Yelawolf (Exclusive) [Interview]
Toronto, ON – While there are plenty of hungry, driven and adept rappers rising in the realm of hip-hop, Yelawolf is prominent member of the pack. Hailing from the small town of Gadsden, Alabama – about 20 minutes away from the renowned Talladega racetrack – Yelawolf a.k.a Catfish Billy is reaping recognition from both fans and fellow artists for the way he spits his speedy staccato rhymes that reflect his personal encounters and observations throughout his 30 years on Earth.
Though his long black hair and Travis Barker-esque appearance may throw off some diehard rap fanatics and music makers, this Caucasian and Native American rapper is a powerhouse of originality in sound, energy and daunting self-penned lyrics.
Growing up in the south and being nourished by a mixture of classic rock and rap helped Yelawolf develop his inimitable sound and style.
After traveling through a slew of areas like Berkeley, Seattle, New York, Tennessee, Anitoch and Atlanta and x-ing out a dream of becoming a professional skateboarder due to injuries, Yelawolf got signed to Columbia but was axed when Rick Rubin took over the label.
Following this, he began putting out his own mixtapes online. His release Trunk Muzik in particular garnered a lot of attention which quickly helped him chisel out an impressive spot for himself in the game and earn the respect and interest of big names like Bun B and Raekwon.
Now signed to Interscope Records, Yelawolf flaunts his flexible skills in making any genre of song he touches a sure crowd pleaser whether it’s a party anthem or hardcore hip-hop song.
On the fourth floor of the flagship New Era store in downtown Toronto before his Waken Bakin’ tour performance at the Sound Academy with Whiz Khalifa, I caught up with Yelawolf who had arrived in the city three hours earlier from Ottawa to talk about how it all began, his debut studio album with Interscope Records and the hype surrounding the southern shocker he’s become.
HipHopCanada: Tell me about how you started rapping and what attracted you to this genre of music?
Yelawolf: Well I’m from Alabama, I was born in Gadsden, Alabama. I grew up around a single mom. She was 15 when she got pregnant, 16 when I was born and, umm… I grew up around a lot of country, classic country and hardcore country classic rock at first and then came along to hip-hop just from being around young people. My mom was always around young people and one in particular, her boyfriend, was on tour with Aerosmith and while they were doing the Walk This Way tour, he had some old Run DMC tapes and shit and some old Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere tapes left over from that tour that he just went out on. One day he gave them to me and I remember falling in love with that 808 sound and it wasn’t until I went to Nashville that I really got a grip on what hip-hop was. I really didn’t know how to define it until I got around other people who lived it. Then just with years passing just developing a style – a style that was all my own, it just took some time. I hit a lot of bumps in the road and all but Yelawolf as you hear it today is just … I’m an artist of an evolution man, so everything that I’ve done has just been piece by piece of a puzzle that I’m putting together. Some worked, some didn’t, but it all comes from a real place, just life stories.
HipHopCanada: Why did you decide to go by Yelawolf? What’s the significance of this name?
Yelawolf: Yelawolf is Native American. My dad is Cherokee and that’s where the roots of it come from. The meaning of Yelawolf of is life, light, power, like the sun – fire. The colour yellow represents hunger and wolf represents my ability to survive and being a pack leader.
HipHopCanada: You’re not the first white rapper to come out of Alabama or the first one to get a big hype surrounding their rapping skills, so you why do you think everyone’s so focused your story?
Yelawolf: I don’t know. I’ve been doing this for so long that you finally get projects or songs that people gravitate towards. Putting out music is nothing new to me, but when we put out Trunk Muzik online people just gravitated towards it and you know, I had co-signs from Bun B and a co-sign from Raekwon, Juelz Santana and this really opened up a door for people to give me the opportunity to just be listened to. Not that they were fuckin’ with me just because they heard me on the [other artists] records, but it did make the people say or think ‘alright well if Rae’s fuckin’ with him let me see what he’s talkin’ about. Bun’s fuckin’ with him let me see what he’s talkin’ about. Juelz is fuckin’ with him too? Let me see what he’s talking about.’ And then I started gaining fans because of those co-signs.
And I know I’m not the first white rapper from Alabama at all, but I’m the only Yelawolf, you know what I’m sayin’? And I’m the only Catfish Billy, that’s why I will always maintain a uniqueness about my artwork, my music – anything that I do is because I speak from my own life and nobody’s lived my life.
We could both be wearing the same outfit and rapping on the same beat, but I’m going to be me on that record, so I think it’s important for artists to realize how crucial it is to carry their own story and out their own perspective on everything. Everybody’s poppin’ bottles and screaming VIP in the club – that’s everybody’s perspective. What’s not everybody’s perspective is just talking about how you can’t afford to pop bottles and do VIP in the club, that you can’t even get in the club because you ain’t got on the right clothes, that you couldn’t afford gas to get to the club so now you’re popping PVR’s on your front porch – that’s unique.
HipHopCanada: Where do you draw your inspiration from for your music? Would you say the main source is your own life?
Yelawolf: I mean the cool shit about hip-hop is it allows you to talk about anything. It’s like, you can rant with hip-hop. You can get on a record and rant some metaphor, word play, that doesn’t really have a specific point. I tend to always try to throw specific points about who I am and where I’m from and everything I do, but some records like my record that’s playing now, Pop the Trunk, is a story based on real shit that I saw. Like writing shit literally from shit waking around my neighbourhood or at the park. Or you got songs like Good to Go where I’m just flipping, just choppin’, having fun with it, but it always comes from a rooted inspiration you know, somewhere in my head. I’ve been inspired by something or some point in my life to create that specific verse or that beat or that painting or whatever it is that I’m doing artistically.
