In the past, country rap has always played the sidelines of America’s diffuse hip hop playing field, underground and mainstream. Cowboy Troy, Haystak and especially the hard-to-hate, cosmopolitan Bubba Sparxxx were essentially founders of the genre, mixing hip hop with time-honored folk music and (particularly in Bubba’s case) upping the lyrical stakes in their musical subclass and the whole rap game in general.
Officially starting his rap career in 2005 with the independent album, Creek Water, and picking up hard and fast in 2010 with the release of his astonishing Trunk Muzik 0-60 EP, the rhythmic and lyrical Yelawolf, from Gadsden, Alabama, was recommended to Detroit rap god Eminem by producer and fan Jim Jonsin. By 2011, Yelawolf was on Shady Records, releasing his debut studio LP, Radioactive, overseen by Geto-O-Vision, DGC and Interscope in conjunction with Shady. It was a critical success hampered by the choking influence of too many label heads according to Yelawolf. Soon after, he regrouped for his second major release, the heartfelt Love Story, this time under only Shady, Interscope and Yela’s Slumerican.
Quite the roots-based album, Love Story is very reflective, emotional and soul-cleansing for Yelawolf, as he opens up about love, faith, growth and problems at home and around the world (“Sky’s The Limit”). Channeled through soft singing as well as Yela’s striking, intricate rap flows, an outpouring of different feelings and sensitivities are felt from the perspective of Yelawolf himself but also the scarred, hardworking rural class he is cut from. Rebellious country bravado, a Beastie Boys-like sound and energy level, and the swagger of Yelawolf’s hardscrabble, backwoods beginnings are everywhere.
Yelawolf eloquently disproves negative, preconceived notions about country folk more than once, and in “Till It’s Gone,” he independently and defiantly gives people back their problems, paraphrasing the snarky yet truthful line, “what you eat doesn’t make me shit.” He gets deeply poetic and scornful regarding alcoholism in “Empty Bottles” and pens a valentine to souped-up, performance cruisers in the fun “Box Chevy V.” Translation: he can be serious and sober but also light and joyous. “Heartbreak” rips apart the barriers to reaching glory and success, and elsewhere he speaks on fighting to be on the world stage, bidding a tearful farewell to the small time life of obscurity.
Eminem serves as Love Story‘s only guest, spitting fire and brimstone next to a spiritually sung Yela on “Best Friend.” Aside from being a guest, Em is also an executive producer and regular producer for a few tracks. Together, Yelawolf and his music makers have a great, holistic music sense that is completely unconfined and majestic. A lovable combination of hip hop drums and full harmonies of folk strings, acoustic guitar and rich, state-of-the-art studio sounds put producers Malay, Luis Resto, Bones Owens, the Track Bangas and of course Yelawolf’s longtime production mate WillPower in a new music stratosphere, as they can now be touted as a special producer-collaboration in the annals of rap.
Although it surprisingly worked out better than expected last time (for Radioactive), record exec intervention is no issue here. Yelawolf is solely and comfortably in the front seat guiding Love Story‘s direction with no unwanted backseat drivers, just helpful friends. Expect nothing but greatness from Eminem and WillPower but especially Yelawolf, who has played his great hand of cards so well here. With world class tools, skill, talent and passion, he has taken his time and magically stirred the album to life with common, relatable concepts and amazing musics that are proffered for the best interest of everybody: his loyal fans, his staff and himself.