The rise and fall of Irv Gotti has been well documented. He spent the early years of this decade basking in the success of the Murder Inc. empire he built around Ja Rule and Ashanti—but then things got difficult. When rapper-of-the-moment 50 Cent engaged Gotti and Ja in one of the most intense off-the-wax beefs hip-hop has ever seen, the label's approval rating dropped like Dubya in his second term. Insult got added to injury in 2005, when Irv and The Inc. got caught up in a money laundering investigation that potentially meant a 20-year federal bid. While Gotti was ultimately acquitted, the road back to where he once was has been long. Now, with his hit VHI reality show Gotti's Way, and new projects from Ja Rule and Ashanti coming down the pike, IG is looking for 2008 to be a comeback year. And he sat down with us to build on the new show, the current status of Murder Inc, the rumors behind Ashanti and Irv's sexual relationship, and how he feels the Internet has fucked the music industry. It's Murder.
Complex.com: You were hesitant to do Gotti's Way at first. What did Chris Abrego (Executive Producer) do to convince you?
Irv Gotti: He approached me and at first I was reluctant to do it. It took like two or three months to convince me. But then he said this wouldn't be like Flavor of Love or The Surreal Life or any other reality show. This was going to be real. And after we shot the pilot, I saw his vision and was like "Alright, let's do it."
C: A major theme present in the show is that cheating broke up your marriage...
Irv Gotti: [laughs] Well, there are two parts of the show and it's the tale of two families: the music family, me with my artists and my company and trying to get us back to dominance, and then my family at home and the uniqueness of that family. Me and Deb are actually best friends, we're not together, but we're raising our kids. It's kind of unique that you see that on television: people who are not together, but who get along real well.
C: Are you worried about the effect that your cheating might have on your sons when they go back and watch the show?
Irv Gotti: Anything that they're seeing is nothing that they don't know already. What people need to understand is when they see the show, that's a reflection of me being out of the house. I've been out of the house for six or seven years.
C: What do you think drove you to cheating?
Irv Gotti: What draws any man to cheating? Just wanting to fuck other chicks. I mean that's just the bluntness of it. He sees another chick and he wants it.
C: You're pretty open to keeping it real on the show, but at one point, you kicked the camera crew out of the room because it got so personal. What was it that was going on in that situation?
Irv Gotti: It was me and Deb having talks with Sonny about me and her getting a divorce. Next thing you know, Sonny's crying, and then Deb starts crying. I didn't want that for the show, so I got very angry. I was basically like, "You're going to have to get the fuck out of here." I didn't want the show to be that ? to the point where my family is crying. So I kicked them out. That was the fastest breakdown of a set. If you were to watch the whole footage of that, before I kick them out I'm looking around. I'm actually looking for a stick or a bat or something to break the camera. But I couldn't find anything in the house.
C: Was the money-laundering trial Murder Inc.'s biggest setback?
Irv Gotti: Oh, definitely. Through the money laundering trial I lost my deal, I lost my funding, it was just a huge setback. I was facing 20 years; when you're facing 20 years, you have to worry about getting everything back. So I got everything back, and now this is the whole process of getting me back rolling. It takes a little time.
C: How did you convey to your artists that everything would be straight?
Irv Gotti: I wasn't guilty. I never felt that I would be convicted. I never felt guilty. I told them, "I'm innocent, so there's not reason to think that we're not going to be good, because I didn't do any of this shit."
C: A lot of people would say that 50 was the main reason for the label's fall, more specifically Ja Rule's career, do you think that's fair?
Irv Gotti: That's fair to say. He was definitely riding on us. It was just a whirlwind, though. The combination of a lot of things that just hit us all at one time. But he definitely played a part, because he became the biggest rapper in the world and he didn't like us. But we'll get past all of that. It's all part of the game we're in. We have to accept all of it.
C: In the beginning, did you think that Ja could successfully go back at him?
Irv Gotti: Well he was the newest rapper and the hottest rapper, and it's hard to go against that. The thing about me is that I've been a part of three different movements. I was a part of Rocafella, I was a part of Ruff Ryders, and I was a part of Murder Inc. I know about when you're the new rapper on the rise. It's like you can do no wrong for like two or three years. So if you're saying the sky is green, everyone would say, "Yeah, the sky is kind of green today." So it's just sitting back and riding his wave out, and just keep doing what we do.
C: Now 50's beefed with a ton of people, but with no "real issues" but with you and Ja he makes it clear that you three could never be friends. Why do you think that he holds such resentment?
