Yo Gotti - XXL Digital Cover

Images: Johnny Tergo for XXL  Interview: Georgette Cline

Pressure's OnFor nearly a decade, Yo Gotti has been building his CMG empire from the ground up. Armed with a new Interscope Records deal for his imprint, the Memphis native is leaning into his executive position with a stacked roster of talent.

Look no further than Yo Gotti as the plug. He’s hustling to find hip-hop’s next big talent and distributing their music to the masses through his independent label, CMG, by way of a newly established partnership with Interscope Records. The deal, which the Memphis native reveals he secured for eight figures, will highlight the “biggest label” and “biggest partnership in music” over the next few years, he says. To commemorate this milestone in his career, Gotti heads to the top of the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles to the Smilez mansion, a 17,000 square-foot estate designed by architect Paul McClean, which the rapper used for his XXL cover shoot on a dazzling day in May. The mood is celebratory not only for the CMG/Interscope bag secured, but also because of the surprise 40th birthday party Gotti had the night prior. With CMG artists Blac Youngsta, 42 Dugg and EST Gee popping in and out of the mansion as well as several members of the the indie label’s crew handling business on the outdoor terrace, it’s clear that the label operates as a close-knit unit. Gotti oftentimes refers to them all as “one family, one tree.”

Yo Gotti - XXL Digital Cover

Images: Johnny Tergo for XXL  Interview: Georgette Cline

Since coming into the game in 1996, with his debut album, Youngsta’s on a Come Up, Yo Gotti has experienced 25 years worth of music industry ups and downs. The hustler within went from navigating the streets to the boardroom, securing major label deals with RCA Records and Epic Records throughout his career. Ten albums deep, the launch of CMG in 2013, and locking in a Roc Nation deal for management in 2016, is a testament to his artistry. The rap veteran’s time in the game has schooled him on more than two decades of knowledge that he’s been able to pass on to the artists coming up under his wing: Moneybagg Yo, Blac Youngsta, Blocboy JB, 42 Dugg, EST Gee and Big Boogie. His roster of artists have established themselves as their own entities, living up to Gotti’s CMG ethos: “The brand that breaks brands.” Bagg just locked in the first No. 1 album of his career with A Gangsta’s Pain, Youngsta is building up his own Heavy Camp label, Blocboy brings his high energy with each release, 42 Dugg serves his sauce out of Detroit, EST Gee delivers the raw from Kentucky and Big Boogie is next up from Memphis. Their respective catalogs and legion of supporters they’ve amassed along the way have helped them maintain their position in hip-hop.

As Yo Gotti walks around the West Hollywood estate, he commands a room with his executive aura. The hip-hop power player is dripping in a custom powder blue suit designed by Richfresh, Richard Mille watch, Christian Dior sneakers and his artists’ iced-out chains along with a CMG piece around his neck. While the camera is in his direction, he makes it a point to share the spotlight with his team by the simple act of rocking those chains. The next chapter in the CMG regime is unfolding right now. Get into the conversation as Yo Gotti discusses the CMG/Interscope Records partnership, his hands-on approach to being an executive, staying inspired by the likes of Birdman, Slim and Jay-Z, and touting his label as “the next Cash Money.”

XXL: Why are you excited about this partnership between CMG and Interscope Records?

Yo Gotti: I think this a good move for me. I think this a brilliant move for them. I think with this partnership, as far as I see it in my eyes, and the streets see it, and I think Interscope see it, we gon’ come in here in the next few years and, you know, be the biggest label and create the biggest partnership in music.

So as a businessman, what was really important for you in negotiating this deal?

As a businessman, I cover all business the same, small or big, it’s all the important to me. Key things is making sure we in control of our vision. CMG, with me and with my artists’ vision, I feel like I’m responsible to make sure that we always got 100 percent control of what our vision is, individually as artists and as a label, so that’s very key. Making sure we lose no control; we will never comprise any control for us or none of our artists ever. And also, just being with the right partnas. And I believe and I know that Interscope got the right staff to slam dunk all our tasks that need to happen.

Over the years, you had the RCA Records deal, you had an Epic Records deal. So, after your contract was up with Epic, did you have a bunch of other labels come at you and how did you handle that in going to Interscope?

We had every label in the game coming towards, every chairman in the game coming to me, calling my phone directly. This wasn’t no little thing. This a big deal, you know I’m saying? The top of the top had to come out and make that phone call to have these type of discussions. You know, we like the No. 1 draft pick if it was the NBA. So, you know what that mean, everybody gonna put their best foot forward. They gonna put their money where their mouth at and they are gonna make sure they have the right people to have the conversation.

Do you want to give some type of number as far as how this deal goes, any figures?

