Born Irving Lorenzo in Hollis, Queens, in 1971, Gotti's career in the rap industry as a producer began in the mid-'90s when he aligned himself with Mic Geronimo
, a New York MC whose debut album, The Natural (1995), featured Gotti's production (as DJ Irv, his onetime moniker). Gotti's big break came when he contributed production to Reasonable Doubt (1996), Jay-Z
's debut album. The album became an overnight classic, and soon Gotti's beats were in demand. He next began working with DMX
, whose debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998), similarly became a very influential album within the trendy rap industry. Then came Ja
's debut album, Venni Vetti Vecci (1999). This album wasn't quite as successful as Jay-Z
's or DMX
's debuts, but it further established Gotti's hitmaking ability with unknown artists. The hits only increased with each passing year. Following Gotti's success executive-producing DMX
, Def Jam
-- the label responsible for both artists -- granted the producer his own boutique label, Murder Inc.
, which Def Jam
would market and distribute.
's flagship release, Irv Gotti Presents: The Murderers (2000), didn't quite scale the charts like Gotti's work for Jay-Z
had, though. Nonetheless, he continued producing hits, most notably for Ja
, whose second album, Rule 3:36 (2000), racked up a number of chart-topping Gotti productions, as did his next album, Pain Is Love (2001). Thanks to Gotti's success with Ja
, Def Jam
gave the producer more room to establish Murder Inc.
as a franchise on a par with other boutique labels such as Roc-A-Fella
and Bad Boy
. Gotti then delivered the superstar Def Jam
had hoped for: Ashanti
. Gotti and the young female vocalist collaborated on a series of chart-topping hits in early 2000s, among them Ja
's "Always on Time," Fat Joe
's "What's Luv?," and Ashanti
's own "Foolish," all three Top Ten hits -- simultaneously.
By this point, Gotti had risen to Dr. Dre
-like proportions in the rap industry. He was more than a producer; he was a hitmaker, and for a while, he made headlines regularly. He spoke to the media about his plans to work with Michael Jackson
and sign Nas
to Murder Inc.
During the 2002 holiday season he banked on his marketable name yet again by releasing a remix album, Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes, mainly comprising reworked tracks featuring Ashanti
, and a stable of others. Then controversy struck. Throughout all of his hitmaking and headlines, Gotti had long fostered a shady persona. He initially presented himself as a self-made don, particularly when he was on the rise during the late '90s. For instance, he named his SoHo studio the Crack House. He furthermore allegedly had ties to Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, a legendary drug dealer also from Queens. These ties were well documented in various songs, among them a particularly revealing one, "Ghetto Qua Ran," by popular rapper 50 Cent
. The young, loud-mouthed fellow Queens native had a long, adversarial relationship with Gotti and the Murder Inc.
camp, a storied one that involves shootings, stabbings, and orders of protection.
Amid all of this controversy, the FBI decided to investigate. They raided the Murder Inc.
office on January 3, 2003, and the investigation made headlines everywhere, from MTV News ("Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside the Murder Inc. Raid") to The New York Times ("Inquiry into Rap Label Asks if 'Gangsta' Is More Than Genre"). More shootings followed throughout New York: the office of 50 Cent
's management company, Violator, was shot up multiple times, and Gotti's brother, Chris, was subsequently shot in the leg outside of the Def Jam
Despite the headlines and legal woes, Gotti continued producing for artists like Vanessa Carlton
(Heroes & Thieves), Ashanti
("Breakup 2 Makeup"), Memphis Bleek
("Infatuated"), and the Game
("Nice"). In 2017, Gotti issued Irv Gotti Presents: Tales the Playlist, featuring appearances by Boogiie Byrd
, Fitted Circle
, Black Child, Ja Rule
, Alexza, Keith Powers, and more. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi