It was exactly three years ago that Zandria Robinson wrote in the Memphis Flyer about Moneybagg Yo's triumphant pop-up show at Minglewood Hall, celebrating the release of his official debut, Federal 3x. The sellout crowd made for a frenetic, exhilarating night, celebrating both the headliner and Yo Gotti's Collective Music Group (CMG) organization.
By then, of course, Moneybagg Yo had already built up plenty of momentum since the release of his first mixtape, 2 Federal, in 2016. As Robinson wrote, the show "was a signal of what is to come from CMG. Moneybagg Yo, like CMG compatriot Blac Youngsta, is part of a second generation of the label's trap artists, men chronicling loss, trauma, gun violence, and intimacy live from the underground drug economy. Yo, however, pushes the mechanics and intricacies of the trap to the background, marshaling a heavy but nimble flow."
- Courtesy Travis Whiteside
- Moneybagg Yo
That flow has since served him well, and in January of this year he signed with powerhouse entertainment agency Roc Nation, Jay-Z's company, which also represents Rihanna, Big Sean, DJ Khaled, Fabolous, Jim Jones, Lil Uzi Vert, Mariah Carey, Rapsody, Jaden Smith, and Yo Gotti himself. Simultaneously with that announcement, the artist dropped his third album, Time Served, through Roc Nation, CMG, Bread Gang Entertainment, N-Less Entertainment, and Interscope Records. With collaborators like Lil Baby, Blac Youngsta, Future, DaBaby, Summer Walker, Fredo Bang, and Megan Thee Stallion, it made a major impact, peaking at No. 3 in the Billboard 200.
It's worth noting that Moneybagg Yo instilled the new album with the spirit of Memphis. The video for the original release's opening track, "Speak 4 Em," begins with footage of the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, and some distinctly Memphis-looking porches. Production on "U Played" is by hometown hero Tay Keith. Devin Steel, a major hip-hop DJ and programmer in the city for over 20 years, points out the unique connection that Moneybagg Yo, born Demario DeWayne White Jr. in South Memphis, has maintained with his hometown.
"He does a lot of things for the city," says Steel. "He just made a huge donation to the Shelby County Schools — all these masks and PPE and hand sanitizers — which was cool. He technically lives between here, Atlanta, and Miami. But at the same time, he's still very much tuned into what's going on in the city. He's definitely plugged in. I would still consider him a Memphis artist, definitely in the top two or three."
In donating 10,000 masks to SCS, just two weeks ago, the star used the overnight success of Time Served to help Memphis weather the coronavirus. "This pandemic has negatively affected so many lives," said Moneybagg Yo in a press release, "but it has also shown that there is power in numbers, and that no matter who you are you can bring positive change. I hope that these masks play a part in keeping our children and teachers safe as we continue to find more ways that we can assist."
Meanwhile, the album has continued to have legs through the era of quarantine, culminating in the July release of the extended-length Time Served Deluxe as a complete visual album. Though some of the videos had been released since January, the visual album's capstone was a new video for "Protect Da Brand," featuring DaBaby, which has had over 2.7 million views.
As Steel points out, the visual album has become more and more common in recent years. In the case of Moneybagg Yo and others, it's a way "to go back in and figure out what they can do to re-engage people. He's one of these guys that shoots all of these videos constantly, so why not?" The trend is more important now than ever, Steel notes. "People are connected to their phones. Usage is way up. And people are always looking for something new. Anything but the news. Moneybagg Yo is a good example of someone who's taken something and run with it, just because he has that captive audience. They're gonna watch every one of those videos."