I’ve been listening to Yelawolf for a couple years now, and surprisingly have found myself anticipating Radioactive’s release like I would a Lupe Fiasco album or a new Nas LP: I’d have to lock in, throw on my Beats headphones (not an endorsement in any way, those things are put together with Elmer’s Glue) and eagerly await what was going to come out the speaker box. Over the past two years I’ve grown to view Yelawolf (albeit prematurely) as a one of rap’s monster lyricist’s, wielding his southern accent and dialect as weapons, with great fervor and affect. I’ve grown to see him as someone who could become an important figure in the growing age of hip-hop. I was not surprised, but rather expectantly delighted to see that Shady Records signed him, and thought two things: Eminem is smart as hell, and I cant wait to hear them on a track together. “Shady 2.0” with Yela, Em, and Slaughterhouse certainly didn’t disappoint, and the BET Cypher was a spectacular conglomeration of mic murderers, where Eminem, blatantly ironic as ever, introduces Yelawolf as “White Dawg”, and tells him to “get ‘em!”. This is partly an effort to mock an audience that, as we continue to see, tag any and all white rappers as Eminem clones, but moreover to bring the underdog to the stage – like Em was in Detroit (think 8 Mile) and Yelawolf is now – and prove the nay saying critics and ignorant fantastically wrong.
See Yelawolf: “Plenty of white boys to pick from this year, but before you pick a pepper, you better pick up your heater, ‘cuz even Peter Piper could pick up a mic but what it’s like to pick a fight with me is like putting Nike’s on a cheetah, better speed up”
See Eminem: “Can Yelawolf fit a fifth of rum in a big cup, between a stick shift in his frigging pickup, and drink like a hick redneck hillbilly will til’ he gets hiccups” – BET Shady 2.0 Cypher
Where some have criticized Yela’s debut as lacking big named talent, I contend that it keeps the album appropriately modest; it represents Catfish Billy’s hometown southern roots, the don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, and his empathy for the struggle to overcome being an a overlooked MC. The album’s introduction opens with an odd, automated voice recording confirming the launch of nuclear missiles aimed at the U.S., as Yelawolf abruptly adopts the voice of the impassive recording and transforms from apathetic to affecting, numb to poignant:
“I am… the American Eagle; eye’s of a sparrow, right hand branch, left hand arrow/ chasin’ a dolla’, and an Impala, white trash heartthrob- mellow-yellow, drinkin’ hard liquor, broads, Get on my level! I’m hotter than the bottom side of a whistlin’ kettle, they threw a mountain at me, I got hit with a pebble!”
Yelawolf’s love for but hunger to leave the decay and stagnation of his hometown is a theme reflected throughout the album. He states that he’s “tornado pathin’, rearview mirror of my ’87 Classic, I’m talkin’ bout Gadsden, look momma no hands, I’m Radioactive”. He enlists fellow Alabaman Shawty Fatt and resurrects the now almost fabled Mystikal – at one point was one of the South’s most prolific artists – for “Get Away.” On “Growin’ up in the Gutter” your speakers rage; the beat relies heavily on its bass and kick drums to progress, sounding almost blatantly rough; one could imagine it being used in a movie score for The Terminator, hauntingly blaring down as John Conner mows down T-800’s in slow motion.
On “Made In The U.S.A.”, Yelawolf describes a medley of hardships that many of us in 99% have to deal with, his verses sounding satisfyingly similar to Lupe’s final verse of “Hurt Me Soul” on Food & Liquor. Yela’s dark, bleak forecast of the state of the nation is juxtaposed with an ironic, nationalistic chorus, sarcastically asking “isn’t it great, how we got it made?” The album’s second single “Let’s Roll” with Kid Rock bumps, plain and simple, on either side of the country. Throughout Radioactive , Yela’s strongest traits are ever-present. The album is melodic, eclectic and versatile, wherein Yelawolf can appeal to beer bellied NASCAR fan as well a street savvy lyrical elitist, who both “prolly think I’ma limp biscuit that spits jelly”.
Yelawolf’s eclectic, varying production preference (with some help from Slim Shady) is on par with that of Rick Ross’ on Deeper Than Rap: complementing his sound without diluting it through repetition. Yela’s hooks are suprisingly melodic and well written, and the album includes a wide variety of guest appearances. “Throw It Up” features Gangsta Boo & Eminem, where Slim Shady is indeed in his most rare of forms. Undoubtedly there are some songs that sound a bit too “poppy” for us rap elitists (especially, and maybe purposely? on the Jim Jonsin produced “Radio”, where Yela criticizes the lack of variance on the today’s mainstream radio and reminisces about the old days).
Yelawolf’s true talent is undeniable on the album, and is undoubtedly present throughout it. It would have been nice if Slaughterhouse appeared, or if the eventual remix of “Hard White” was instead the original. The album did lack tracks tailored to suit a rapper’s raw spitting and flowability, like having Yelawolf get on his beat Chameleon and flow over an Alchemist or Denaun Porter instrumental.
Overall, it comes down to this: Yelawolf has the potential to be a star, and more significantly, to reach millions, to break down the stereotypes that even we ever-immersed and cultured New Yorkers, rap geniuses, and experts have of southern rap and, for example, “Southern white trash.” Yelawolf’s career is just peaking the horizon. Eminem signed a white rapper, who shared a similar struggle, who is from Gadsden, Alabama… who woulda thunk it. Radioactive is a very good debut album, with club/radio friendly singles, unique storytelling and lyricism, and most importantly, the ability to be enjoyed from the mainstream to the underground, from the Nissan to the Box Chevy.
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