Yo Gotti has weathered his benchwarmer status with dogged persistence, releasing four independent albums and eight mixtapes over the last decade, turning in dutiful cameos whenever rap superstars beckoned, and then going back to his grind in the Southern gangsta scene. Naturally, patience is where the Memphis-based rapper’s saint-like qualities begin and end: He’s a rapper in the mold of Too $hort and Bun B, and he’s as likely to brag about his prowess as a coke slinger as he is to give an X-rated account of his last visit to the strip club. And as easy as it is to admire the MC’s drive, you can’t exactly say the major labels were wrong to pass on him year after year. His flow is solidly in the “functional” tier of similarly street-oriented rappers like Wacka Flocka and Young Jeezy, but he’s at an even greater deficit of charisma than either.
Yo Gotti’s best single to date is “Women Lie, Men Lie,” where he’s carried along by a surging beat and a hypnotic hook. The few worthwhile songs on Live from the Kitchen replicate that formula, lacing pitched-up vocals around his barks and mutters, then looping some kind of vocal sample for a hook. “Killa,” “Letter,” and the Ciara-featuring single “We Can Get It On” all observe those rules to a greater or lesser extent, effectively reducing Yo Gotti to a supporting role, where he can inject a harsh physical presence into a free-standing production that would otherwise feel too anonymous. The only purpose these tracks serve is to showcase an expensive sound system, not a talented rapper.
It’s hard to say the same thing about the rest of the album, throughout which Tepid Lex Luger knockoffs and one actual, only marginally better, Lex Luger track take turns flattening Yo Gotti with their gothic synths and pummeling drums. Rick Ross is capable of shaking some life into otherwise subpar bangers, so I found myself rooting for him as he stepped up to deliver a guest verse on “Harder,” but even he was pretty much powerless against such a limp track. Near the end of the album, Big K.R.I.T. gets caught in what strikes me as his most egregious misstep to date, producing a posse cut with Big Sean, Wale, and Wiz Khalifa, but doing so by way of a juvenile electro-pop track that sounds far better suited for a performer like Chris Brown, which is to say, someone courting teeny-boppers rather than thugs. As with so many of the tracks on Live from the Kitchen, the material isn’t good, and Yo Gotti doesn’t strain himself trying to save it.