Release Date: Nov 21, 2011
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Southern Rap, Alternative Rap
Hick-hop juggernaut Yelawolf may strike some as Alabama's answer to Eminem (whosigned the 31-year-old rapper to his Shady label). But the boozy, stone-faced rhymes on his debut leave little room for laughs: "In this forest I’m a lonely tree/ My limbs are covered in tattoos, and my roots, they run deep," he raps. What Yelawolf lacks in wit he makes up for with gravitas: "Radioactive Introduction" is an intoxicating trunk-rattler, surveying his past as his Impala rolls at a snail’s creep, and "Growin' Up in the Gutter" is a Trent Reznor-style teethgrinder.
He’s snide, he’s scrappy, he’s on the Shady imprint, and he’s white, but by exploiting the differences between the two, Yelawolf's debut album, Radioactive, does an excellent job of separating the artist from his label boss, Eminem. Expect an Alabama-bred version of Detroit’s finest and you’ll be without the sharp wit and over the top sickness that Marshall can provide, although Yela’s still pointed and generally in the vicinity of unforgiving, offering up signature punch lines (“I already got two cars in the yard that don’t run/So why would I want to break it down for you?”) that reinforce his “Slumerican Shitizen” stance. He’s the right combination of proud and pissed too, as the radio-friendly “Made in the U.
For many, Yelawolf is hip-hop’s great white hope. His start-stop flow resembles an unwinding sandbag accelerating from theater rafters, over the cleanest “dirty South” instrumental skitter of any audio stylist in an otherwise woozy, muddy year for beats. And like his hypnotizing number of neck tattoos on an otherwise lithe spaghetti body, he decorates these spotlessly metronomic shows of dexterity with a homespun grittiness the Coen Brothers could fetishize.
A year to the week after Trunk Muzik deservingly got the retail treatment as one of the finest mixtapes in recent memory, the pride of Gasden, Alabama offers his studio debut, Radioactive. Despite the artist’s esteemed major label backing and iconic co-sign in Eminem, the record feels as any ascent to the majors would have for Yelawolf. His authenticity is what sustained him through previous deals, and it’s what made him an emerging star in spite of his refusal to conform.
There's a curious moment at the end of the sixth track on Yelawolf's major-label debut. It's "Throw It Up", one of the album's highlights. After the song ends, there's a skit where Yelawolf and his boss, Eminem, discuss the course of the album. Eminem tells Yelawolf that the album needs songs for women, love songs specifically.
Our underground heroes fail us so consistently when they move to major labels that it hardly feels like a valid gripe anymore. Is there even any validity in hoping for an underground artist to retain his distinctive charms? Do major label albums after free and indie releases ever add up to a significant artistic achievement? How much blame can we really lay at the feet of the super producer brought in to make things more radio-friendly? And are record executives who sign people based on underground success really guilty of forcing them to do commercial material? Which is to say Yelawolf has finally released Radioactive, his full length Shady Records/Interscope debut (Trunk Muzik 0-60 was a re-release of a free mixtape), and it’s as bad as your mind allowed to be when you heard Yela would be subjecting himself to Jimmy Iovine’s stable. All the hallmarks of a commercial sellout are here, from the Lil Jon and Kid Rock cameos, to the attempts at radio hits, to the smooth, sports television bumper production.
With his working-class Alabama heritage, unflattering quasi-mullet, and mom-honoring tattoos, Michael “Yelawolf” Atha is no one’s idea of a rap phenomenon. But if you’ve spent any amount of time with his breakthrough 2010 mixtape, Trunk Muzik, or its revised edition, Trunk Muzik 0-60, you can testify to the fact that he’s a much more adept emcee than he might appear to be – see the eerie thump of “Pop the Trunk” or the Raekwon-featuring “I Wish”. So, after those tapes and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Big Boi and Tech N9ne, here’s Radioactive, Yela’s Shady Records debut.
Despite Yelawolf’s distinctive personality and voice, Radioactive is pretty much what any other major label debut is these days. Well-produced, if not even a little ambitious, and fine tuned. It’s littered with oddly—if not even poorly—sung hooks from the likes of Kid Rock, Pooh Bear (aka MDMA) and Fefe Dobson among others. And it’s very aurally scattered, attempting to open the formerly street artist’s listenership to a larger female audience with more love songs and a Diplo-styled dubstep track while maintaining his testosterone-fueled edge elsewhere with Lil’ Jon and Mystikal features.
The Alabama rapper’s star is sure to shine for the foreseeable based on this debut. Mike Diver 2011 With a catalogue stretching back to 2005’s self-released collection Creek Water, it’s perhaps surprising that Alabama-based rapper Yelawolf (born Michael Atha) has taken until now to reveal his debut album proper. (There have been mixtapes and EPs, but nothing more substantial.) But as its generally positive reception stateside illustrates, Radioactive has largely been worth the wait.
Yelawolf’s road to stardom wasn’t paved in gold. The Alabama native trudged through back roads, dark clubs and, at times, a whiskey-induced haze, to make his way to the top. On his proper debut, Radioactive, Wolf combs deep into his past experiences, backed by slick production by way of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Diplo and Jim Jonson, among others, to twist a tale that’s every bit as satisfying as poppin’ the top on a cold one after a long day.