It’s a lot, a lot, you know I’m saying? We ain’t doing no shit under eight figures and we ain’t talking no ones or twos, you know?

Johnny Tergo for XXL
Johnny Tergo for XXL

As far as artists on the label, which artists are under CMG and why is it important for you to have made this partnership to have these artists on this other type of platform?

When you talking about all the artists that fall up under the CMG umbrella, you talking Moneybagg Yo, you talking 42 Dugg, EST Gee, Blocboy JB, Blac Youngsta, you talking Yo Gotti. Who else we got? We got a lot of development artists too, some on the line we can’t even name yet…

Big Boogie… Lil Migo on the team [under Blac Youngsta]. Then it’s branches. You know, at CMG, we got branches. I think that’s the unique thing about us. I like to say we the brand that breaks brands. What I mean by that, when I say we got branches, you got Moneybagg Yo, you know I’m saying, which is his own branch. We have partnership with my guy Head at NLess [Entertainment] and they got they thing with Big30. All that shit a branch. We all a family, you know I’m saying? Then you got Blac Youngsta, which is Heavy Camp, you know, that’s a branch. That’s how you get [Lil] Migo in the picture, you know I’m saying?

So, we the brand that break brands. We partnas with everybody and we hustle together. It’s like one big family, one big tree. This ain’t no regular label shit where artists come in and just sign a paper and go in the studio and rap. It’s like a lot of hustlers coming to the table and partnering together and putting they vision on the table and we all building this thing together.

Early on, you signed a lot of artists from Memphis and now you’ve decided to branch out to 42 Dugg in Detroit and EST Gee in Louisville, Ky. So, talk a little about why that was important to start in Memphis and then look around the U.S. and globally for the next hot artists.

First, for the record, I think there was a misconception that I was trying to build something just in Memphis. I’m just from Memphis. So, if you got a hot artist coming from Memphis, that’s the shit I heard first, you know I mean? I can not hear Moneybagg Yo coming up hot as he was. I can not hear what Blac Youngsta was doing. I can not hear what Big Boogie was doing when I’m going to the clubs in my city.

So, I think that just happened ’cause I’m from the city. I don’t think it was a plan to say, “I just want to start with Memphis artists.” I’ll hustle with anybody. Man, you could be from Mars. You a true hustler, and you got the shit we need, the right product, man, we in business. I think that’s a little misconception, but I’ll take it ’cause I’m from the town, alright, I’m from Memphis, so I think it’s still unique. We always want to build the city as far as we can go. But you know, I’m a worldwide hustler.

“The future for CMG? We the next Cash Money. We the next Roc-A-Fella. We the next Death Row. We the next No Limit. That’s the future for us.”

One of your successful artists, who recently had a No. 1 album, who’s been in the game for a while is Moneybagg Yo. Congratulations to him, of course, and to you as the leader of the team with that. So how does that feel just seeing someone like him work so hard in the industry and he finally got his No. 1?

Seeing Moneybagg Yo album, [A Gangsta's Pain] being No. 1 in Billboard, not only once, but twice because it was just No. 1 [again in May]. We take a small break and we celebrate me, him, my partna Head at NLess, the whole team, everybody on the staff ’cause everybody put in work, Interscope. Everybody put in a lot, a lot of work to make this shit happen. So, we gonna stop for a minute, pop a few bottles and chill, and then I’ma hit everybody else the next day and be like, “Yo, let’s get back to it ’cause this shit ain’t enough.”

A No. 1 album is cool, but we still got more barrels we got to knock down, you know I’m saying? Not to take away from nothing we’ve done, but the vision is so big and so great for all of us that it ain’t the end goal. That one chart position ain’t the end goal. We got to do this shit every time. What’s the next chart, what's the next thing we can break? What’s the next record? That’s how we think.

And the other artists on the CMG team are making moves, too.

Speaking on Blac Youngsta, you know, that’s my little brother, man. He was able to come up under the wing and, you know, I gave him all the game and information he needed to create his branch. His branch is Heavy Camp. [Blac Youngsta is still signed to Epic Records.] So, speaking of Lil Migo, which is [Blac Youngsta’s] artist, that falls up under that branch. He doing his thing. He hustling, he in the studio, he building his company and again, it’s all at the table.

42 Dugg, shout-out to doggie, man. I think 42 Dugg, like megastar, you know I’m saying, just a natural. I don’t know if he fully know it, you know, how big of a star he is yet. You talking about swag, and you talking about just charisma and delivery, he’s one of ones, he one of them guys. I’m very excited to see what he gonna become in the future.

