Following the path Kid Rock, 8 Ball & MJG, and countless others paved, Yelawolf has brought his own brand of rap music to the people. Starting off as a mixtape rapper in the mid 2000s to eventually being signed to one of the biggest rap labels today, Shady Records, Yelawolf has experienced a lot of ups and downs. He managed to receive a major cosign from Eminem off his talent and unique flavour and didn’t have to compromise his style to get it. Then came his rushed debut album, Radioactive, that I actually reviewed back in 2011. I gave it a decent 4 out of 5 at the time but that rating doesn’t hold strong today. Yela admitted that the album wasn’t up to par with what he had released in the past. He retreated back into the swamplands to bring out the classic Trunk Muzik Returns in 2013. With several singles already out, the journey towards his new album, Love Story, began last year. Now it’s here for us to experience and it’s time to see how this tale plays out.
1. Outer Space Produced by WillPower
The first song is quite uplifting… literally. The song starts off with Yelawolf muttering to himself about his girlfriend kicking him out of the house when aliens suddenly abduct him. This interesting introduction heads towards a segue that leads us into the bouncing musical part of things. A well-polished rapid flow is spat while proclamations of being a “trailer park pimp” are made clear. This song is a strong opening with its buzzing chorus and solid verses that make for a high-energy intro.
2. Change Produced by Malay
The strong force from the previous song completely vanishes as the second track brings in a soft acoustic guitar and ghostly sounding verses from Yela. That is until the second verse when the drums kick in and Mr. Wolf turns his intensity gauge up a few dials. The song touches on Yelawolf’s changing image since his last album and which path he should take now.
3. American You Produced by Malay, Eminem, & Luis Resto
This is where some listeners might tune out as Yela goes a completely different direction. Apart from the final verse, he sings the entire song in a soft tone. As the main theme here is about the working class everyday American, it is obviously an anthem for the people. It is definitely more Kid Rock than anything else music wise but Yela’s passion is in his voice and throughout the entire song. This new direction doesn’t mean that this is a bad song but it’s very clear that its intent is to be polarising.
4.Whiskey In A Bottle Produced by WillPower
Continuing on with the country theme we get a track that is heavy on the guitar and even heavier on the southern references. Yela’s quick to name drop football teams, cars and the like but not afraid to call out these “country faggots”. The production by WillPower is engrossing to the point that the “lalala” part of the chorus isn’t jarring and just seems right. Though it’s country in theme and slow in delivery, on paper Yela’s lyrics look like they could belong to a battle rapper from NYC.
Still on that grass like
John Deeres this yard is already cut
You can’t get no work here, uh
You fags thought it was swag you was stealing
It turns out I got no peers
Just years of street smarts
So here you go retards
Come hit this bulls eye
I’ll give you three darts
5. Ball And Chain (Interlude) Produced by WillPower & Yelawolf
More sombre sounding acoustic guitar and sung lyrics makes this track sound like an emo anthem but it’s almost the opposite. Yela equates himself to being a prisoner that has now run away to freedom. This overall theme could be a metaphor that can be taken in several ways. Maybe he’s talking about not being a slave to the music industry anymore or possibly it’s about one’s own will power to break away from something that’s negative and pulling them down. Either way this song acts as a nice resting place before the album continues on.
6. Till It’s Gone Produced by WillPower
Just like Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”, this song falls victim to being released such a long time before the album drops. The song itself is dope with its combination of rhythmic slaps and acoustic guitar (there’s been a lot of this instrument!). Yelawolf effortlessly weaves his words around and over this interesting production while staking his claim in the rap game. This is one of the strongest efforts on the album so far.
7. Devil In My Veins Produced by Bones Owens
This song is so far removed from anything Hip-Hop it might as well be called country, and you know what, that’s just fine. The song is executed perfectly with Yela’s passion and past influences ingrained in every word. The track acts as a confession booth with an ambiguous story of sin and redemption being told. Those looking for traditional Hip-Hop need not apply here but those with an open mind are welcome in.
8. Best Friend Featuring Eminem; Produced by WillPower & Eminem
Yela keeps the spiritual theme running from the last song into this one by battling inner demons while claiming God is his closest ally. While Yela goes against his normal grain and spits his lyrics slow like a knife carefully carving out words into wood, Eminem goes full force by cramming as many syllables into one verse as possible. Considering that Em was once considered (by mostly white parents) to be the devil spawn that was sent to earth to eat the youth, it’s funny to hear him rap about God. Though he does put his own maniac approach to his verse. “Best Friend” is a metaphor for keeping God close in dark times and shows Yela and Em’s good chemistry.
9. Empty Bottles Produced by Malay
You can now count Kendrick and Yela as two rappers who talk about alcohol in a realistic way and not just painting a picture of celebration with bottles popping. Yela keeps his verses short and to the point while detailing his need to be intoxicated a lot of the time. The cool thing about this song is that towards the end the beat and its tempo switches to an unrecognisable point that it sounds like a new song has begun. As the first half of Love Story finishes it can be said that the album’s production has been on point so far with an interesting mix of country and rap influences.
