Where will you see one of rap’s finest this summer? At Warped Tour, of course. Somewhat hidden among the dozens of punk, hardcore, ska and pop-punk bands is Yelawolf, the Alabama rapper with the superhuman flow who tells vivid stories of down-and-out Southern living. Last year’s “Trunk Muzik 0-60” earned him plenty of deserved accolades and “Radioactive,” to be released this fall comes with the full backing of Eminem, who recently signed Yelawolf to his long-dormant Shady Records Label.
Click Track talked to Yelawolf during his first week on Warped Tour, which he describes as a unique touring experience. He doesn’t know when he’ll hit the stage until he shows up at the venue each day. Sometimes that means as early as 1 p.m., other times after the sun goes down. We also talked about why he performs without a hype man and what to expect from the highly-anticipated “Radioactive.”Yelawolf and the Vans Warped Tour hit Merriweather Post Pavilion tomorrow.
So how’s Warped Tour so far? I imagine you’re seeing lots of kids in the crowds.
Yeah, man. Definitely majority is young kids. You gotta be young to stand out in this heat and get dirty. You gotta really love music. Or just be a maniac. Yesterday we watched A Day to Remember and Woe, Is Me and it’s insane. These kids are just [expletive]. I’ve seen a lot of pits. But that Day to Remember pit was like “300,” man. It was great … Going bananas. Definitely a lot of bloody faces out there. These kids are super crunk, man. They’re really, really into it.
Have you made any friends yet?
We kicked it with the guys from A Day to Remember, Woe Is Me, Bad Rabbits. We haven’t had much time to check out music. We’ll do our set, then I’m at my merch tent for an hour, hour and a half. Then grab some food. Usually I only have an hour or two to check out bands. Everyone plays 25-30 minute sets, so it’s hard to see a full set by anyone. But by the end of the tour I’m trying to check out everyone.
One of the many things that struck me about your show here in D.C. in March was that it was just you and a DJ up there. No posse, no hype man, no band — just you. Is that something that’s important to you, to do it on your own?
I have a sense of pride about the music that I don’t want to be [expletive] up in anyway. I don’t want some dude up there who can’t keep up with the ad libs. I’ve never wanted to blame anyone or have anyone to blame but me for what the show comes across as. It’s my music, you know? I represent it. We’re making hip-hop, it’s coming off of two-track beats so it’s not like I require a band. I don’t see any use for people to be standing around. My DJ is the band. The only crew that really pulled that off and made it cool was Wu-Tang. Where the dudes on stage aren’t dudes that are just standing around. They actually rap. They have something to contribute besides a shirt with your name on it.
I think kids are taking notice of what’s becoming expected. The bar has been set differently. If I come out and rock a show you’re definitely not going to come up after me with some boring [expletive]. So I just try to get out there and do the best I can and set an example. I used to go to watch Redman at Lollapalooza. Stagedive, crowdsurf and [expletive]. Go to a Three Six Mafia show, Mystikal show, start pits and [expletive]. I want to do that same thing. Give those kids a great show. Not let them be distracted by any nonsense.
Is live performance still vital to being a complete artist?
It’s all there is. There’s nothing else. It’s the last tangible thing that we have as artists that you can’t download. You can never replace it. So yeah, it’s all we have. That’s it. I take pride in a live show, man. If you don’t have it you will fail. You will not have a successful career. Period. Everyone’s got their own steez. Jay-Z will get up there and just stand there. But that’s his steez. It fits his music. It fits his style. But whatever style you have, you have to figure it out and make that [expletive] work live. Or else who wants to come see it?
You’ve developed a definite style over many years. Do think some of today’s artists that get popular very quickly, particularly through the Internet, maybe haven’t found their own voice yet?
Usually what they say is right — if you come up quick, you go down quick. A person can still come out and have a long career if you blow up overnight. As long as you’re standing on something that’s pure and you continue to deliver, deliver, deliver, deliver — you just have to make your art undeniable. For me it definitely hasn’t been overnight. Unless 10 years is overnight. But I knew that when I started. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’d walk off a stage after getting booed or some [expletive] and just be smiling. Like, these [expletive]! They’ll get it! ’Cause I’m not [expletive] going nowhere. It’s like finding your people. Those people start collecting and building together. I mean, let’s be honest dude. I’m white, I’m from Alabama. I dress crazy. I come from a very country background. Things that I talk about — I talk about dealing crystal meth and [expletive] my dad shooting deer out the bathroom window. It’s a story, man.
Honestly, Les Claypool [of Primus] is the O.G. of this [expletive], when it comes to content. If you look back at his lyrics, what he talked about. I was actually looking at videos and show footage before we went out [on tour]. We were looking at some old Primus footage. And I was like, Damn, dog! This [expletive] is really some Catfish Billy [expletive]! He was on this [expletive] year’s ago! “My name is mud!” (Makes Primus-y bass noises.) You know it’s the same [expletive] man. Picking at that culture. Picking at those stereotypes. With that in hip-hop it’s like, Whoa, man. That’s what took me so long. But I knew it and I was proud of it. And I knew that when it finally made sense to the right people that everything was going to be OK. And now I have the greatest allies in the world. [Expletive], man. Not just hip-hop, but in music, period. I couldn’t ask for better friends or people to champion me. It’s all good from here.
So when is the album finally coming out?
That’s set in stone?
If something happens it ain’t my fault!
One of my favorite things about “Trunk Muzik” was, like your live show, it was basically all you. Limited number of producers, not many features. But sometimes things change with that big major label album. So is it still going to be mostly you or are there lots of other people invovled?
Naw dude, we sold completely out! We got Lil Wayne. We got Timbaland. We got all the hit producers. We got Britney Spears. [Laughs.] Nah, man. I’ll always evolve, man. And I’ve told people that my music will always evolve. The way I perceive an album to sound and the way I put out mixtapes are two different energies. There’s a different focus, there’s a different sound.
But there’s plenty of raw roots in “Radioactive.” I’ll always keep that. I’m just as afraid of losing any of my core fans as my core fans are of losing me. I have those same fears. I don’t wanna [expletive] alienate anyone for any record. I’m an [expletive] in the studio. “Nah, I’m not [expletive] doing that. Nah, I’m not [expletive] doing that. Nah I’m not [expletive] doing that.” Believe me.
I take a lot of pride in “Radioactive.” I think we pulled it off. There’s a lot of surprises but as before we only reach out to features when we feel like it benefits the record. We don’t reach out based on what we think will “work” or “win” or any lame industry terminology. We want to make a great song at the end of the day. And it wouldn’t matter if I went and got Country Black from Three Six Mafia or I went and got Carrie Underwood. It doesn’t matter. If I do that, I do that because I want that record to be amazing.