Irv Gotti: Unlike other rappers, we've had physical altercations with this guy. We whipped his ass and he sued us. So, it's deeper than just words with me and him and Ja and him. It's a real beef.
C: Do you think that your association with Supreme has a lot to do with it as well?
Irv Gotti: It could or it couldn't. I really don't give a fuck. 'Preme is my brother. If he doesn't like me because of that, it really doesn't fucking matter. It's basically like this: he's over there; we're over here. We'll co-exist, because I'm not going anywhere. He's got his little money and he's not going anywhere. All good. We're going to have to just co-exist.
C: Recently Ja's The Mirror got pushed back, what was the main reason for that?
Irv Gotti: Sampling issues. We have a lot of samples that's great with great songs, but as you know with some samples it's like five or six writers on it. You have to reach out to every writer. There's an opera sample on there that's a huge record that we want to be on the album. So, this of course delays and pushes it back. But we're still working and we're still pushing forward, and as soon as we get everything situated the album's coming out.
C: On the show, you guys argue about having that one smash hit single? was "Uh Oh" the secret weapon that you guys were talking about?
Irv Gotti: No, "Uh Oh" was always just a record that we put out. That was the street record. There are different records, like "Father Forgive Me," "Body," "Judas," "Love is Pain," these are records that are yet to be seen that we are going to unleash. "Father Forgive Me" is a Beatles sample.
C: Do you think that's the biggest track on the album?
Irv Gotti: For us to pull off the miracle that everyone thinks we can't pull off, which is getting Ja to sell a bunch of records, I think we have to be creative and different. And it has to work and respond to the people. Something like "Eleanor Rigby" and Ja doing it over. I think if that record can work, that can be something that catapults him straight to the top.
C: Do you think this is his last shot at a comeback? You've said on the show that there's one shot...
Irv Gotti: You know what's funny with that...Look at J. Lo. J. Lo's a huge artist. And Epic is dropping her right now. There are reports all over the Internet that Epic is dropping her. The conversation I had with Ja wasn't a Ja Rule conversation; I was explaining to him from the state of the music business that we're in. The state of the music business that we're in is I don't give a fuck who you are. If you drop the ball, that president is slapping you in the ass and going "Yo, you can get the fuck out of here." Shit is rough right now. And an act like J. Lo, these acts are expensive. Celebrities and stars have it worse off than the new acts. Someone like J. Lo, it's probably 100 grand just to take a picture with her. So how am I taking a picture with her for 100 grand, and she's moving 50 thousand units the first week? It's not going to fly. You're going to have to get her butt out of here.
Irv Gotti: So it's harder on the more established acts. Why? Because the more established acts have made and generated money. If they're making and generating money, they're not going for the okie-doke like the new acts. They're not doing a 360 deal. They're going into the fucking label and they are going to say, "I want my money!" And if they're saying, "I want my money!" the label is going to say, "All right, you better fucking sell some records." And the minute they don't sell any records, they're going to kick their ass right up out of there. So the conversation I was having with Ja wasn't about him per se. It was a nice editing trick in the show. They turned it into that. It does pertain to Ja, but what I'm saying is that it pertains to everybody in the business now.
C: Makes sense...
Irv Gotti: Look at the sales. Look at "Ay Bay Bay." That was the biggest song in the fucking country and he did 20-fucking-thousand units. This is the music business that we're in. The Internet has totally taken the music business and stuck a big fat dick in its ass and now it's fucked it. Now we're trying to wiggle it out our asses and get that fucking shit up out of our ass and it's tough. And it's tough for everyone. 50 just now went over platinum. I know he's sitting back like "What the fuck is going on?" He's going to bottom out at like a million-two. [laughs]
C: You said that the label execs will tap them on their ass and tell them to break and be like "Listen, get up out of here"...
Irv Gotti: That's what they're doing to J. Lo's big old ass. They're patting her big old ass to get up out of here. And please, no disrespect to J. Lo. J. Lo is a friend. I love J. Lo and I want to work with her, and I think it's fucked up that Epic is releasing reports like that without cleaning it up. Because it's all over the Internet that they're about to drop J. Lo, and she's one of the biggest stars. Forget music, she's one of the biggest stars in the world. So you know, the wrath doesn't escape anyone.
C: Ja's kind of like your brother in a sense, but you are almost like his boss. Is that how you feel with him, or could you never do that to him?
Irv Gotti: No... Ja owns Murder Inc. with me. Ja's not just an artist. Ja's family and forever. I don't care if Ja sold one record. He's the owner of Murder Inc. and we'll go sign some new acts. Even if Ja's career is over, he's good. He started Murder Inc. He's the first one that said "It's Murda," with "Holla Holla" and launched my label. So me and him go down in history forever. So, if he's over then Gotti's over.
