John Gotty: Founder and Editor, Still Crew

Born and Raised: Winchester, Tennessee. It’s a small town about an hour east of Nashville. Very rural, very white. I ended up moving to Nashville after high school to attend Tennessee State University, an HBCU here. Been here ever since, so almost 25 years now.
Educational Background: Bachelor’s and master’s in English with teacher certification
Low Point: Hitting rock bottom with alcohol in 2003
High Point: Finding sobriety in November 2003
Current Computer/Mobile Device: Can’t live without my iPhone. My current computing device is a MacBook Pro, although I’m strongly considering upgrading to an Air version soon.

John Gotty’s desktop: “I always leave the home screen black on all my devices. No specific reason; I just like it better.”


What do you do for a living?

I am a problem-solver. Of course, I can’t put that on my taxes, so let’s just say writer, social media management and creative for today’s purpose. On paper, I wear those hats, plus I’m the founder and editor of Still Crew. Most people know me for my work with The Smoking Section, the blog I founded and ran for 10 or so years.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

Truthfully, there’s a lot I don’t share because I like my privacy. If it’s not work-related, I keep it separate. Plus, I’m naturally a reserved person. It’s like A$AP Yams once said, “I’m bashful, so you have to get to know me to see my swag blossom.”

Who is your favorite person to follow on social media?

I think David Dennis may be one of the sharpest people on Twitter. Tweeting has an art and rhythm to it. A good tweet is equal parts comedy, irony and truth. David can do that on so many different topics. He can make you laugh then think long after the laughing subsides. David’s wit and way with words are impressive.

What inspires you?

I’d have to say art always gives me the most energy. That begins with music, but there’s a little bit of art in everything. So I see it in other things like sneakers, writing, in sports, even a mechanic working on a car. Seeing people work their craft and perfect it gives me energy to go out and apply that same attention to detail and effort to my work.

When you make sacrifices for your work, do you tell people or keep it to yourself?

Absolutely keep it close. Nobody likes people who do stuff for you only because it makes it seem like you owe them. I helped my boy move a few weeks back because that’s what friends do. I’m not going to turn around and bring it up to him later. “Man, my back was killing me after we lifted all those boxes.” Nah, man (laughs). I do things to help others because in my heart and mind I know it’s the right thing to do. You don’t need a pat on the back for doing the right thing. It should be the natural thing to do.

What are your favorite apps/tools that help you do what you do?

Notes on the iPhone and MacBook. I’m always jotting down ideas, so I don’t lose them. Writing them down on my phone, later updating them when I get back to my Mac. Constantly snatching those random ideas out of the clouds and trying to bring them to life. Nearly everything I do starts with sketching in Notes.

What is your most significant accomplishment? Is there anything you hope to do even greater?

It’s cliche, but being a good dad and husband. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff. But being the man I need to be for my family to be proud of me…that’s the most consistent, most challenging undertaking I’ve ever faced. It’s also the most rewarding thing in the world. Little stuff like when my wife brags on me to others or like when my kids’ friends say, “Oh, your dad is cool. He’s smart,” and they’ll be like, “Yeah, I guess so.” (Laughs) Seriously though, ordering my steps so that I set an example for them as a caring, outgoing person. I’m not saying I’m exactly that, but it’s what I strive to be, and they’re the reason why.

How do you keep track of what you’ve done?

I really don’t. Again, I’m a product of the internet. You go from task to task fast. Close one tab, open another app, boom, boom, boom. Before you know it, days, weeks and months have passed. Objects in the rearview are blurry. It’s usually other close friends and co-workers reminding me of things I’ve done, or we’ve done. So I leave that to other people. My biggest thing is keeping up with the stuff I’ve yet to accomplish and figuring out how to check them off my list.

What do you do to recharge yourself?

By disconnecting. Working online and being creative means your mind is always churning, and you’re working all the time. My son is 12, and he’s heavy into sports, which means we play a lot of travel basketball, baseball, etc. When he’s playing, I try to be in the moment, which allows me to put everything else on the backburner.

I want to soak it all up on those road trips and when we’re in different cities. See the sights, taste the foods, interact with locals. To write or create, you have to live. Observe others living and interacting. People-watching is a pastime of mine. You have to always be on alert and observing life happening. Noticing the details in everything. That can only happen when your mind is free of clutter and distractions.

