Yelawolf performs at the Lincoln Theatre Saturday.
Despite what some might have assumed, Yelawolf is not a big fan of comedian Kevin Hart. He doesn’t even know who the dude is.
Some might have wondered if the Alabama rapper was giving some love to the in-demand comedian when he dropped the 2010 single “Pop the Trunk,” a saying Hart used often in his last two stand-up specials. “I’m not even familiar [with him],” says the rapper, on the phone from a highway somewhere in Florida. “He got a ‘Pop the Trunk’ song or something?” I suppose this means we shouldn’t expect him to do a track with Hart’s thug-rapper alter ego Chocolate Droppa anytime soon.
As the young Yelawolf will tell you, he actually got the terminology straight from the streets of the South. “It’s something everybody says,” he explains. “Your grandma might say, ‘Pop the trunk, I need my purse.’ But, in this case, I’m talking about popping the trunk and pulling a shotgun out the trunk.” So, has he ever heard a grandma use it in that way? “Yeah, they do that too. I’m from Alabama.”
Born in Gadsden, Ala., and of Caucasian and Cherokee descent, with a wiry frame body covered in enough tattoos to make him look like a dead ringer for Travis Barker, Yelawolf, or Michael Wayne Atha, has became a hip-hop sensation whose deep, Southern roots and backwoods upbringing are prevalent in nearly every track he records. Given his twangy, down-home flow and dirty-South lyricism, it isn’t surprising to hear him mention OutKast as one of his major influences. (Yelawolf contributed a guest spot on Big Boi’s recent solo project, Sir Lucious Left Foot, The Son of Chico Dusty.)
“There are definitely influences, from OutKast to amongst very many other people, artists of all other different genres I’m influenced by in different ways,” he says. “But developing my own style just came from recording records and listening to my own records. Your own style will just come naturallyit’s just about being honest about your own story and your own voice.”
After a record deal with Columbia that never went anywhere and getting passed off by other labels, it seemed like Yelawolf was going to leave his rap career behind and do something, well, completely different. He started a band, complete with turntables, a fiddle player and a banjo guy. Yeah, that’s different, all right.
“At the time, I didn’t have a care in the world,” he says. “It was experimentaljust stretch it out and see how far we could take it at the time.” His management team tried to get him to do a rap project one last time, in the hopes of landing him a good deal once more. Although he was still frustrated with the industry, Yelawolf agreed. Along with producer WillPower, he started recording hip-hop “in the back of [his] crib” and came up with the Trunk Muzik 0–60 mixtape, which included the aforementioned “Pop the Trunk” single. It’s a good thing he listened; soon after, Eminem wanted him on his Shady Records roster. “I turned it in. I got a deal, you know, shortly afterward,” he says. “Not that simple, obviously, not that quick. But that’s how it happened.”
Now that he’s signed to Shady, he’s got a full-length debut, Radioactive, which is tentataively scheduled to drop Oct. 25. Despite reports that everyone from OutKast to Lupe Fiasco to Diplo to Yelawolf doppelganger Barker have worked on the album, Yelawolf insists that many of those reports are false. “There’s a lot of shit that’s floating around on the Internet. People are making up all kinds of shit,” he says. “But there are some amazing features on my album. I mean, I’m flattered that people are making up stuff and making up fake track listings and fake album covers. There are some great features on the album, but I would never tell anyone. Why would I ever ruin the surprise of my album that I’ve waited so long to put out? No previewsthis ain’t no Hollywood movie.”
That doesn’t mean he can’t hype the record: He toured the country this past summer, first doing some dates on the last Vans Warped Tour (no, he didn’t get any free Vans), then going on a promotional trip. But Yelawolf says he is particularly looking forward to hitting Raleigh and performing at Hopscotch.
“I like performance festivals, period,” he says. “Festivals are dope. There are usually a lot of different bands, a lot of different styles of music. And people are usually open to whatever’s going down, because they’re not there to see any one specific band. And if they are, they know that there is other stuff going on. So, a festival is, usually, you get a really open-minded crowd. It’s a good place to go out and play your music and, hopefully, make some fans, manjust spread some music.”
Let’s just hope that, if people aren’t feeling him, he won’t go back to his car and, well, you know.