Glass Half Full for Rockaway Rapper
YK Gotti (né Gregory Johns) arrived from his native Guyana just in time for NYC’s historic blizzard of 1996. Then a bright-eyed 6-year-old, the rapper recalls, “It was a crazy snowstorm. I came from this tropical place that only gets rain once a year. I said, ‘what is this?’ It was a big transition.”
An only child, YK Gotti recalls harrowing conditions in the Far Rockaway of his youth. “I had to embrace the environment I was in, not become a victim and carry my own. I kept to myself and felt people out to make sure they were real.” Before the artist went on to find his footing in New York’s unsigned rap scene, he found himself slipping into all-too-prevalent American habits. “Health is wealth,” he urges. “I ate a lot of fast food. Now, I try to work out every day. I lost a lot of body fat that way.” He takes a breath and then admits, “I had an aggressive lifestyle coming up. Being outside in the streets, sometimes you get caught up. Going through those obstacles let me realize that if I kept going down that road, the exit was not going to be a good one. Also I have a little brother to set an example for. At some point I realized I was getting too old to be a knucklehead in the streets. It’s not worth it. You can’t get freedom [that way] and a lot of people don’t have it. So music became my escape.” In a sea of up-and-coming musicians who edit out their true colors, YK Gotti’s candor is compelling. With the sort of telephone voice that makes you wonder if he’s floating on an inflatable flamingo in a crystalline swimming pool, it’s easy to forget that this enterprising transplant to Far Rockaway has hustled non-stop since the Christmas his cousin gifted him a microphone to start recording their freestyle rhymes with his friends. With a DIY European tour under his belt and the pristine branding of his online content, he describes his flow as “fusion,” and comes equipped with a complete package in terms of industry standard music marketing. So, what does it take for an emerging hip hop artist to get signed? “Numbers,” he states flatly. “They’re looking for people who already have a mass following, in addition to already-prepped artistic talent and image. So, you’ve gotta invest in yourself before anybody’s gonna invest in you.” While the likelihood of YK Gotti- or any of us- being trapped in an elevator with hip hop spearheads like 50 Cent or Jay Z are slim-to-none, opportunity could come knocking at any moment. That’s why you’ll never catch stylish YK Gotti with so much as a hair out of place. He explains, “Image is a major key in terms of sponsorships and endorsements. A suit is my normal attire and can open doors. I’m self-managed. At the end of the day I have to make things happen. I’m not looking for a handout; I’m looking for an opportunity.”
Another important component in YK Gotti’s creative process is the fairer sex. “I’m more of a singer than a rapper,” he clarifies. “I like singing music for the ladies. They’re the biggest supporters of music. When I have a recording session, I usually have ladies in the studio. I like to know their feelings about the music. Does it make them dance? Does it touch their souls? I appreciate women in general. I’ve been around the world and women are special everywhere- not only in the Rockaways. My mom inspires me, too. Seeing her grind makes me grind even harder.” The lavish music video for his single “Ballin” features YK Gotti relishing the high life complete with polished luxury vehicles, gleaming women and cascades of bubbly. When asked how many unsigned rappers’ daily lives mirror their public image, the artist isn’t afraid to admit that success within the rap industry relies on a “fake it till you make it” attitude. “Work to make your passion match your paycheck,” he suggests.
As for the “ballin” lifestyle, YK Gotti reassures that it can happen on any scale. “Not everyone is gonna have hundreds of thousands of dollars to ball out with. [Ballin] can be any triumph. Having any sort of money in your pocket, how you look at that budget and treat it, you can be ballin,” he counsels. “You don’t have to drive a foreign or exotic car.” And bicycles? Do they count? The musician laughs, “I have a bike, too. Back in the days in Far Rockaway I had a beach cruiser but now I have a fold up bike,” he chuckles.
“Ballin” is out on Tunes and if you like what you hear, stay tuned for YK Gotti’s "B4thefame" EP due to release later this year.