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Spin: “Behind the Two Faces of the White Rapper.”

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New column is up, slightly delayed by SXSW. It’s on white rappers, a favorite, dicey topic of mine. I tell you why Yelawolf and Rittz are great and why Mac Miller looks like Agent Cody Banks. Also: Wrestling with “Frat-Rap.”

In the video for his song “Donald Trump,” Mac Miller, a scruffy 19-year-old white kid from Pittsburgh who looks more like Agent Cody Banks than hip-hop’s next big thing, bounces up and down, spitting well-worn boasts about bitches, partying, and his future success. Yet, people are actually listening to this guy. “Donald Trump” has more than one million views on YouTube. Miller’s on the cover of this month’s XXL as one of hip-hop’s promising “freshman.”

Gadsden, Alabama’s Yelawolf, a 31-year-old skate-punk, redneck rapper with a nimble flow and talent for novelistic detail, is part of this year’s “freshman” group, as well. Yelawolf was also on last month’s cover of XXL, along with hard-head, traditionalist supergroup Slaughterhouse, and Eminem (both Yela and Slaughterhouse are recent signees to Shady Records). White rappers, though still an anomaly, are not quite the joke they once were. Thanks to rap’s full-fledged entrance into the pop landscape, the white rapper and listener don’t necessarily look to hip-hop to dramatize their fantasies about black culture or tell them what’s cool to impersonate; rather, many white rappers and white rap fans genuinely relate to the music. The era of the suburban gangster is over.

Written by Brandon

March 21st, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Village Voice, Sound of the City: Interview with Yelawolf


My interview with Yelawolf went up over at “Sound of the City” earlier today. We met up on two separate occasions and talked about a bunch of stuff (monique_r was also there for interview one and got him talking Gummo) and dude was really open and willing to dig-in deep on some stuff, which is always nice. Probably the best interview I’ve done, though I haven’t done that many. Strangely, he had read my “Yelawolf’s Redneck Manifesto” piece and was genuinely moved by it which is a great feeling; to know you got something about an artist right.

Yelawolf began the year with the mixtape Trunk Muzik and he’s wrapping up his 2010 with a major label EP, Trunk Muzik 0-60, out today. Between the internet release of his mixtape and the EP’s arrival in stores, Yelawolf signed to Interscope records, toured with Wiz Khalifa, showed up on “You Ain’t No DJ” off Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot, bored a bunch of Brooklyn Bowl attendees, humped some girls on-stage in celebration of his The Fader cover, and rapped over the Cars’ “I’m Not The One” in a holiday sweater. This interview took place at a hot wings spot in Carrboro, North Carolina in the spring and a tour van a few months later in Greensboro, NC as the Gadsden, Alabama rapper prepped Trunk Muzik 0-60.

Written by Brandon

November 24th, 2010 at 3:31 am

Yelawolf live @ Cat’s Cradle 4/6/10


Yelawolf, all arms and long-ass tank-top, slinks onto the stage, says “What the fuck is up?!” to an audience he’s gotta win over and promptly wins them over, song by song, double-time flow after double-time flow. The closest Yela gets to conventionally bigging himself up is getting the crowd to joyfully chant “Fuck you Yelawolf” before and after “F.U”, a clever, self-deprecating way of reminding new listeners who the fuck he is. All that matters it seems, is the show he’s performing, there’s no pimping Trunk Muzik and no mentions of being signed to Interscope. Just raps.

“Trunk Muzik” starts the set, introducing everybody to Yela’s weird combination of deep South, when-you’re-twisted-it’s-really-awesome bass-wobble production and insanely proficient, super-technical rapping. The performance is remarkably similar to what you hear on record, which seals the deal for those already aware of him and off-sets the “who/whatthefuckisthisguy?” feelings anyone not already hip to his masterful Trunk Muzik might have. There’s some confusing mystery about the guy and he uses it to his advantage: Tall, white, tattooed, insanely talented in the art of rapping, a pretty good dancer, what?

And seeing a guy rap really well, this well, never gets old. A machine-gun fire of words–Yelawolf probably rapped more syllables in his 8 song set than all the other performers that night combined–and a blur of limbs and tattoos (John Wayne? A big-ass catfish?) and defiant enthusiasm. He dashes around the stage so quickly and elegantly, it’s almost like he disappeared stage-right and re-emerged stage-left. Everything’s physical with Yelawolf. Lots of moving around. The brief between-songs heaves from rapping alot and rapping fast. The girls Yela brings on-stage to dance with him during “My Box Chevy Pt. 3″. When he climbs into the crowd and all the rest of us can see is his red hat bobbing up and down.

“Pop the Trunk”, Yelawolf’s “hit” in the sense that even people not rapping along to his other songs perk-up, turn on their FlipCams, and rap along to this one, is all urgency. On his mixtape, the song’s a detail-obsessed, story-rap, lots of simmer and slowburn, but live, it’s as big and booming as “Good to Go” or “Mixin’ Up the Medicine”. It doesn’t take the crowd down a few notches, it kidnaps their attention, takes them away, and drop them in the middle of his backwoods Alabama rap tale. Shoulders lunge forward when he says “What the fuck man, I can never get sleep” and there’s an eerie, calm, like the shit described in song is actually playing out in front of the crowd. The thrill of the songs gets magnified, which is the point of a good live performance.

further reading/viewing:
-Yelawolf at Cat’s Cradle by beckles1321
-Yelawolf performing live at Cat’s Cradle from ULTRASOUND
-“Yelawolf’s Redneck Manifesto” by ME
-“How Big Is Your World? Good Rap from January” by ME
-Interview with Yelawolf at the Levi’s FADER Fort

