Long dormant Shady Records arises from its slumber to sign Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse
For those tethered to their Twitters like umbilical cords, it was impossible to avoid this week's trending topic from Shady Records, announcing the signing of blog darlings Yelawolf and the bludgeon-rap supergroup Slaughterhouse.
The union of Royce Da 5'9", Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden and Crooked I with Eminem’s long dormant label had been heavily rumored for months. But the news about Yelawolf sent the Internet echo chamber into a frenzy of self-congratulatory back slaps and high fives. (And these are very difficult gestures to do via the digital medium.)
But the sentiment seemed well-deserved concerning Yelawolf, who is one of the rare rappers capable of eliciting largely unanimous praise amid that famously fractious world. Those looking for a more substantial background on the Gadsden, Ala., rapper can turn to his Times interview from last year. But in brief, think a flock of seagull-haired and heavily tattoed redneck with a double-timed tornado flow, and an experimental streak reminiscent of early Def Jux (his collaboration with El-P is forthcoming).
Themes include: Mossberg rifles, Monte Carlos and the backwoods battles endemic to the rural south. Or as his Twitter bio describes him: rapper, skater, drinker.
Thus far, the critical accolades have yet to turn into commercial returns. Late last year, the rapper born Michael Wayne Atha dropped the stellar “Trunk Muzik 0-60,” which debuted to a modest 5,000 in first week sales -- a far cry from Eminem’s multiplatinum reign. Yet the label appears to be taking an atypical tack in today’s singles-driven rap world: nurturing him as a career artist.
“Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse, it’s kinda phase two of Shady. It’s the new generation of Shady Records and as we’re trying to rebuild our label, it’s exciting for Hip Hop and with all of these forces coming together and with what everybody’s capable of on the mic, it’s gonna be fun,” Eminem said in a prepared statement.
What’s clear is that the imprimatur of one of the most popular rappers of all time counts -- not just in terms of marketing strategy but also in terms of marshalling support within the Interscope building. Without a proven track record of producing hit singles, Yelawolf would’ve had an uphill struggle to succeed alone. Collaborations with Gucci Mane and Big Boi, and a tour with Wiz Khalifa certainly upped his public profile, but none can match the co-sign of Marshall Mathers. Indeed, the signing seems to reflect a passing of the torch to the younger white rapper, who has been frequently been compared to Eminem.
"Considering where I’m from and the [stuff] I’ve been through, it’s hard to put into words what partnering with Shady means to me, my team at Ghet-O-Vision, and my state of Alabama,” Yelawolf said in a prepared statement. "I can tell you that when you’re willing to give your life up to see a dream through, the reward is great. And now that I’ve become an apprentice to one of the greatest artists in the world, my potential reaches beyond anything I ever imagined.”
Indeed, it certainly recalibrates the former Columbia Records signee's commercial ceiling and reinvigorates the fortune of the once latent Shady. Other than Eminem and 50 Cent, the Interscope Records subsidiary hasn’t released a full-length album since 2006’s “Eminem Presents the Re-Up,” a lackluster compilation that attempted to promote also-rans Bobby Creekwater, Ca$his and Stat Quo.
The signing of Slaughterhouse also reflects a gamble by Shady, one unlikely to pay off in commercial dividends, but a move that shores up its credibility among true-school types alienated by Eminem’s recent pop bids. Whether or not four fast-rapping hyper-lyrical rappers can maintain a high non-Internet profile remains to be seen, but it’ll be an interesting gambit to watch. At least, if either Yelawolf or Slaughterhouse get their records released.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Yelawolf. Credit: Yelawolf's MySpace page.