There is no real hook to Yo Gotti. Sort of like how there are no real hooks to Yo Gotti songs. He’s not larger than life, literally or figuratively; he’s small in stature, a single-minded Southern hip-hop torchbearer. He’s not a brand or a businessman — he’s a rapper. And that’s what made his Tuesday night show at U Street Music Hall so refreshing. For 45 minutes, the Memphis native rapped with the poise of someone who has a passion for being on the mike, not branching out.
That passion may be called into question by people who think he has spent half a decade dragging his feet on “Live From the Kitchen,” the official follow-up to his 2006 album, “Back 2 da Basics.” But it’s just another story of endlessly pushed-back release dates and major label mismanagement. If the delay was owing to RCA Records trying to figure out a formula that would make Gotti a crossover star, it was time wasted. As is often the case, Gotti’s mix tapes (in particular the “Cocaine Muzik” series, which reached six volumes during his purgatory) offer better insight into his personality than a long-delayed album.
After standing indifferently and almost alarmingly silent through a slog of opening acts, the sizable crowd immediately livened up when Gotti hit the stage. He didn’t give it a chance to lose enthusiasm, charging through portions of 30 songs during his set. The pacing was brisk without feeling hurried, and the presence of a live drummer was the kind of minor touch that helped transform songs from perfunctory to punchy. Loud drum snaps served as exclamation points tacked to the end of verses on already-booming club anthems such as “Killa” and “Look in the Mirror.” Gotti is an effective narrator with a sharp, street’s-eye view who avoids cartoonish caricatures.
The audience members who were so comatose just an hour earlier were driven into a tizzy when Gotti launched into his final song, “For the Hood.” The chorus couldn’t be any simpler — “This here for the hood/Now I do it for the hood.” It’s a sentiment that many rappers try to build careers on, but few of them have done it as convincingly as Gotti.