First things first: The music business is still on an extended holiday break from releasing almost any actual music. Next week is the first week in what feels like forever that more than one worthy-of-consideration album will be in stores. And during a busier week, Live From The Kitchen, the new album from Memphis rapper Yo Gotti, probably wouldn’t stand the remotest chance of appearing in this space; it’s not exactly a major work. Still, slow release weeks can lead us to consider records that might otherwise fly way under the radar. And Live From The Kitchen, it turns out, is a perfectly solid major-label rap album. How often do we get to hear those anymore?
The mere existence of Live From The Kitchen is some kind of minor miracle. Gotti has been a casualty of the major-label system for a long time. His last studio album came out almost six years ago. Gotti is mostly a mixtape artist now; his Cocaine Muzik series is currently seven volumes deep. “5 Star,” the first single from this album, is nearly three years old, and it features appearances from a still-dominant Gucci Mane and a not-yet-famous Nicki Minaj; her verse here, actually, was one of the first real indicators that she was a star in the making. For just about forever, then, Gotti has belonged to a depressingly populous species: The regional-favorite rapper who can’t get a release date, who cranks out single after single in the vague hope that one will hit hard enough that someone at his label notices. Live From The Kitchen is now reaching stores with zero promotion, like the people at RCA just decided to cut their losses, knowing that Gotti wouldn’t have a whole lot of competition during a dismal release week. And yet, despite its low-priority status and its pieced-together origins, Live From The Kitchen still manages to be a cohesive hard-stomping effort.
As a rapper, Gotti is a solid B-list type. His voice is a strained, throaty drawl that comfortably sits in the pocket of beats, content to talk tough and issue general threats. When Gucci Mane was on his world-conquering 2008 mixtape run, Gotti appeared alongside him on many of his key tracks, playing tough-guy foil to Gucci’s pill-gobbling eccentric. And throughout Live From The Kitchen, Gotti stays very much in his own lane, favoring the same regionless synth-string churn throughout. It’s a sound that fits him perfectly well no matter what he’s talking about. Even “Second Chance,” the relationship song, and “Letter,” the emotive dedication to dead relatives, carry the same deep-head-nod pound as the ones where he brags about selling tons of drugs, and even the attempted radio hits have that same low-end thud. And even though Gotti may be a consummate Southerner, he sounds perfectly at home next to on-fire New York stalwart Jadakiss on “Red White And Blue”; after all, both of them are survivors in a landscape that’s become inhospitable to tough-guy rappers. The only track where Gotti really leaves his comfort zone is “Go Girl,” a lightweight collab with internet-rap upstarts Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., Big Sean, and Wale; Gotti just sounds uncomfortable next to these guys.
There used to be a whole lot more albums like this. Live From The Kitchen reminds me of largely unheard, unappreciated early-’00s Southern-rap B-list albums from guys like Petey Pablo or the Youngbloodz. Beyond their singles, these albums tended to be easy to ignore, since the artists behind them never displayed a whole ton of artistic ambition. But if you actually gave them time, those albums often had a ton of effective hard-charging bangers on them. That’s Live From The Kitchen. It won’t change your life, but it might give you something to bellow along to when you’re on your morning commute.
Live From The Kitchen is out now on RCA.