Southern rapper Yo Gotti is in the middle of a public education controversy.

The 37-year-old father of three drew criticism after the Shelby County Schools put him on billboards in a campaign to urge young people to graduate from high school.

The campaign announced him as “Product of Public Schools.” Gotti graduated from Trezevant High School in Memphis.

The Atlanta Black Star reports the billboards have been dragged by incredulous parents:

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 grew up North Memphis’ Ridgecrest Apartments, where he says hustling was the only way of life.

“We ain’t see no doctors unless you went to one. We only seen them in uniform, we didn’t know what he drove in or how he lived. We didn’t know no professional athletes. All we knew was the big homies from the hood, who had the Cadillacs and the jewelry, big chains, mink coats.”

You might think rising up from those beginnings, and becoming world famous might earn him some hometown credibility as a role model for those left behind.

Maybe not.

Giving a shout out to respectability politics, Erica May, a guest columnist in the Commercial Appeal, wrote “In Memphis, we have no shortage of successful individuals who would be perfect to represent our school system on a billboard. Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings are two that quickly come to mind.”

Others followed May’s lead, suggesting Gotti makes for a terrible example.

A Tweet about the story the billboard by WMC News 5 asked: “what do you think of it?”

Some of the responses were predictable and trolling.

“If you[sic] child aspires to be like him, then our future is in trouble,” one tweet said.

“Really unbelievable that could get approved and paid for,” said another.

But one graduate of SCC schools, Daniel Watson, wasn’t buying it.

He said in a Facebook video he thinks the strategy of getting someone that resonates with young people is a good one:

“If I’m investing in a billboard I need to be able to reach people with someone that resonates with them to get them to do the one goal which is to graduate high school…[Gotti] reaches millions,” he said.

Tami Sawyer, a candidate running for a seat on the Shelby County Commission agrees:

Yo Gotti has 1.6 million Twitter followers. He owns a record label, Collective Music Group, and in 2016 he signed a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation.
Gotti has an estimated net worth of $3.5 million.


Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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