Eminem’s Shady Records imprint has been around for over a decade, but curiously has never signed another white guy. Considering that Em is arguably the nicest emcee in the game, for him to embrace a member of his own race would obviously draw comparisons, making it a lot to live up to for whomever that emcee was. Enter Yelawolf, an Alabama based emcee that has steadily making a name for himself on the underground, thanks to his crisp, rapid-fire flow, and unique perspective.
On Radioactive, his major label debut for Shady Records, Yelawolf is not trying to “be Black”, like so many other failed attempts at marketing a white emcee, nor does he employ the hottest urban producers in an attempt to lend authenticity to what he’s doing. In other words, there’s no Dr. Dre beats, no Timbaland beats, and only one lone co-production going to Em himself. Yela instead employs a sound that is all his own, which sometimes hits, and other times does not.
Nobody can really argue with Mr. Wolf’s skill level, as he puts it on display all over Radioactive, such as on the thumping mosh pit starter “Hard White (Up In The Club), the highly technical “Animal”, or the much talked about collaboration “Throw It Up”, where he holds his own next to Eminem (Gangsta Boo’s appearance leaves something to be desired, however). He also uses the album as a platform for social commentary, such as the disturbing “Growin’ Up In The Gutter” and the Travis Barker/Killer Mike assisted “Slumerican Shitizen”, both of which bang with reckless abandon. So it’s not a question of skill, but rather if Yelawolf is or isn’t your thing.
What isn’t quite clearly as outlined on Radioactive is the direction that Yelawolf wants to take his career. Trunk Muzik defined ‘Wolf in the underground, but the million-dollar major label world is a different game. That being said, we find him with a surprising amount of potential radio aimed songs with many sung hooks – such as the soulful “Hardest Love Song In The World” or the bittersweet “Write Your Name”, which finds him describing the residents of his hometown. It doesn’t always quite go over so well though, such as on the derivative “Good Girl” or the patriotic (?) “Made In The U.S.A.”
Still, the attempt to appeal to the blue-collar workers of middle America, not to mention the Kid Rock fueled “Lets Roll” suggests there is a bit of a “throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” approach to the LP. The message of “Radio” comes through loud and clear, but it’s Buggles inspired hook comes off cheesy. The same can be said for the aforementioned “Animal”, which certainly isn’t lacking in the lyrics department, but has a questionable choice for a hook.
Yelawolf has a lot to live up to, and his music could go in multiple directions. His attempts at pleasing various different crowds at times makes Radioactive a hard LP to grab hold of, suggesting that it is merely a blueprint for any number of potential ways that his career will ultimately define itself.
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