Unlike Mac Miller, whose brand of hip hop was tailor-made for kids who shop at Hot Topic and drink bad rum out of Sonic Route 44 cups while waiting for their parents to pick them up from the mall, Yelawolf's influences are more Southern in nature, which means that he is automatically (a) more interesting than both Mac Miller and Asher Roth, and (b) foolish enough to believe that he can differentiate himself from the other five million Southern rappers ruling radio airwaves today. Yela does have a few more slightly interesting life experiences to cull from, however. For one, he used to fancy himself to be a professional skateboarder. Second, um, well, he has been in the same studio as Marshall Mathers.
Yelawolf's signing came at a time of a paradigm shift at Shady Records. Eminem had already dropped pretty much all of his artists on the label, leaving the likes of Obie Trice and Stat Quo without homes (not literally, I hope). Only Curtis Jackson, his onetime breadwinner, and D-12, a group Em also happens to be in, were saved from the chopping block. Marshall wanted to elevate Shady to the next level, going after rappers with both street cred and blogger buzz, and the two acts he signed earlier this year, Yelawolf and the four-man supergroup Slaughterhouse, both certainly fit both of those criteria. Yelawolf's major label debut Radioactive (following a different major label debut for Columbia Records that never saw the light of day) was supposed to be the first project on Shady 2.0 (not the real name of the label), but Eminem grew antsy and recorded-slash-released a Bad Meets Evil EP with Royce da 5'9" instead, so Yela found himself moved to the second position.
I don't think he minds.
1. RADIOACTIVE (INTRO)
This should have probably been a generic rap album intro, but Michael quickly steps in to deliver one long verse in two different styles: one hyperactive, like Marshall Mathers after drinking a Red Bull laced with a bump of cocaine, and the other more calculated and focused (and, honestly, it kind of sounds like Andre 3000, which makes sense, since the J.D. Salinger of hip hop is one of Yela's primary influences). Listeners should exercise a take-it-or-leave-it approach: if you can't handle either of Yelawolf's incarnations on this introductory track, then you should probably shut this album off right fucking now. For what it's worth, I prefer the less manic option.
2. GET AWAY (FEAT. SHAWTY FATT & MYSTIKAL)
Radioactive is not just Yelawolf's major label debut: it also doubles as a platform for many forgotten artists who had long ago slipped through the cracks, such as Mystikal, who really shouldn't have any kind of female following at this point after having sexually assaulted that hairdresser (and serving prison time for it), and let the ladies still love his "Shake Ya Ass". The man is a motherfucking registered sex offender, people! Go figure. I couldn't repeat any of the lines on "Get Away" back to you even if you threatened my kids, but I will admit that all three participants sounded okay enough over the Phonix Beats instrumental. I hope Yela's overly wordy chorus isn't indicative of the rest of Radioactive, though.
3. LET'S ROLL (FEAT. KID ROCK)
Somehow Kid Rock makes a second appearance during this stunt month, probably at Eminem's behest. He doesn't rap or casually refer to himself as a "n---a" this time around, though: he's stuck handling a chorus that could have been performed by absolutely anybody else, including myself. (I'm still a little miffed that Marshall didn't like my demo, but I'm trying to move past it.) Yela's verses are the typical "I used to be nothing, but now I'm something" variety (except for the fact that he isn't even all that popular yet, but I digress), but his flow has enough flair to not make the subject matter sound tired before the song even begins.
4. HARD WHITE (UP IN THE CLUB) (FEAT. LIL' JON)
On Radioactive's first single, Lil' Jon is the second recipient of a ride on Yelawolf's coattails reserved for forgotten artists (I would have included Kid Rock on that list, but he's actually still successful, just not anywhere close to our chosen genre). I quite liked the beat from Tha Hydrox: it switches itself up often enough to keep me interested. Also, Little Jonathan's hook is as catchy as his best work in the past. Michael's two verses take a while to get used to, thanks to his ever-evolving flow, but overall, I found this to be enjoyable enough. It is kind of weird that this never really took off around my way, though.
5. GROWIN' UP IN THE GUTTER (FEAT. RITTZ)
Both depressing and too fucking loud. Yela's storytelling abilities actually aren't terrible: his slower flow sounds polished enough to convince an audience to pay attention. WillPower's instrumental, which kicks into high gear during the Marshall Mathers-esque chorus, dilutes any potency the track ever pretended to have, though, since replacing depth with loud noises has never actually worked in the history of music. As a result, I didn't care much for this shit, although it has to be said that our host does an okay job on here.
6. THROW IT UP (FEAT. GANGSTA BOO & EMINEM)
Yelawolf's charitable actions continue with the resurrection of former Three 6 Mafia affiliate Gangsta Boo (what fucking rock did he find her under?). I thought she was a born-again Christian, but I may be wrong, as her verse (and chorus) are as dirty as ever. The WillPower instrumental, combining classical piano keys with a drum machine, sounds okay enough, and the fact that the track falls apart and then rebuilds itself right before Marshall makes his obligatory cameo (making for an overly dramatic introduction for Yela's boss) was a nice touch, but all three verses, including those from Em and our host, sound pretty bland, especially Slim's, as he once again replaces substance with speed-rapping. The brief interlude at the end, where Marshall tells his young charge that he "needs" to put a love song on Radioactive because the "bitches" love that shit, was kind of funny, though.
