On Radioactive (Ghet-O-Vision/Shady/Interscope), Yelawolf synthesized these influences into a perfect, crunkdafied storm — with Juvenile’s face-reddening cackle and a touch of Lil Boosie’s boozy malaise. No one raps like this man, careens so wildly, or makes flighty, violent beats so completely his own. A word about those beats: They’re fucking ill. The volley of grimacing synths continued without relent on July mixtape Heart of Dixie.
Yelawolf spoke to CL about British Knights, Warped Tour hysteria, human shit stain Ted Nugent, and his risky label debut Radioactive.
Earlier this summer, you played a pretty great set at Bonnaroo. Did you feel out of place on the bill at what was essentially an indie rock festival?
Yelawolf: I’m probably more comfortable in a rock ’n' roll setting. I get way more nerved out at Rock the Bells than at Bonnaroo or the Warped Tour. Hip-hop fans are strictly about hip-hop, you know? It seems like rock ’n' roll fans are a little more open to different styles.
DJ Burn One told me last year that he thought you were trying to crossover, to make the leap to real stardom. I’m not sure that’s accurate.
Early on in your career, you do wanna reach the world. There’s a misconception about how an artist reaches that international stage. But I’m not sure Burn One would say that I’m trying to become a “pop star”...
“Stardom” is probably misleading. What I think he meant was that you wanted to stake out a wider audience.
Yeah. I mean, every artist wants to take the stage at Bonaroo, I would think. I came up on classic rock; I’ve been backstage at fuckin’ Ted Nugent shows. My mom’s boyfriend was Randy Travis’s road manager. Because of that, the rock ’n' roll aspect feels natural to me.
You grew up around white neocons in rural Gadsden, Alabama, but listened to Goodie Mob and 8-Ball and Project Pat. How did that go over there?
I was born in Gadsden, but I moved around: Lambo City; Marietta, Georgia; Atlanta; east side; west side; Franklin, Tennessee; Nashville. Literally, like, 15 school districts. Nashville’s got a special breed of white boys, man. You have guys in gold grills, posted up on some gangster shit. This dude Eric Macarow had an apartment across the street from me, and I’d bump his Too $hort tapes or whatever.
When one of our writers profiled you back in 2010, he likened your work to the novel Winter’s Bone. It’s an apt comparison: you’re very good at fleshing out characters in detail and making them sympathetic. Would you ever consider writing fiction?
I’ve never read Winter’s Bone, but you’re like the third person who’s interviewed me who’s brought it up, so I might have to now. But it’s funny you say that because I’ve literally been writing a book for three years. I see something super fucking ill about the dichotomy of my life. Picture me riding around in a box Chevy listening to Devin the Dude. Then there’s a fucking Klan member at the construction site where I’m working. Or picture me in a Randy Travis sweatshirt because my mom’s boyfriend is his road manager, but because I’m in the projects, I have to wear British Knights. It’s a weird dichotomy, man.
Your label boss, Eminem, seems very self-serious in interviews and the like. Is he that way in person?
[Laughs] I was just at the tattoo shop—my girl was getting a tattoo—and literally watching, like, these 30-minute clips of Em just cracking people up. Em’s hilarious. That’s always kind of been his lane.
Take me back to the first time you heard The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. As a young hip-hop fan, did you think that records like those were even possible?
[Laughs] I’m trying to remember how old I was then. I think I was at my grandma’s house in Gadsden when I first saw the “My Name Is” video. My jaw dropped. It was that way for a lot of us, I think. You didn’t think it was possible then. Remember, 12 or 13 years ago, there was no Internet really. There was the radio and “TRL” and that was it.
One of the things I loved about Radioactive was that it harkened back to the Old South with guests like Mystikal and Gangsta Boo, people who were part of Southern rap’s underground 15 years ago. You also had Em and Kid Rock on the album. Was that an attempt to bridge the gap between different worlds?
I just loved the dichotomy of having Marshall and Gangsta Boo on the same song. I was trying a lot of things and taking a lot of risks that I may not be able to now. The window is closed.
What’s on the agenda for a sophomore album?
Like I said, I feel like the window is kind of closing; I won’t be able to make another record like Radioactive. I’ll never have the chance again. All I can really tell you is that this next one will be completely different.
2 Chainz is the only one that doesn't really fit. Lamar kind of. Should get…
probably just some bros w/ guitars...
Top 10 Shows I saw:
I was there in 1968. I was there at the first Can show in Cologne…
you should have been there in 2002. now THAT was epic. it hasn't been the…
I have heard that answer since I went to Bonnaroo in 2003.