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Puma Partner Yo Gotti Gets Candid About His Prison Reform Initiative & Racial Equality

This year has been one to remember for Yo Gotti. When FN spoke with the rapper in February, he was promoting his latest album, “Untrapped,” and celebrating his newfound independence after departing Epic Records with ownership of his masters. And with the help of Roc Nation’s philanthropic wing, Team Roc, he launched a fight against the Mississippi Department of Corrections for what he believes are inhumane conditions inside the Parchman prison.

Gotti was also working at the time with Puma — the brand he signed with in October 2017 — to deliver more product bearing his name before year’s end. Shortly after the rapper visited FN’s New York office, however, the coronavirus landed stateside and put a pause on many of his plans.

In a pair of interviews separated by five months, the rapper discusses how COVID-19 impacted his Puma collaboration and where his ongoing fight for justice and equality stands.

You and Puma are invested separately in prison reform. How do you feel about the brand supporting similar initiatives?

Puma being involved in it is very dope. That’s a brand contributing to a real cause. It’s strong, it’s powerful and it’s fly. I tip my hat to them for supporting things like that.”

What are your goals concerning prison reform?

“We’re taking it one thing at a time. This is personal. It didn’t come from a place of ‘I want to be involved in prison reform.’ It came from seeing the inmates [in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman] and the visuals coming out of that prison and figuring I should do something. I linked up with Team Roc and did something immediately — within a day of seeing the footage, we were taking action, [filing lawsuits, holding rallies]. I wanted to make sure we’re making real change.”

How did COVID-19 impact your progress?

“The whole world paused, so of course it made everything more difficult, but it didn’t change the focus. Coronavirus is such a big topic that it took a lot of attention off of it, but it most definitely didn’t take our fight off of it. We knew we had to fight harder to be heard in the mix of all this stuff going on. The coronavirus made it much worse for the guys in Parchman and all prisons.” [Gotti, Jay-Z and Team Roc filed a class-action lawsuit July 9 on behalf of Mississippi prisoners, against department of corrections commissioner Nathan Burl Cain and health-care provider Centurion due to the poor prison conditions during the pandemic.]

Where do we stand as a country in terms of racial equality?

“Racism still exists. Now, everybody needs to do their part. If you see somebody you know is a racist, maybe you should challenge them and talk to them and try to educate them on why it’s not the smartest or the best thing to be. If everybody just does what they can for the cause, hopefully, we’ll end up in a better position.”

Now that you’ve been with Puma for three years and have already collaborated on a sneaker, what’s next?

It’s like family, and I feel like we share similarities in certain things, like the work in the community, focusing on a lot of givebacks. I’m looking forward to building that more. We already worked on the GV Special and we have been in the works with different collabs. We want to make sure we put the right product into the market, so until we get the right product, we’re just going back and forth with designs and ideas.”

How did the coronavirus alter your latest plans for collaboration?

“The coronavirus delayed everything. We’re still working through it with Puma and figuring out better dates and strategies for how we would do what we were planning to do. I ain’t got exact dates yet. It’s going to be a multifaceted collaboration — footwear and apparel.”

What are your favorite Puma collabs overall?

“The [first] Emory Jones [collection]. He had the sweatsuit that had ‘Bet on Yourself’ on it and the shoe to match. The s**t was so fly. I was in New York when it dropped. I drove to the Foot Locker store in Times Square and bought the whole kit. I had a show in [Philadelphia] that night with Meek Mill and I wore it to the show. My second would be the Nipsey [Hussle] one because they were super fly and I just loved what it stood for: The Marathon.”

Your business portfolio includes a Puma deal, an investment in esports and real estate. Why
are you intent on having several revenue streams outside of rap?

“I’m a hustler. I get a rush from turning anything into something bigger. And I like to diversify. Of course, we all work for revenue, but I don’t think ‘revenue first.’ I think ‘success first.’ If I can take something from one to 10, I know I’m going to get paid when I’m winning. I also think passive income and residual income is more powerful than any one big check.”

Yo Gotti
Rap star Yo Gotti, wearing the Puma RS-X3, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: George Chinsee
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