Written by Brandon

April 7th, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Posted in Yelawolf

Yelawolf’s Redneck Manifesto


“Confederate flags, I see em’ on the truck with the windows down/Why’s he playing Beanie Sigel?/Cause his daddy was a dopeman./Lynrd Skynrd didn’t talk about movin’ keys of coke, man/Ain’t no such thing as a free bird…”

That’s from Yelawolf’s “I Wish”, which features Raekwon and has a beat that rumbles like a Booker T & The MGs instrumental, a Duane Allman solo, and Triple H’s entrance theme all at the same time. Notice how there’s no interest in resolving all the tensions in that rap, how all the details float out there and link-up in some ways and don’t connect in other ways at all. You either get it or you don’t.

The Gadsden, AL rapper points out the absurdity an outsider would immediately gravitate towards–a Confederate flag on a truck, as hip-hop blasts from its speakers–and then, explains where the interests of Beanie Sigel and what a lot of you would call “a bunch of rednecks” intersect: Black or white, both poor, they’re afforded those few luxuries they have because of dope money.

In the words of James Baldwin, Yelawolf is “put[ting his] business on the street”: Letting-out some previously ignored, problematic reality for the rest of the world to see. In this case, it’s the reality that the drug trade holds in its grasp as many whites as blacks, and not only on the typical, higher-up rungs, but on the, work-a-day, keep-the-lights-on levels illustrated in the music of many trap-rappers or on a show like The Wire.

This has never been a fun chunk of reality for white people to hear. Namely because white privilege (which exists when you’re white, but not white and poor as fuck) makes it relatively easy to disassociate one’s self from “white trash”…all the while of course, invoking it when necessary, as country singers like Toby Keith or ex-presidents like George W. Bush are wont to do.

Yelawolf though, like the scores of black rappers before him, realizes some kinda change, real awareness–and interesting stories–stem from actively putting one’s business on the street, regardless of the perceived “hurt” it might do to one’s race or reputation. And so, his music isn’t only engaging with race/class on a political/social/”message” level, but in the dirty, details that’ve always been rap’s specialty.

“Pop the Trunk” is full of them, drenched in novelistic details that build-up over and over, to that increasingly terrifying hook/threat: “Don’t make me go pop the trunk.” It’s like when Wayne recalls having to go “get the cleaver” on Tha Carter III’s “Playing With Fire” because his mom’s “pussy second husband” is beating the shit out of her. Just serious, intensely personal, cinematic rap. Pay attention to the final verse of “Pop the Trunk”, which makes good on the hook’s threat, but it’s a kind of country road shotgun stand-off, and the victim of some buckshot to the chest slows Yelawolf’s staccato flow a to illustrate those bloody last gasps of life.

But there are everyday details too, the kind of sweatpants he’s wearing when he’s awakened, that both his parents are actively working–another reality for the working-class, there’s always bullshit to do–and lyrical flashes of the fucked-up night before. And there are quieter, less loaded pieces of insider info running through Yelawolf’s work, illustrated quite well in his interpolation/almost covers of rock hits of the past.

He screeched a Flock of Seagulls hook on Slim Thug’s “I Run” and he’s gotten a lot of interest lately for his “Subterranean Homesick Blues” reinterp on Juelz Santan’s “Mixin’ Up the Medicine”–that he’s got Stereo, a whole mixtape of classic rock-sampling rap songs, speaks to open-minded, all over the place listening habits of regular-ass people. That his parents probably partied to Flock of Seagulls and reflect on a shit-day at work over some beer and a Dylan record. This is also deeply hip-hop, this grab-from-anywhere if it sounds dope approach to songwriting.

There’s also something to say about a guy with an off-kilter flow that’s super comfortable just doing hooks–he’s the anti-Drake–and fully understands the fluidity of his rap persona. Because that persona’s scattered, it’s real, and because of that, it doesn’t fit nicely into this category or that one, and he can fluidly move around.

He’s a total rap outsider. He’s an awesome hook man. He’s as attuned to ghetto realities as any other rapper. He’s a skate-metal, trailer-park, drug-dealing, white hip-hop head from Alabama, deeply in-tune to the contingencies of his upbringing, which ain’t all that different from all his rap heroes and the dudes he grew up with.

Example: While Yelawolf’s adjective-filled, scene-stealing verse on G-Side’s “Who’s Hood” overflows with trailer-park imagery, it’s 6 Tre G who’s got the Jeff Jarrett punchline on “Feel The”–the song right before.

Namely, Yelawolf realizes that by simply existing and speaking on his life, he defies much of the classist bile espoused by popular media, white and black cultural gatekeepers, and the types that use phrases like “red-state/blue-state” unironically–the people that don’t want to acknowledge the ways the white and black working-class not only have a whole lot in common, but are one in the same.

That they’re listening to the same rap and rock and metal, rocking the same fashion, selling the same drugs, trying to cop the same clothes, circling their town’s hot spot in the same cars, hanging out at the same skate parks, of the same community, with the same interests, the same pleasures, the same pains.

further reading/viewing:
-Wikipedia Entry for Gadsden, Alabama
-The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad
-A weird interview with Yelawolf by J Dirrt of Baller’s Eve
-”If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin
-Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
-William Faulkner’s “Snopes Trilogy”

Written by Brandon

December 23rd, 2009 at 5:43 am

Posted in Yelawolf