HipHopCanada: What was it that really drove you to start writing your own rhymes and start seriously rapping?
Yelawolf: Well when I first wrote my first rhyme I was just trying to imitate, you know what I’m sayin’ and emulate all the gangster shit that was coming around Nashville. And then you know, with my homies I would just be skateboarding n’ shit or just be rapping in the car and my friends would really be into it and they told me I was good at it so it was then that I decided I wanted to pick up a pen and start writing. At first I used to rap over dubbing tapes and boom boxes and shit, rapping through headphones just to hear myself and just years of cutting records, figuring myself out you know?
Because at first, you’re just rapping. It takes a while to understand what you’re going to say, what you would expect from me. Now when I get on a record, I say shit that people expect me to say because I’ve created a sound that’s mine. But that takes a lot of time, or else you fall into this just – norm where you don’t really stand out and everything you say is easily digested because people have heard it a billion times before. Mine is a little harder to digest because it’s new ideas, new concepts, new ways of approaching shit.
HipHopCanada: Your first album Trunk Muzik 0-60’s coming out, tell me about the album?
Yelawolf: Trunk Muzik 0-60’s coming out in October and that will be followed by a record coming out in March called, Radio Active – that tentatively is the name of the album. Shit we’ve been recording for the big release that’s coming out in March for years! I’ve got records that are going on that album that I’ve been sitting on for four years because we’ve been recording records that we always thought were just a little too much for a mixtape so you know, we’ve been holding a lot back. I’m excited man. Trunk Muzik 0-60 is my first release with Interscope and shit man, I’m just excited man. It’s finally taking traction you know what I’m saying? So I’m runnin’, I’m runnin’ wide open.
HipHopCanada: Do you have a personal favourite song on the album?
Yelawolf: So far my favourite record off the new Trunk Muzik 0-60 is probably Billy Crystal Meth produced by Jim Johnson and that’s a surprise record and man it’s just really jammin’ and that’s all I can tell you about it, it’s some new shit!
HipHopCanada: Who are some of the artists and produces you worked with for this record?
Yelawolf: Same producer, Will Power from super hot beats, who did 98 per cent of the beats on Trunk Muzik, he’s got records on 0-60. Jim Johnson’s got records on 0-60, Ritz who featured on My Chevy pt. 3’s going to be on there, I believe Raekwon I Wish did make the cut and that’s it. As far as other production we’ve got in the bag it’s going be for the release in March.
HipHopCanada: So can you tell me a little bit about the release in March? What can we expect from you on that? What’s its sound going to be like?
Yelawolf: For the March release, for Radio Active, it’s basically my spin on how to approach radio. Radio Active, it’s got double meanings – it’s dangerous, it’s edgy but it’s got like a grooving, easy-to-get side to it you know like it’s not so much chopping. But there are some crazy chop records on there! I got one with Diplo that is crazy! But there’s some of them that are just really broken down, just my spin on how to approach radio you know, takin’ it to the next level an evolving.
HipHopCanada: Any collaborations that we should look forward to on Radio Active?
Yelawolf: No, we haven’t done any collaborations for the March release. We plan on doing plenty but we take it record by record. We make the music first and then we figure out if someone would fit this record. We rarely just put an artist on because someone’s this or because someone’s hot or even if we just like somebody. It’s hard to just go and hook up with them because you take a chance of not making a good record, so if you start the music first, then you get the concept ready, it usually turns out to be a better record because you can hear someone’s voice. Like we heard Raekwon’s voice on this record, we heard Bun B on Good to Go, you know, you hear people’s voices on certain tones and things so you know what works.
HipHopCanada: I’ve heard that you really wanted to work with Eminem. Have you gotten the chance to do that as yet?
Yelawolf: I haven’t worked with him as yet but it is a good possibility.
HipHopCanada: Why Eminem?
Yelawolf: Aw man, I mean shit, he’s one of the greats! Just like Busta Rhymes, just like Jay-Z, just like Andre 3000, just like Scarface you know, Eminem has put 12 years of great music out and he’s just one of my faves.
HipHopCanada: If you could pick one person dead or alive to work with, who would you pick and why?
Yelawolf: Dead or alive? It’s always someone different. I’ll go with Jim Morrison today – another one of the greats!
HipHopCanada: At the Sound Academy show tonight you’re opening up for Whiz Khalifa, what can we expect from you?
Yelawolf: I just like to party man, I just like to have a good time. I remember going to shows when I was a kid, especially going to see Triple Six Mafia and Mister Cool and really sweatin’ and fuckin’jumpin’ around and acting crazy. I’m not into the cute hip-hop shows so if you come to the hip-hop show tonight to be cute, that’s all good, but just stay to the back and let the people who want to have fun and mess around have a good time standing in front. Make sure your $800 outfit don’t get dirty in the back row because everybody in the front is getting’ nuts!
HipHopCanada: So tonight you’re expecting Toronto to wild out?
Yelawolf: I hope so. I mean, Ottawa really put it down last night so I don’t know what Toronto’s going to do. We’ll see!
HipHopCanada: Anything else?
Yelawolf: Just follow me on Twitter if you’re not already, @Yelawolf, because I put up new links to all my new shit coming out. Also go to www.Yelawolf.net and you can go check out my tour dates and if I’m in your city just come holla at me and I’m thankful to be in Canada, I’m ready to do this shit, ready to rock Toronto!