Category: Yelawolf

The temporary return of Slim Shady at the BET Hip-Hop Awards

Shady Records Roster
There never was a real Slim Shady.

That was the point. It was the alter ego of a Detroit-galvanized, rock-bottom bad seed born Marshall Mathers. Mathers begat Eminem, who himself conceived the maniacal Shady, who spurred Mather's evolution from consecrated underground battle champ to international icon.

For a sub-generation who went from Wu-Tang to Rawkus Records, Slim Shady offered another possible detour. He was capable of being both hard-core and humorous, serious and scatological; the dirty rotten rhymer on underground Soundbombing collaborations and Missy Elliot deep cuts. Along with Jay-Z, Eminem effectively shattered the arbitrary divides that had heretofore cleaved underground rap from the mainstream.

Even those who don't find the latter claim true have to admit that the two, at the very least, caused kids to question what exactly was so bad with mainstream rap. After all, Eminem was on Interscope and was arguably more lyrical and more entertaining than anything simmering in the subterranean. 

A decade later, Eminem's "Recovery," the most commercially successful rap album of 2010, served arguably as a flash point for some of the problems ailing major-label rap. Although artistically uncompromising efforts still slip through the cracks (Waka Flocka Flame, Rick Ross, Big Boi, the Roots), rare is the album that escapes from the major-label world that doesn't sound intensely focus-grouped. 

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Long dormant Shady Records arises from its slumber to sign Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse

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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.

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The dirt on Yelawolf: A conversation with Interscope's next great hope

L_195fd320b0584c25b47f19b7400a8478Yelawolf’s manager calls him “Joe Dirt.” The nickname is only partly attributable to the Gadsden, Ala., rapper’s predilection for sporting a rat-tail haircut best described as a domesticated mullet. Like the titular protagonist of the 2001 David Spade vehicle, the MC born Michael Wayne Atha has endured a series of wild and barely believable experiences on the path to prospective rap stardom.

However, talking to Yelawolf before his performance at skateboarding legend Rob Dyrdek’s SK84life charity event, it’s impossible not to take him at his word. The 30-year-old tank-top-sporting ex-skateboarder, ex-commercial fisherman, ex-everything speaks with the guileless conviction of a lifetime vagabond, one too exhausted to lie — the embodiment of Bob Dylan’s claim that you have to be an honest man to live outside the law.

Shuttling among Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama (with temporary sojourns in Berkeley, New York, Seattle and Alaska), he refers to Outkast as the greatest group of all time. The Atlanta superstars have reciprocated the praise, with Big Boi enlisting the half-Cherokee, half-white rapper for the lone Andre 3000-produced track on his forthcoming “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty.”

But the outcast appellation also appropriately describes a chaotic upbringing plagued by drug abuse, an absentee father and a bartender mother. Attending 15 schools throughout elementary and high school, Yelawolf was exposed to rap when one of his mother’s friends brought him an early Run-DMC tape -- which he began to understand only in the fourth grade, when he was bused to school alongside kids from the Nashville projects who boasted similarly hardscrabble origins.

At the moment, things have settled somewhat. He’s the darling of the blogs, with his most recent mixtape, “Trunk Muzik,” winning universal acclaim and earning him a deal with Interscope Records, which presumably is already brainstorming ways to turn Yelawolf into the next Eminem. And thanks to his pyrotechnic double-timed raps and eye for narrative detail, the Slim Shady comparisons are certain to dog him for the immediate future. Yet Yelawolf’s rap roots bear a love of everything from cult heroes such Hieroglyphics and Twista, to Goodie Mob, to the dirty South devil waltz of Three 6 Mafia.

Unafraid to sketch the redneck culture of meth labs, Monte Carlo’s and Mossbergs, the Motion Family-directed video for “Pop the Trunk” portrayed the backwoods exigencies of life in Gadsden with a grim and careful eye. Yet this represents only a fraction of Yelawolf’s sound, eliding his skateboard past, his love of West Coast underground rap and his classic-rock fixation (an earlier mixtape, “Stereo,” sampled Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and the Doors). Signed to Columbia until a Rick Rubin reorganization foolishly jettisoned him back to the blog blob, Yelawolf is as safe a bet for stardom as anyone out right now — the rare rapper capable of earning respect from both Kid Rock and Kid Cudi fans. Provided he doesn’t get eaten by a crocodile first.

Being a white rapper is always going to engender Eminem comparisons even if you are half Native American. Have those grown tedious yet or have you just tried to take them in stride?

I can't be mad at the comparisons because I'm still just getting my feet wet. I've got years to go before I establish a full concrete Yelawolf sound. Right now, I'm focused on saying what I have to say. I have to do Yelawolf right now and not worry about anything else. That said, I think it's a fair comparison. There haven't been many white artists in hip-hop, and there's only a handful that the average person knows about, so it is what it is.

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