There’s a slew of rappers who’ve come out of humble beginnings to become big stars and successful business people. But some have done it by delivering lyrics about drug dealing and shooting folks while telling street tales that are usually more glorified than denounced.
An online debate is brewing after Yo Gotti’s image was featured on a billboard to promote the Shelby County School system in Memphis, Tenn, his hometown. “Product of Public Schools,” the signs read next to a photo of the rapper.
Many people questioned whether or not the school made the right choice in selecting the rapper for its marketing campaign.
“So dropping my son off at school this morning, I’m a tad bit confused by this billboard Shelby County Schools has up,” wrote Ben Frazier. “Someone please help me understand the intentions of this message.”
Gotti graduated from the local Trezevant High School and has since gone on to be a prominent figure in hip-hop. He also received even more visibility in 2016 when he inked a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc Nation.
Frazier’s confusion may stem from Gotti being attached to drug selling, hence the moniker he’s chosen for himself. In fact, alongside the rapper Pusha T, he’s been a steady fixture in the musical sub-genre known as coke rap, where much of the lyrics focus on dealing drugs.
On top of that, Gotti’s name has been linked to the shooting of fellow Memphis rapper Young Dolph, who was the victim of gunfire on two separate occasions.
Many people continued to voice their opinion about the billboard. One parent said a non-celebrity should’ve been used instead.
“His method of getting money is not what they teach in Memphis city schools or at least it shouldn’t,” one woman wrote. “There’s plenty of regular successful people that went to Memphis city schools and actually used education to excel in life.”
After similar backlash, SCS decided to take the billboard down in less than 24-hours after it was put up, and released a statement.
“The billboard isn’t an endorsement of Yo Gotti or his lyrics, but we wanted a figure in the community that kids could recognize and relate to,” the statement read. “Gotti has done a lot of good in the Frayser community in the past and supported schools in the area.”
SCS’s Superintendent Dorsey Hopson also weighed in on the controversy via Twitter and said everyone involved had the very best of intentions.
“Always searching for ways to reach all of our constituents and highlight people who have benefited from public education,” he wrote.
There were also some who said Gotti was the perfect person to get kids excited about education, regardless of his musical content.
“I don’t understand why they took it down. [It] seems like there was some backlash. But that’s an opportunity for dialogue,” said Cequita McKennley. “They love Yo Gotti. Embrace that. Recognize what is that we are attracted to. He’s a product of SCS. He’s a product of the environment and he’s world-renowned.”
Tami Sawyer tweeted “By telling kids Yo Gotti isn’t worthy of a billboard, you’re insinuating to a lot of them, that they aren’t worthy as well. …Right now all they know is Gotti is rich and on TV and the radio. …Maybe that makes more kids say ‘Oh let me stay in school.'”
Besides the rapper, the SCS school system used other notable figures who attended local high schools for their campaign, but Gotti clearly caused the biggest stir. Gotti has not responded.