C: Say he does brick, does the focus of the label shift?
Irv Gotti: I have a new artist named News, he gives me the same feeling that I had with X, that I'm about to unleash to the world. I got this new group that's kind of like the Black Eyed Peas called The Thundercats. They're based out of Atlanta. I have Channel 7; he's been one of my producers for years. He's coming out. I got a girl group out of Detroit that I'm unleashing in '08. And then I have this new female artist that everyone knows, but I don't want to say her name yet. The deal has been done, but it's a real good sign for me. All of this is coming in '08. '07 was my year to get my deal back, in late August early September, I got my feet wet. I had good success with Lloyd. I'm actually sitting in Mike Kaiser's office. This prick beat me out with Musiq Soulchild. He went number one by five thousand. [yells to Kaiser] You fucking prick!
[Kaiser yells back] Fuck you Gotti!
Irv Gotti: [laughs] But you know, I had great success with Lloyd. That got my feet back wet. He's trying to creep to platinum. He's a 600,000. I'll be coming with him. It's going to be project after project. Ashanti is coming back at the top of the year. Lloyd is coming with his next album at the end of the first quarter. Second quarter Ja's coming. I'll probably keep him for '08. The onslaught is coming in '08 with the music.
C: Is it fair to say your relationship with Ashanti isn't as strong as it once was?
Irv Gotti: Yeah, that is definitely fair to say. [laughs]
C: What do you attribute it to?
Irv Gotti: The evils of the business.
C: What is that?
Irv Gotti: I have an interesting philosophy with the music business. I have a saying that says, "The devil usually wins in the music business." What I mean by that is when I got in my trial and all of the negativity was coming, it takes strong-minded individuals to be able to stand it and stay through everything. If I'm not around you, then the evils come. All of the leeches and other people, who had no part of your success, come in and they start filling your head up. "Hey, you don't need him, that Murder Inc. thing is bringing you down, you're bigger than everybody over there." When really, these are the people that were 90% of the reason you're successful. But the evils of the business come in and the next thing you know, it's torn apart. You're trying to get off the label and you're saying things like "I don't want to be a part of this." All right, cool, but you're still under contract, so what can I do? There's nothing for me to do. I'm not just going to let you go. Give me some money and I'll let you go [laughs]. You don't have any money? What the fuck do you want me to do?
C: How long is she under contract for?
Irv Gotti: Another few albums.
C: It was kind of strained because she wasn't as loyal as she could be when you were going through the trial, is that how you feel still?
Irv Gotti: It's just the truth. And I don't say that to disrespect her in anyway. It's just the truth. She came to the trial like two times. She stayed for like 15 to 20 minutes and broke out. I think people were told her "You're looking crazy if you don't support this guy." I think someone told her she needed to come.
C: Why do you think she didn't support you? It wasn't that...
G: You're going to have to ask her that. That's the evils of the business. They break up crews. The evils of this business break up crews. You start out and you have nothing coming up, everything is roses. Then you get money, and everyone sees you get money, and you're this commodity and everyone wants a piece of that.
C: Do you think working with Vanessa Carlton maybe had any affect on the relationship with Ashanti? Maybe because she's not the lead female anymore?
G: Nah, me and Ashanti was drifting way apart before Vanessa got here. [laughs]
C: Did your sexual relationship with her have anything to do with it?
Irv Gotti: I didn't have... hey you're trying to get a juicy one. Let me clean that up. Wendy Williams, did you ever really hear me say that I slept with her?
C: It kind of alluded to that.
Irv Gotti: No, did you hear the interview? Did you do your homework? OK, Now, if you did your homework and you listened to the interview, did the words "I slept with Ashanti," ever come out of my mouth?
Irv Gotti: OK, then. Why's everyone saying I slept with Ashanti? Because Wendy Williams is saying it? Wendy Williams says a bunch of crazy shit. That's what she does. So on that note, next question. I never said that I slept with her.
C: So never? You can clear it up totally over here.
Irv Gotti: I don't need to clear it up. I never said it, so it's not a question that I need to address.
C: So you've been at the top, but now you've been through hard times, what have you learned the most from it?