For what are you most grateful?

I’m always grateful to be in decent health. I’m 42 now. Back in my teens and twenties, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me how valuable it is to be healthy. But, being able to wake up each day is a blessing. I love being able to get out there and do whatever the day’s work is. Never take that for granted.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

A close tie between my wife and mother. My mom has multiple sclerosis. Watching her lose physical strength slowly can be a punch to the gut. But, she fights hard. She goes through more doctors, medications and therapy sessions than most people will ever face. Her will is strong even though her body’s deteriorating. How could I ever complain about anything in life or be lazy about shit when she’s waking up every day fighting to be here? Literally fighting off her disease.

But, my wife is a big influence, as well. Your family is your family. You don’t have any say in that. You choose your spouse, and there’s an agreement that “I never want to let this person down.” With that in mind, I strive to be the best person I can be to honor her.

In my younger days, my dad, my grandfathers and a few of my uncles were the ones I looked up to, and I still do. But now, it’s the women around me — my wife, my mom, my daughter — who help shape who I am or who I want to be.

What do you feel your impact is on those around you? What would you like it to be?

I believe in other people, even when they don’t fully believe in themselves at times. We talk and work to find ways to boost their thoughts and ideas to a point where their ideas come to fruition. I’m encouraging as fuck (laughs). The glass is always half full in my eyes, and I love helping others turn lemons into lemonade.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve read online recently?

I stumbled across an older piece from Creative Loafing Atlanta, written by Rodney Carmichael, on why Goodie Mob’s Soul Food is the greatest album ever out of Atlanta. It’s such an engaging read because he lays out the whole historical context of the album. Everything from the political and socioeconomic climate around the time of the album’s release, the ‘96 Olympics, to shit like Wayne Williams, Robbin’ Crew, the city’s rapid growth and the idea of it being a black heaven; he captures those elements to show how those things connect to the album’s lyrics and themes. Really good writing should show, not tell. Rodney’s always been able to do that with his work, and the article is a shining example of it.

Exceptional writing, that’s a lost art today in publishing, specifically in music writing. Longform pieces like that aren’t always appreciated. Most audiences won’t sit still or quit clicking tabs long enough to read one article for 30-60 minutes.

What are you currently reading or is the last book you read?

Yo, don’t laugh but I peeped U-God’s Raw: My Journey Into the Wu-Tang. U-God occupies the lower third in the Wu pecking order. But, his book? It’s vivid and entertaining. Picked it up on a whim, and couldn’t put it down.

What piece of literature has influenced you the most?

Tough one, but I’d say To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it for the first time at a little two-week summer enrichment program right before seventh grade. At the time, it was the longest book I’d ever read. It was the first work where the characters, plot, themes, etc. captivated me. It was a lot for a young brain to process. Still, it felt good. Sort of like how drugs do you in how they wrap your mind in a comfortable fog.

I was always drawn to reading throughout elementary school. I would read every single Peanuts book, all the Hardy Boy Mysteries, every issue of Sports Illustrated from cover to cover. But it was that book that opened up another world as far as words were concerned. It was the longest book I’d read up to that point. I felt accomplished. Since then, I’ve been a reader for life.

What is a song, album or playlist that everyone should hear?

You really can’t ask a music person this question and expect them to narrow it down to a succinct answer. It just doesn’t work. Today’s response may not be the same tomorrow. At this very moment, I’m switching between Pusha T, Black Thought’s new project with 9th Wonder and the cat Benny, a loose affiliate of Griselda Records.

Outside of the right now, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is one of those albums everyone should indulge in. Either Miles or something Coltrane, like A Love Supreme. Even though I’m a hip-hop head, I’m a fan of music period. So my top 10 albums of all-time will always consist of other genres besides rap. Jazz will hold a few slots, R&B and old soul stuff will be in there and at least one reggae mention. Maybe some Pink Floyd, too. Like I said, it really depends on which day you catch me.

What is happiness to you?

My wife and kids being around me. Anytime all three of them are with me I know they’re safe and protected from the world. As a husband and father, the security those moments create brings peace of mind unlike anything else.

What scares you most?