7. GOOD GIRL (FEAT. POO BEAR)
The Audibles and guest star Poo Bear put together an instrumental for this not-really-a-love-song that sounds like Dr.Dre-lite in its own way, but that's not so much a compliment as it is a comment on how derivative it is. Yelawolf brings back his Andre 3000-ish slow flow for the ladies who he would love to bone when he has the time, and Poo Bear sings on the hook because why the fuck not, right? Yela claims that this song is about bad girls trying to be good, but to hear him tell it, he can fuck them all the same (he refers to himself as a sex addict during the outro), so the message is more than a bit muddled.
8. MADE IN THE U.S.A. (FEAT. PRISCILLA RENEA)
This seems to be more of a showcase for guest vocalist Priscilla Renea than it is a Yelawolf song, as our host delivers his verses and then stays out of the way of his invited guest. I don't mean to imply that the hook has nothing to do with the actual rhymes, but I do feel that Yela stretches a metaphor a bit too far in order to pretend that this song makes actual sense. Priscilla's faux-Rihanna vocals sound alright enough, but I fail to see how her career will continue beyond this one song that isn't even technically hers to have. At least she milks the hell out of it, though. Moving on...
9. ANIMAL (FEAT. FEFE DOBSON)
The fourth lucky guest on Yelawolf's Career Make-A-Wish tour is Canadian singer/songwriter/hot chick Fefe Dobson, an artist who never broke through to the American audience (she was even dropped by her Stateside label after they realized that nobody gave much of a fuck about their artist, and this happened mere days before she was scheduled to drop an album). In Canada, however, she's been nominated for awards and shit, so maybe she shouldn't really count as a charity case. Anyway, her comeback began while working behind the scenes at the labels, and it continues with her chorus on "Animal", where she belts out a not-terrible hook over a Diplo instrumental that Yela's elastic flow is a great fit for. This actually was not bad.
10. THE HARDEST LOVE SONG IN THE WORLD
I'm not sure why Eminem was so adamant that Yelawolf place a love song on Radioactive earlier in the tracklisting when our host already had this track in his back pocket. I don't know how accurate the song title is: I'm pretty sure I've heard harder love songs. But this wasn't terrible, for what it was. In fact, most of Yela's female audience will definitely prefer this to "Good Girl".
11. WRITE YOUR NAME (FEAT. MOUA MOUA)
This sounds like one of the shittier Wiz Khalifa offerings that populate radio playlists, and I am so not having that right now.
12. EVERYTHING I LOVE THE MOST
Meh. We appear to be in the midst of Yelawolf's blue period.
Yelawolf is still in a fairly somber mood, but I still dug this track, as he describes how the music industry has changed because of the Interweb, which is where heads are forced to turn now that Clear Channel runs every fucking radio station and because everyone knows that MTV isn't going to play any goddamn music videos during the day. Not awful.
14. SLUMERICAN SHITIZEN (FEAT. KILLER MIKE)
This was supposed to be Yelawolf's big quasi-political statement, and it certainly contains a lot of shouting (Americans are prone to doing that, especially when given the option between yelling and actually reading up on the facts of any given situation), but for me it fell flat, because he doesn't focus enough on any specific problem. Also, the title is juvenile and lame. Killer Mike lends the track its closing verse and some ad-libs during the outro, but the damage has already been done.
15. THE LAST SONG
Conveniently listed as the final track on Radioactive, "The Last Song" ends the project on a powerful note, as Yela abandons all pretense and delivers two verses, one attacking his absentee father and the other praising his mother and crediting her for his success. After this journey, it's interesting to hear our host speak from the heart, especially when the previous fourteen tracks were all about building up a fictional persona. As such, I actually liked this song a lot. Not enough to throw it on my iPod or anything, but it was still pretty good. A nice way to go out.
There's also a deluxe edition of Radioactive that tacks on three additional songs, including one that apparently features Eminem. That kind of defeats the whole fucking purpose of calling the fifteenth track "The Last Song", if you ask me. Also, I don't have that version, so my write-up pretty much ends here.
THE LAST WORD: Yelawolf is the epitome of a divisive artist: you either like his flow or you don't, and there are valid arguments for both sides of that equation. I didn't care for most of Radioactive, his Shady debut, but the songs I liked, I really fucking liked. It probably helps that I had never heard a fucking thing from Yelawolf before popping this album onto my iPod, so I had zero expectations. (The Eminem co-sign doesn't mean anything to me: he has some pretty shitty taste in music.) Most of the production on Radioactive veers toward generic territory, and he relies on guest stars on nearly every goddamn track, so it's hard to pick him out of a lineup. When he actively tries, though, Yelawolf bends his words in pretty interesting ways. I wouldn't recommend that anybody actually purchase Radioactive (divisive or not, when most of the songs are bland, I can't with good conscience tell anyone to buy it), but you may be pleasantly surprised by a handful of these tracks. I understand that The Source gave Radioactive four-and-a-half mics: I would like to partake in some of the weed that critic was smoking. Now where the hell's that Slaughterhouse project, Marshall?
B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: HARD WHITE (UP IN THE CLUB) (REMIX) (FEAT. T.I. & SLAUGHTERHOUSE)
Speaking of Slaughterhouse, for those of you two who thought the original version of Radioactive's first single would have been improved by featuring less of our host, this official remix may be a better alternative, as it squeezes six rappers into a three-verse construct. I'm not sure why Clifford appears on here instead of, oh, let's just say Eminem, but roping in Royce, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, and Joe Budden was a pretty good idea. Ah shit, I just realized that this probably means Yela's now going to pop up on Slaughterhouse's Shady Records debut. Fuck.