Irv Gotti: Mostly what I learned was to stay humble. It could all be gone away, and to appreciate the time that I'm having, because I really love what I do. I really love this music business. I love making records, and I just appreciate it. What I learned is to try and stay a little bit more humble, because when I was making all of those hit records and winning over at Def Jam, it was a feeling of invincibility that all of us had, because we were just steamrolling the whole game. Even when you are winning, you should know how to maintain and keep some type of humility and be more appreciative of what's coming to you. That's what I've picked up with all of the times that I've been though. But I don't regret anything. I don't even regret going through the trial, because it showed me who's really with me and who's really not with me. It showed me things and helped make the mold of the man that I'm going to continue to grow into being. I don't regret anything.
C: I asked Ja the same question, is it a let down that the Murder Inc. supergroup never came into fruition?
Irv Gotti: Aw man, that's one of my biggest letdowns. [laughs] I just want you to understand this. Imagine a guy, like myself and I'm coming up and I have nothing in the world. I'm poor and I grew up in the hood, but I got the love of this music thing. And my best friends just happened to be Jay-Z, DMX, and Ja Rule, before they had anything. And me knowing these three are the most unique and the hottest rappers that I know, when they were all coming up. And they're all kind of different, so they can co-exist. I felt like when them three were doing their thing, I felt like the most unique individual in the world because I was like "Yo, I know all of these dudes, they're like my brothers." So I just wanted that project to happen, just to do something with my brothers. That would have been fucking incredible. That's one of my biggest disappointments, that that never happened.
C: What was the main reason for it never going through?
Irv Gotti: The main reason was egos, and I'm not going to tell you which egos. That one I'm going to have to keep with me and don't share with the public. But it was egos, and there were a few egos in there, but there was one ego that really prevented it.
C: It was only one person's ego?
Irv Gotti: There was really one, but I can't reveal whose ego it was. I tried. I tried twice. Hard. The first time I tried, Ja was only on his first album and he only did two million worldwide, which when you think of it now it's like, "Wow, that's a huge success." But he was the low man on the totem pole. In the beginning I thought maybe they don't want to do it because Ja isn't big enough to do that with them yet. But when Ja was moving six million worldwide, I revisited it [laughs], but it still didn't happen.
C: You talk about being in the midst of one of the greatest comebacks, what level of success is it going to take for you to consider it a good comeback?
Irv Gotti: Just having another rapper being Ja, and having another singer being Ashanti and have them being at the forefront of hip-hop, or the forefront of music, or the forefront of pop and alternative culture. Once that happens, it's like "Wow, this dude is back up there with another act. He's at it again." That's the thing about the music business that's so interesting. It's a non-appreciative, non-loving business. Look at any other business. If you invent something, you can live off that invention for the rest of your life. In the music business, we are in the say it again business. "Wow, great album, do it again." "Oh my goodness, what a year, next year? Fuck you, do it again." And if you didn't do it again, "You corny, you're wack." "You're a has-been. You're gone." "That's incredible. So what? Do it again." And I understand that.
C: So you're not with the bullshit "I just want to put good music outv answer; you want the overwhelming success that you once had with Ja?
Irv Gotti: I want the success that I had with Rule and Ashanti 100 percent, and ultimately I want ? you know how people think of Lyor Cohen, Jimmy Iovine, L.A. Reid, Doug Morris and Clive Davis ? my ultimate goal is to get that kind of love and respect, and do it over the course of so many years that my peers know that he gets busy and that's a music guy. That's my ultimate goal.
C: You think you'll do a second season of Gotti's Way?
Irv Gotti:.I like it. I'll probably do a season two, because they're already asking me. The ratings have been phenomenal. They were hoping on getting five or six hundred thousand viewers, I'm averaging over two million viewers a week and it's growing. It's shocking me. They keep asking me "Yo, the ratings are great." It's crazy. I understand exactly how you feel, because I feel the same way. You know who's calling me every week about the show? Gayle-fucking-King. Do you know who Gayle King is?
C: No I don't actually.
Irv Gotti: Gayle King is Oprah's best friend.
C: Oh God.
Irv Gotti: She is entrenched in the show. She called me last week like "You're being too hard on your boy. You have to stop with the ?Man Up'." I told her "Yo, Gayle, I was facing 20-years, what if I went to jail for 20 years, my boys would have to grow up quicker than normal." That shit is in the back of my head." She said "Well you didn't go to jail for 20 years." She is, like, deeply involved in the show.
Irv Gotti: Who would have thought? If you would have talked to me a year ago you would have said "Hey, reality is the play that can get you exposure for your acts and get you hot again in a certain way," I would have been like "Get the fuck out of here." [laughs] That's life. You never know. That's something I'm finding out as well, too. You just never know in life and you just have to go with what you feel is right and what you feel good about in life.