EST Gee like remind me of what I was doing and what Jeezy was doing, and you know, what Boosie [BadAzz], and all those guys that really, really come from the pavement with doing in this shit years and years ago. When I first heard Gee, I’m just looking, I’m like, man, that shit take me back to that era. I think when we see Gee prevail into what he’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a whole different momentum that the game need right now, you know I’m saying? I’m a fan of the hip-hop and everything he’s doing now, but I just think what Gee doing is just, I think it’s another word that’s rawer than the word raw, and that’s what he is, you know I’m saying?

BlocBoy JB, you know, he just make me want to have fun, you know I’m saying? When I listen to the music, when I see the dance moves, just a young kid waking up every day just basically living his life, being organic to what he doing, him and his homeboys running around the house, doing they thing, making music, having fun and, you know, and it becomes something that’s special to hip-hop. You know, that’s dope.

Big Boogie. I can’t wait ’til the world sees what Big Boogie is. I feel like the world ain’t seen Big Boogie’s full potential yet. I feel like he’s just coming up out of our area, the south region. But once he hit the whole states and then out the world, I think Boogie is just special. He has a sound of his own.

So, what are you looking for when welcoming artists to be part of the CMG team?

I’m looking for talent. I’m looking for determination. I'm looking for hustle. I’m looking for hustlers. There’s a difference, you know I’m saying? I’m most definitely looking for the right partnas. It’s like I’m a plug, and who I’m in business with, who I’m distributing through, so that’s how I look at it. I want to make sure I’m with the right partnas… like look at me as a plug. Feel me? Y’all should look at me as the plug.

How does your knowledge as an artist and experience as an artist help you now in this executive role?

How it helped me as an artist helped me be an executive, which makes me a better executive, is that I understand the artist from a different level. Some of these executives that’s running these companies, they don’t understand the artist. That’s why sometimes there’s always a misunderstanding or they not aligned properly because the artist don’t understand the executive and the executive sometimes don’t understand the artist. I’m able to be on both fields because I play both seats. I was a artist first. So, I really understand the artist.

So, I think sometimes if a artist can’t even communicate what it is they trying to get out to a label sometimes, you know, I understand that and I can help them deliver that. But most importantly, I just understand the artist, so I think it always give me a tighter bond with the artist. And I respect the artist, so I’m never gon’ do sucker shit, no foul shit, no dishonorable things, you know, even for money or for business or for nothing, because I respect the artistry first.

You are very, very hands-on with everything, even from press releases, you are looking at that stuff. What are you doing with each of these artists from rollouts to cover art?

Johnny Tergo for XXL

Johnny Tergo for XXL

I’m super hands-on with everything in this business, with everything in my company, with every artist I’m hands-on. There ain’t a marketing plan going out on one of my artists that I’m not involved in, it ain’t a promo schedule that goes out on one of my artist that I’m not involved in, it ain’t artwork, it ain’t mixing and mastering, it ain’t nothing that I’m not involved in.

And understand when I say that, you know, the artists make the decision on they music and how they shit looks and the aesthetics of it. But you know, it ain’t we just passing it off to a label or nothing like that. I’m making sure we crossing all the T’s, dotting all the I’s and everything is right. I’m staying up 4, 5 in the morning making sure that shit be the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t sleep. This a 24-hour thing to me.

Who are some of the people in the game that you’ve looked up to that got you to this point?

I look up to Birdman and Slim first. I like to give those guys a lot of credit because they were the first ones that allowed me in the room on a high level. They allowed me to be around certain conversations, around certain phone calls. I’ve traveled with them around a lot of places. So, I think it started with Birdman and Slim. Of course, you know my relationship with Jay[-Z]. It’s like mentorship on a whole ’nother level not even just music, just business in general.

I think them guys is close, but, you know, the Puffs, shout-out to J. Prince, and everybody. I studied ’em even if I weren’t able to work closely to ’em, I studied ’em so I feel like I was close to ’em. I studied everything about ’em. I watched everything they done. What I think they done right, what I think they done wrong. So, I prepped myself for this position. I spent a lot of time and I prepped myself for this shit. Whether they opened the doors and gave me the game or I just studied everybody's moves and watched everything ’cause I knew 10, 15 years ago, I knew I would be sitting in this seat, so I had to prep myself for this shit.

What is your goal with CMG and this new partnership? What is your vision when you signed that the dotted line?

My vision for CMG at this point is expansion. When I say expansion, that’s from not only just from a artist standpoint, that’s from staff, that’s from office, you know, building out multiple offices in different cities, you know, try to take this thing international. Maybe have offices international and expansion in general. I understand this shit is teamwork.

