Bay Area legend, Berner, wraps up his mafioso-inspired trilogy with a thrilling experience inspired by the story of Gambino crime boss, John Gotti.
Over the past year and a half, Berner has been steadily building a sub-series of projects influenced by organized crime bosses that directly connect to his lifestyle as an entrepreneur in the marijuana business. In 2020, Berner started the trifecta with Russ Bufalino: The Quiet Don and continued the sequence with Paulie Cicero released earlier this year. Compared to its predecessors, GOTTI stands out more in the series, and in his entire discography, due to the change in the finale’s approach.
While working on the project, Berner was diagnosed with colon cancer, which had reached an alarming level of development by the time he was aware. From this point forward, Berner began to hone in on the creation of GOTTI, staying extra busy in between appointments and surgeries to craft one of the best albums he would ever release. With the help of fellow artist and close friend, Cozmo, the two were able to finish the album and managed to create a significant highlight in Berner’s catalog.
GOTTI is composed of a hefty nineteen tracks with multiple interludes in between, summing up to a 58 minute run time. Right off the bat, the marijuana mogul sets the tone with legitimate audio clips of the album’s inspiration, John Gotti, provided to him by his son, John Gotti Jr. After a brief audio line about the dangers this line of work contains, the project establishes an assertive presence with the Future-assisted lead single “Draped Up”. From here, the album soothes into a more soulful yet gritty vibe, constructing a consistent rich atmosphere to fit the topics.
For a relatively lengthy run time, GOTTI keeps the energy persistent, not finding any time for breaks, even in the interludes. The soulful aura remains present all the way through, making for a cohesive listening sequence. One thing to note, however, fourteen of the nineteen tracks contain guest appearances, creating an overwhelming roster of features; But through the crowded arrangement, Berner’s ambitious drive still finds him at the forefront telling his story, which is something most jam-packed projects fail to do. Berner even manages to hold his own against heavyweights, such as the star-studded posse cut, “Too Many Goats”, featuring Rick Ross, Nas & Jadakiss.
While Berner’s approach to lyricism remains the same, sprinkling gems surrounding the topic of independent success, GOTTI finds the Bay Area emcee pushing his lyrical boundaries further. Never being one to shy away from lyrical sparring, the album includes two different posse cuts with elite rosters of emcees. Aside from “Too Many Goats”, the track “Pound for Pound” finds Berner going toe to toe with Mozzy, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine & Styles P. Even on solo tracks, Berner sounds like he’s laser-focused and ambitiously hungrier than ever to deliver this project.
As Berner zoned in for the creation on this heavy record, a grand majority of it wouldn’t have been possible without his close friend and fellow Bay Area artist, Cozmo. Cozmo’s role in the formation was just as important, building the backbone for the album’s rich sound and contributing vocals all throughout the track list. The soulful vibe from Cozmo’s production perfectly compliments Berner’s laid-back delivery and exhibits the phenomenal chemistry between both artists. Tracks like the energetic “1st 48” & the triumphant “Running Numbers” are perfect examples of how well the two perform together on record and how much of a great pair they are.
The common denominator present in each of Berner’s projects is the message of independence and being your own boss. Like the three mafioso legends he paid homage to, Berner’s business-savvy tactics in the music industry and marijuana market have established him as an underground legend and a hometown hero. With the news of his fatal cancer diagnosis, Berner began to craft this album as his last words to the world and his family if his treatment didn’t succeed. Though he’s fortunately recovering, it was still important for Berner to include the album’s closing track, “Karma”, which serves as a letter to his child. It’s on this track we see the duality of the hustling lifestyle that is motivated by the desire for a better life.
Though the album’s 53 minute run time can seem to intimidate listeners, GOTTI makes up for length with its rich subject matter and engaging content. The project thrives at points where we see Berner spit his game on finding success in the industry and opening up to his fanbase; However, Berner also manages to branch out of his comfort zone to provide contemporary records. Though the albums flow is unaffected by this balance, the album could benefit a bit from shedding off a track or two. For example, “Zoning” is a great record laced with a catchy chorus by Ryn Nicole, but would perform better as an individual single rather than trying to fit with the album’s structure.
All in all, Berner’s most recent release of GOTTI displays the Bay Area emcee’s immeasurable growth elevating to a higher position on an artistic level. In hip-hop, we see many emcees attempt to take on the direct relationship of a mafioso boss or caporegime, but compared to the newer attempts towards this execution, Berner’s rendition performs the best as he’s one of the only emcees taking on the type of business of what mobster’s were doing but in a legal and moral position. Berner’s GOTTI is definitely worth a listen and serves as a great entry point for those who are new to the Bay Area emcee.
7.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Too Many Goats”, “Running Numbers”, “Karma”, “Pound For Pound”, “1st 48”, “Draped Up”, “Pac Vibes”