E. (Heaven On Earth)” and the Lil Baby-assisted “Put A Date On It.” Beat-hugging bars fulfill the flow of “Know Yo Worth” and a bass-absorbent cadence sustains “Battle” with CMG enlister, Blac Youngsta. The didactic “Big Homie Rules,” which Gotti heralds as his favorite, flies young street warriors and rap artists beneath his wing without alienating his audience with preachiness.
“It’s a message that needs to be out here right now,” he says. “It’s basically me talking to all of the streets and the lil homies out there. I’m putting the rules out there of what a big homie should be. I want them to listen to it and take it in. Do they really have big homies? The one you call your big homie, is he really giving you the game? Is he really giving you the information you should be having or is he misleading you? If you’re misleading the little homies, you ain’t no real big homie to me.”
Gotti’s carefully selected features are testaments of his organic appeal to versatile audiences as well. Rick Ross’ grit perfectly tops off the menacing “Dopechella.” In the album’s softer cuts, Ty Dolla $ign shows up for the R&B portion while Gotti dug deep in the vault for British singer-songwriter gem, Estelle on the soul-driven “Untrapped.” The heavy presence of hip-hop’s newest class of glowing pupils, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Uzi Vert, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Lil Baby and Blac Youngsta, was one of the album’s more deliberate chess moves.
“I like how a lot of them stick together,” Gotti says of the new generation. “I feel like they understand that you can get money together without having to compete with each other. They print money every day, and ain’t nobody gonna get it all. It’s enough for everybody. I also like that they’re willing to try different and new things.”
Never too arrogant to take lessons from the youth, experimentation and innovation are the main goals for Gotti’s 2020 mental outlook. His latest off-wax venture ironically connects to the very anti-incarceration stance that Untrapped takes on, but in a literal sense and with major headline attention: “Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are behind a lawsuit targeting Mississippi prison conditions (CNN).”
Gotti explains that this territory isn’t all unfamiliar to him given his proximity to prison culture throughout his childhood where he visited incarcerated friends and family members. But through his exposure to the depths of Mississippi’s prison system, which fuels Gotti and Team Roc’s action plan to grant legal representation for prisoners facing inhumane treatment and conditions, he decries what he’s discovered.
“What’s happening in Mississippi is just unacceptable,” he says. “They’re treating prisoners like they’re not even humans. There’s no electricity in the building and no heat. There’s no food. There’s rats, roaches, mold, and feces on the floor. I think up to 10 people died inside of that prison. That ain’t normal.”
Thus, Untrapped embodies several forms of liberation for Yo Gotti outside of a lyrical sense, including altruism, abolition and philanthropy for all. If you’re a Gotti fan evolving with the times, it may land as the ultimate opus for you too. If you’re just a gangsta with a story, as in the words of Gotti’s “More Ready Than Ever,” let Gotti tell it for you.
(Photos: Nabil Elderkin)