A lot of things evoke fear in me. Big dogs make me paranoid. Heights make me queasy. I guess the scariest thought I think of is that no one will show up at my funeral. I mean, we all live our lives hoping we leave a strong impression on people and impact their lives. But, I’m an antisocial person. I skip a lot of industry events and don’t “hang out” with people often. The byproduct of that is probably people ignoring my death and skipping my funeral. Let’s be real, though; I won’t have a real reason to care since I’ll be dead.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who cared about others. As a guy who did really cool stuff. Is it shallow to say “he was someone who always wore interesting shoes”? If not, I’d probably throw that in.

Where is your favorite place?

Home. Either my home or my parents’ crib. I’ve lived a life. Been lots of places and seen plenty of things. No matter what, though, nothing compares to fall into your bed at the end of the day.

If you could take a one-month trip anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?

To be honest, I don’t want to go anywhere for a whole month. I can’t stand to be away from home for more than a week or so max. We spent 10 days in Orlando a while back. It was fun. We saw a lot and were able to experience a lot. But, Lord, let me tell you how refreshing it was to get back home and breathe familiar air.

Do you have a favorite restaurant? If so, what is it?

Not a foodie in the least.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Chocolate milkshakes. Those set my mind at ease. I use those as rewards sometimes after a day or a week well-done.

What is your favorite food to prepare?

If you mean “prepare” as in cook, nada (laughs).

In conversation do you tend to talk or listen more?

Listen, always listening. People now don’t hear to learn and create genuine dialogue. They’re just waiting on their turn to talk half of the time. I prefer to listen because you learn more.

What are you looking for when you have a conversation with someone? What topics do you want to discuss?

To hear the other person’s story. What’s going on in their life five days or five minutes before our convo started? We can talk about anything except for maybe Trump. I don’t like wasting my time or energy on ignorance.

If you were guaranteed honest answers to two questions, what would you ask and to whom?

I’d ask Pusha T how the hell he pulled together all the recon on Drake for “The Story of Adidon” (laughs). That shit was remarkably well-done. Isn’t it a beautiful thing when rappers rap and take shots at each other?

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a while? If so, what is it and why haven’t you?

Skydiving. I’ve always loved the rush of things. To take risks, be teetering near the edge before pulling back to safety or sometimes crashing and burning, which is cool with me as long as I’m able to walk away with a story to tell.

Skydiving seems like a cocaine-like rush to enjoy, even though I’m nauseatingly scared of heights.

When is the last time you cried and why?

I couldn’t tell you the last time I really boohooed. Not because I’m too macho or think there’s something wrong with crying; not the case. If emotions bring you to tears, don’t fight or try to hold them back. Let the tears roll and be better for it.

I just can’t remember the last time I cried because my memory is type shitty. I can barely remember what I did last week, much less. But I’m sure my crying had something to do with a funeral and someone’s death.

What has been your biggest disappointment in life, and how did you handle it?

There’s a long list here (laughs). I’d have to say when I hit rock bottom with alcohol. My life was a fucking mess, and I let down everyone in my life. Put my freedom and job in jeopardy. My mental, emotional and physical well-being were all shot. I got kicked out of my apartment, wrecked the hell out of a couple of cars, and did so many embarrassing things that were out of character. I don’t know if I gave up, but I definitely wasn’t fighting anymore.

I thank God that I didn’t stay down when I went down. I worked and got back up with help from my family and friends.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t start smoking cigarettes. You hated them as a kid when your dad used to smoke in the car. Carry into adulthood that same distaste. It’s a nasty habit, but it’s my vice. One I probably should give up soon to make sure I’m around to see my babies have babies and shit.

Do you have a mantra or quote that guides your life?

My uncle used to repeat the quote “It’s better to go to hell on your own than to follow the crowd into heaven.” The idea of trusting and believing in yourself is part of what’s always fueled my journey as an entrepreneur and creative. There are times where a blueprint is available. When it’s not, you can’t be afraid to jump out there and carve your path somehow. The idea sounds way too scary for some people. I mean, the thought scares me, too. Just not enough to where I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

God works in his time. In my younger days, I was extremely headstrong and reckless. My thinking was I could do what I wanted when I wanted, and life would bend to my will. Unfortunately, that’s far from true. Things ended up in such a wreck, both figuratively and literally, that I finally had to surrender the wheel, hop in the passenger seat and let God drive.

Who would you like to answer these questions?

David Dennis or Justin Tinsley should be grilled with questions like these (laughs). 


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Photo: Cakemaster