In the lyrics of “BMF Memphis,” local rapper Yo Gotti repeatedly mentions Petties and other underworld figures, and imagines himself in the role of Mafia boss.
“Go against the king and get your ass kidnapped. Pop! Pop! Pop!” he shouts as gunfire sounds. “Lot of guns / I’m paranoid. I am!”
Yo Gotti put his own lyrics on top of “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” by south Florida rapper Rick Ross. That song refers to Atlanta drug traffickers who owned a record label.
Yo Gotti declined an interview through his manager, Artemis “Peppa” Williams.
“I just want to get it clear to you that Gotti’s ‘BMF’ song is just a song and he has no affiliation with none of those guys on that song,” Williams said.
Williams says the rapper isn’t involved in the drug business. “Of course not! Hell no!” he said.
Originally from South Memphis, Petties, 33, is accused of working with a Mexican cartel to transport tons of marijuana and cocaine into the United States and plotting the killings of rivals along the way. Arrested in Mexico in 2008, Petties has pleaded not guilty. No trial date is set.
Prosecutors blame the Petties organization for the kidnapping and shooting death of Marcus Turner in September 2006. Turner, a rapper with the local group Grenade Posse, was involved in drug trafficking, according to his arrest records.
Earlier this month, the victim’s mother, Lucy Turner, said she didn’t know about Yo Gotti’s song until a reporter asked her about it. Days later, she said she had asked her other son, Robert, to hear it before she did.
“He said, ‘Don’t listen to it. You’re not gonna like it,’ ” said Turner, an emergency services dispatcher in West Memphis. “He said ‘You’ll get depressed again over that mess.’ ”
Yo Gotti, now in his late 20s, grew up as Mario Mims in Frayser, where he has said he used to deal drugs.
The bio on his official website says older boys gave him the “Gotti” name, a reference to a New York-based crime family. He has never been arrested in Shelby County, according to records.
One of Yo Gotti’s first recordings was 2000′s From Da Dope Game 2 Da Rap Game. Recent album art shows images of boxes of baking soda that dealers use to cook powdered cocaine into smokeable crack.
“BMF (Blowin’ Money Fast) Memphis” was released in July as one of 15 songs on a mixtape called Cocaine Muzik 4.5. It isn’t sold in stores, but is free on the Internet. The album’s title has a specific meaning, Williams said: “His whole purpose for the cocaine music is he wants people to be addicted to his music. Not cocaine the drug.”
The “BMF Memphis” song repeats these phrases: “I think I’m G-Train / Craig Petties / Ronnie Woods / Street legends.”
The nickname “G-Train” is a reference to George John “Train” Hughlett, Williams said. Hughlett was a reputed leader of a South Memphis gang called the LeMoyne Gardens Mafia. He was shot dead near a nightclub in 1999 while under investigation for another man’s killing.
Woods helped operate a Hickory Hill hip-hop club called The Martini Room and was an alleged leader of a Texas-to-Memphis drug ring.
He pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced in 2005 to 19 years, seven months in prison.
Yo Gotti’s song also mentions Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the founder of the Crips gang who was executed in 2005 in California for four killings, as well as Willie Lloyd, a former Chicago leader of the Vice Lords gang.
Pop culture praise for outlaws goes back to figures like Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde, says Rev. Ralph White, who leads Bloomfield Full Baptist Church in the Riverview neighborhood where Petties grew up.
People seem to enjoy imagining what it would be like to be so bold, he said.
“All those kinds of events and people, there’s something within us to say, ‘Hey I wish I could do that.’”
He said his church tries to compete for youthful attention by offering activities such as “gospel rap.”
“We’ve got to understand that we are in a competition with the world and we’ve got to put our best foot forward also.”
– Daniel Connolly