Everything ain’t just artists, you know? It’s just a big part of it, but you got to have the right team. You got to have the right infrastructure. You need the right energy around. You need the right players. You need the right drivers. That shit is super important to me, so I’m investing a lot. I’m investing a lot in just in that, in staff, in team and in infrastructure.

Who are some of those people that helped CMG to be the brand and label that it is right now?

There’s a lot of people that helped me. A lot of people helped me. I don’t really want to get into too many of the names because I don’t want to leave nobody out, you know I’m saying? But that shit is super important. To the team, to the family, everybody that play their part, they are dearly appreciated. I value, value them a lot.

You mentioned it a little bit before, about the motto of CMG, but for yourself, what is the life motto that you’re currently living and how are you living up to it as the leader of the CMG brand?

My life motto is we don’t lose, we win by any means. We don’t quit, we don’t give up, we don’t give excuses, we get shit down. I live by that code. If you work for me, you have to live by that code. I don’t want to hear how shit is fucked up. We’re human, it’s fucked up, cool, fix it. Keep pushing, we ain’t spending a whole lot of time on that shit, we gotta get it done.

Who are you calling to get advice in the game? Are you calling Jay-Z? How do those conversations go?

I’m a person I ain’t too proud to ask questions. I think that the most valuable thing you can do is receive information. I try to learn something every day. I don’t ever run around claiming I think I know everything. So, I don’t got no issue with picking up the phone and calling people for advice. Desiree [Perez] at Roc Nation, Jay-Z, anybody, according to what the information is I need, I pick up the phone and call whoever.

You don’t even got to be a close person that I talk to every day. If I just think you have information about the subject that I’m tryna get an answer to, I’ll track you down. “Y’all, give me such-and-such number, I read two, three years ago when he done this shit like this here. I need to ask him about that.” And I hit him, “Yo, this Gotti. I’m looking at this and that and I wanted to get your take on this.” I don’t got no pride when asking for help or for information.

How do you handle a situation where there's a conflict or something doesn’t go right that you plan? How does the CMG team, how do you handle it?

When it comes to conflicts, I think I handle them well. I try to handle most of them professionally as possible. But, you know, depending on what type of conflicts it is, but I also think it’s part of life. Really, the culture I come from, we have to deal with conflicts all the time. So, I ain’t no person that’s under pressure at no point with conflict. Conflicts only make me sharper almost. It make me dial into the situation a little more. I go through conflicts, I think it’s a part of life, I think it’s a part of business. If it's an in-house conflict, a business conflict, we try to handle it as respectful as possible. And if it’s amongst family, you know the code to that, you nah mean, we handle that shit in the house. Don’t nothing ever come out.

What are you most proud of within what you’ve built so far with CMG? Is it a certain artist that you have found and they became much bigger? Or was it building the brand literally when you started it in 2013?

What I’m most proud of, of what we doing with CMG is that just to see what we doing and the branches that’s coming off [what] we doing. Like I like to say, we the brand that build brands. When I see my vision evolving more and more, higher and higher, and wider and wider, to me, that’s one of the trophies of this shit.

Johnny Tergo for XXL
Johnny Tergo for XXL

Is there a business person that you look up to?

Business people I look up to, it’s many of ’em. It can go far as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to Jay-Z, that’s our Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, you feel me? It can go down to a hustler from my city who I know put in a lot of work in the streets and beat the system. He’s somewhere right now living in the suburbs with his family and started a business and transformed his shit without going to the federal penitentiary. I look up to him too. It’s a wide range.

The chains you are wearing are very significant, representing each of your artists and their brands. Why is it important to wear all of them today?

CMG, we the brand that break brands. You know, I look at all my artists like, you know, they my business partnas. And if they have brands, I support that, you know I’m saying? We all a team. Whatever my artists with, that’s what I’m with, you nah mean? Whatever my partnas with, that’s what I’m with. That’s how I am rocking, that’s how I was raised, that’s how I was taught. I wore these chains today on this cover ’cause I think it’s important to me that if I’m closing big deals, they closing big deals. We all closing big deals.

These chains represent all my artists. They represent all my partnas. One of these chains represents EST Gee. I got Bread Gang up under here for Moneybagg Yo, I got Heavy Camp on here for Blac Youngsta, BlocBoy JB on here, CMG on here, NLess on here. I’m just rocking all the chains ’cause anybody that’s at the table with us, that’s what I’m representing on this cover. Look at me as the plug, I’m just a plug, you know I’m saying?

What does the future of CMG look like?

The future for CMG? We the next Cash Money. We the next Roc-A-Fella. We the next Death Row. We the next No Limit. That’s the future for us.

Johnny Tergo for XXL (Click to Enlarge)
Johnny Tergo for XXL (Click to Enlarge)

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