The “Product of” campaign was created to promote the fact that Shelby County Schools nurtures successful and influential Memphians. It wasn’t necessarily designed to be felt on the national level, but no one involved in its creation would have minded that….if.
The “if” turned out to be a controversy not rooted in fact.
A billboard featuring rap superstar Yo Gotti was taken down about 24 hours after it went up at the intersection of Bellevue Blvd. and Walker Ave. Like a wild fire, word spread that it had been removed because powers that be felt the rap star projected a negative image not suitable for a campaign constructed to stimulate young minds to strive for success.
“The billboard was just in the wrong location,” Yo Gotti’s manager, Artemis “Peppa” Williams, said in an interview with K-97’s Devin Steel. “The initial location of the billboard was incorrect; we’re moving it closer to the neighborhood where he was raised in Frayser.”
While there certainly were – and are – differences of opinion about the effect of rap star fandom in the context of some the images portrayed in videos, the takedown of the billboard trended to national proportion powered by social media.
“You’re talking about a man who’s done a lot for Memphis,” Williams told Steel. “He’s in real estate, closed a major deal with Puma, and he’s protégé to Roc-a-fella mogul Jay-Z. How could he not be influential considering where he came from?”
The “Product of” campaign rolled out with a game plan of placing a billboard by or near the particular school of the successful person featured on the billboard. “The idea for Yo Gotti’s was a collaborative effort between him and SCS,” said Williams.
Steel is featured on a Midtown billboard near his alma mater, Central High School.
“It’s such a great idea by SCS to do this to show the younger generation that no matter where you from that you too can make it,” Steel said. “I’m honored to be a part of it and to be alongside Yo Gotti as well.”
Williams said there really is no need for the uproar.
“We’re just doing what the message was intended to do, which was to bring dialogue. So far, so good.”
Juanita Taylor echoed the sentiment of a number of parents.
“Yo Gotti is such an inspiration,” Taylor said. “I’m not saying my child should follow in his footsteps, but his story is something a person can learn from. He came from nothing. …
“That’s the type of hope we need to a poverty-stricken city and our children need that. I’m happy they’ve kept him (on the billboard) and I hope they continue to keep him.”
The billboard is on display near Trezevant High School.
Radio and television personality John Best monitored the social media brouhaha.
“He’s a student, a product that came through the school system just like countless of other folks,” Best said of Yo Gotti. “We might not like what he’s doing, because of our perception. But he’s a multi-millionaire and an entrepreneur who does successful things in the community. Some may say he’s a bad role model. Who are we to judge? He’s just a student who made it out of his surroundings…”
(Lee R. Watkins contributed to this story.)