10. Heart Break Produced by Eminem, Luis Resto, &Mike Elizondo
Yelawolf slows the tempo of his voice and the beat right down to talk about life’s pain. Technical lyricism is traded in for a more emotional approach to this topic. The scorn and hurt is still in his voice as he channels his anger towards a certain someone who wronged him, a la Eminem dissing Kim. The production is right on par with the song’s topic while Yela takes this moment to practice using those vocal cords.
11. Tennessee Love Produced by WillPower
This song might sound familiar to some listeners and that’s because that it appeared on Yelawolf’s previous mixtape Trunk Muzik Returns from 2013. It is kind of questionable to recycle a song that was released several years before but admittedly it does fit into the album’s aesthetic. The song itself could be looked at as the typical ‘track for the ladies’ but there is too much authenticity for it to fall into that category. Yela doesn’t compromise his usual style to make this song. The beat by WillPower is so hypnotic that you’ll follow the protagonist right down the rabbit hole he’s created.
12. Box Chevy V Produced by WillPower
Similar to Rick Ross’ “Maybach Music” series, Yela has been reppin’ the Box Chevy since his mixtape days. Again, like the last track, this song is a little “old” (considering how short a song’s lifespan is nowadays), having come out early last year. Though, its date of birth doesn’t make for a bad song. Yelawolf skilfully glides over the beat while paying homage to his favourite mode of transport. For those playing at home there are subtle updates to this song from last year with some scratches fitted into the chorus.
13. Love Story Produced by WillPower
Parts of this song are borderline boring as it’s scattered and has Yelawolf touching topics we’ve already heard so far. Though it’s when the beat picks up a little and Yela keeps the lyrics to a minimum that the song becomes exciting. Even though it’s the title track it could have been left off the album.
14. Johnny Cash Produced by Track Bangas
Epic would be the correct word to describe this song. It’s not necessarily a banger but the beat constantly stays on this level where it builds and builds, forever keeping the atmosphere exciting. Yelawolf details his experiences starting out as an opening act for other rappers. This isn’t a rag to riches story but a description of feelings he felt walking onto the stage and being at his most vulnerable. The chorus is extremely simple and the beat is gothic. This is storytelling at it’s finest.
15. Have A Great Flight Produced by WillPower
At the risk of sounding corny I have to say that this song is really beautiful. There isn’t much of anything that resembles Hip-Hop on here but that doesn’t matter. This song is a really touching tribute to lost loved ones who have left a legacy behind. It’s a track that pays homage to people who’ve shaped our lives to be better and more amazing. Each verse is sung over a quiet guitar riff. The song is slowed right down which gives us a chance to really see into this person’s life and feel what they’re saying.
16. Sky’s The Limit Produced by WillPower
The topics in this song vary as Yelawolf uses it as a platform to preach what’s on his mind. He talks about America’s drug situation, positions of power within rap and beyond as well as organised religion. The beat is almost dull but luckily for us an awesome sample of some jazzy horns saves the production from being a snoozer. The song isn’t a standout track and should have been left off in order to trim the fat.
17. Disappear Produced by Malay
Some really tough subjects are brought up here with Yela talking about an abusive stepfather and twisted babysitter. The song is told in first person from the perspective of a young boy who constantly refers to Dod as “daddy”. Understandably the song is unbelievably depressing with a beat to match its sad theme. The song is not fantastic but that might be the melancholy talking.
18. Fiddle Me This Produced by Sticcy Z
With no discernible chorus Yela uses the last song to rap long windily about what he’s grateful for over a hillbilly inspired beat that actually features a fiddle. The song’s lyrics and beat pretty much sum up Yela’s musical persona and career. In his lyrics he thanks his fans, his label and talks being a rapper from the south. The beat holds a mirror up to the type of music Yela makes as it’s a collection of both country themes (the fiddle, hand claps, rock guitar) and Hip-Hop (solid lyrics, DJ scratches, breaks). This is a fitting way to end the album.
What Yelawolf delivers with Love Story is something he always gives his listeners, an album that is a musical trip that hovers below the Mason-Dixon line. The last time we received an album from Yela (2011’s Radioactive) we saw him delve into songs that weren’t exactly his style. This go around we see Yela fit into these songs like a hand into a glove. He is more than comfortable baring his soul on tracks like “Have A Great Flight” or “Heart Break”. Of course there is a big change this time around too that some listeners might not appreciate. “American You” and “Devil In My Veins” are way more country than Hip-Hop but is that so hard to accept in 2015? The line between genres is getting blurrier with artists pushing musical boundaries further each time. With saying that, there are some songs that could have been left off in order to slim down the album’s obese 18 deep track list; “Love Story”, “Sky’s the Limit” and “Disappear” weigh the project down.
With Eminem being the only guest rapper on the album, the large tracklist does point out that this country bred MC is more than capable of carrying his own across this massive project. The previously mentioned “Devil In My Veins” has zero Hip-Hop appeal but also stands out as one of the strongest cuts on the album. Though the track list is quite long Yelawolf pours buckets of his soul into each track, so much so that if you commit to this journey you’ll glide along nicely to the end.