When writing about white rappers, music journalists fall into two camps: those who overemphasize race’s significance and those who deny race’s significance. Before this journalist could even attempt to [retrospectively] pick a side, Yelawolf vandalized both camps, stealing my camping gear and tossing it into the fire. He did this in two ways: 1) by being himself, a twisted, shit-talking, beer-chugging, rhyme-vomiting, deer hunting rapper from the rural South and 2) by directly acknowledging the white rappers that preceded and influenced him.
The night started with a charged set from Rittz, Yelawolf’s Slumerican tourmate and rapid-rhyming peer. It wasn’t revealed until midway through Yela’s set that Rittz had recently been signed to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music record label, but Rittz’ skill was apparent as soon as the first lyrics escaped his lips. Though he looks like the redheaded cousin of comedian Chris Porter, Rittz’ skills on the mic were no laughing matter. From “White Jesus” to “Passin’ Out”– his slightly comical take on the summer hit “Cashin’ Out” – the stocky Georgian spewed a million words a minute, dexterously attacking every instrumental he touched. When a sizable crowd of drunk dudes had cheered for Rittz during DJ Vajra’s opening spins, they seemed like impatient drunkards, but his set proved that the alcohol wasn’t at fault: the guy could spit.
And so could his colleague. Following Rittz’ descent into the crowd, Yelawolf emerged , nonchalantly toting a pitcher of beer as if he knew he would need it later. The set started with “Whistlin’ Dixie” an aggressive punk track from, Psycho White, his upcoming collaborative EP with drummer and percussionist Travis Barker. The rough snares and harsh intonations were a different beast from the smooth, bass-driven tracks of Trunk Muzik, but Yelawolf seemed right at home. After concluding “Whistlin’ Dixie,” he thanked the audience for coming out in the snowstorm and performed “Trunk Muzik.” Despite the energy of both of these songs, Yelawolf didn’t really seem too lively until the third song, “Let Me Out.” As soon as the beat dropped, he went ballistic, miming the beat lyrically and physically. From that point onward, he was all over the stage, bouncing, jumping and drinking.
Cycling through old and new hits as well as his verse from the legendary Shady Cypher, the concert trod along smoothly. Things were merry all along, but they really got interesting when Yelawolf gave DJ Vajra a signal – he was a fantastic DJ, by the way – and then dedicated the next few tracks to recently deceased MCA of the Beastie Boys. “Brass Monkey,” “Fight For Your Right” and “Paul Revere” all got a spin while Yela bounced around the stage, enthusiastically rapping along. “My Name Is,” by Yela’s label boss, Eminem, followed afterward. This series of songs was brief, but it was subtly powerful. Rather than taking the Asher Roth route and penning a song (See: “As I Em”) about the inevitable and tenuous connections drawn between white rappers, Yelawolf preemptively strikes. The white rappers that preceded him are neither demons he has to exorcise nor stylistic ancestors that overly determine his style. By highlighting them, Yelawolf is able to both acknowledge them and distinguish himself.
Later in the show an audience member shouted, “Yo, fuck MGK!” With Southern charm Yelawolf said, “Hey chill out, man. I don’t sound like MGK,” again distinguishing himself without having to throw punches. The 20+ song set ended with “Push ‘Em,” another track off Psycho White. Yelawolf mustered up all the energy he could and stood triumphantly as the front row moshed, but he looked weary. Which was understandable. In one night he had not only performed 20+ songs; he had also solved the white rapper conundrum. That’s a lot of work.