After being sidelined by illness, a hot young Southern rapper rebounds with a major tour
By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
Hip-hop's pendulum is swaying hard in the direction of new talent. Yelawolf swings from that pendulum with aplomb worthy of Tarzan, leading a new charge of artists responsible for rap's changing of the guard. While Yela has a storied relationship in the game, these past few years were climactic. His "Trunk Muzik" mixtape set the stage for 2011's "Radioactive" album, along with a coveted spot in Eminem's Shady 2.0 empire. Yelawolf takes it all in stride, making sure his mark is met by any means necessary. After all, he's a tough country boy who is traveling to 50-plus cities for the Slumerican Tour after rupturing his spleen this past March. Yelawolf checks in to discuss his upcoming EP with Big K.R.I.T., his upcoming album "Love Story" and performing for his toughest crowd: corporate America.
MSN Music: What has this past year been like for you?
Yelawolf: I dropped "Radioactive," and done a ton of shows. I got hurt, which put me back pretty good and set me down for like three weeks, which in this game is like a year. I lost a lot of shows, kind of, like, disappeared off the radar, and then I jumped straight to Australia. Then to Europe, back to doing shows. I'm still working, pretty much. Dropped "Radioactive" and got hurt: two big moments of my year.
How did a ruptured spleen feel exactly?
That's actually a good question, because it's not like it just hurts. It hurts like a mother------, but what happens is you start bleeding internally, and what it feels like is like somebody's got a bicycle pump hooked to your stomach and is just pumping air into your stomach. You feel like you're just going to blow up from the inside out. Everything tightens up because your blood has nowhere to go, so it's just leaking all around your organs. But the thing is your blood, ironically, irritates your organs on the outside. It's OK if it's running on the inside of your veins, obviously, if it's contained inside of your body. But if it gets like on the outlining, the outside of your stomach or the outside of your organs, it irritates it.
You could have jumped right back on the road and hurt yourself even more, but you did the smart thing and chilled.
I was just really so scared of getting hurt again, because I couldn't afford to lose more time away. Canceling shows is a big deal. I had to cancel my whole Canadian tour, even after I got hurt because I couldn't get into Canada. So after missing and losing all my shows, I missed the Canadian tour. People are like, "All right, he got hurt. That's cool," but they really don't really care that much; they just want to see you perform. People are not really that forgiving when they pay for tickets to come see you and you don't show up. I was more afraid of having to deal with that again. That's what slowed me down the most: just trying not to disappoint people. I'd rather just stand up there and chill than not be there at all.
Now you've got several dates coming with the Slumerican Tour, right?
I think it's like 58 [shows] or something like that over 60 days. I'm going really, really hard. It's going to be fun.
What do you put on your tour rider?
That's a good question. I need to write one, because I don't really bother with it, but I should. I'm never in the mood to eat or drink when I get to a show. I'm just too nerved out. I'm probably going to start asking for something, like a skateboard so I can skateboard or something. Actually, that's what I'm going to do. Thank you.
How do you get the energy to consistently get on stage and do what you do?
Over the years, I matured a lot in that sense. When I first started really going hard performing, I was just really blind. I didn't care what anybody was doing, I was gonna be going nuts. That was when I felt like I had to prove myself for a long time, because that's just how it is. I'm from Alabama and I'm a white boy in hip-hop. I felt like I had to go nuts. These days I can take a breath and I'm not afraid to just stop for a second, look at people, talk to them. That all comes from getting hurt. It's like a blessing. I couldn't do what I used to do for the whole Australian tour. I was like Jay-Z, just walking back and forth. I was up there like, "I can't wait until I can move again!" It was terrible, but I was training myself how to translate energy without having to move physically so much, and it was a big help. Now it's a mix between the two, because I'll just pick my moment instead of raging the entire time. Plus, artists have to do things sometimes like corporate shows, and those are always lame. They never really go hard on those things.
Well, you don't want to scare anybody, since it's a bunch of suits sitting there.
Well, it's just weird to walk out onstage with like 50 to 100 suits like, "Are you mother------s ready?" They're like, "Yeaaah & " All right then!
How did you and Big K.R.I.T. decide to collaborate on the "Country Cousins" EP?
Somebody's going to jump up and take credit for it one day, but somebody online was like, "Big K.R.I.T. and Yelawolf are coming out with a project called 'Country Cousins'!" and I was like, "What is this?" These people lie and make stuff up all the time. I was like, "K.R.I.T., do you see this?" because I was in the studio with him in Atlanta, Georgia. He's like, "Aw, man. That's crazy." I was like, "It's kind of a good idea, though! Let's do it." He's like, "Yeah, I know. We should. Let's do it." So that's how it came. It's taken like a year and a half. I saw him in Denmark a couple weeks ago. We were doing the same stage at a festival [the Roskilde Festival, covered on MSN] and I was like, "Man, we need to go in and do this. There's people asking more and more frequently about it!" So we decided we were going to go ahead and do it.
With "Radioactive," the buzz was crazy, but as far as the label promotion, it wasn't what you expected, and you've been somewhat vocal about that. What made you decide to take the high road, though, and keep pushing on?
Because I've got all the power. I never gave them that much power. If you come within my circle, you can only help me; you can't hurt me. I don't set myself up to be damaged by your decisions. I came into the situation, and I got one single in 11 months, you know? So, it was just like well, f--- it! I'll just continue to do what I do. I saw the results of that. You know like when "Let's Roll" dropped and I did Conan and Letterman and the big video, I was kind of smelling it. I was like "Oh, this is major-label s---, huh! This is how it works." You get all the bells and whistles of a major-label signing. And I was like, "Oh, this is dope!" I think there was just some unforeseen issues that had nothing to do with me at all and probably just greed, I could imagine. That's always what it is. Somebody's not getting what they want and so they're not working. So I was like that's just what it is. But I'm good. I can always make music, I can always tour. What else is there? But I'm great and my relationship with Shady is great. So I'm not tripping about what anybody's doing.
What's the status of "Love Story"?
"Love Story" will be coming 2013 now. I want to sit down and really focus on the album. "Radioactive" was recorded in 10 days, the original "Trunk Muzik" was done from Friday to Monday: four days on that project. "Heart of Dixie" was like five days on the back of a bus. The record I got with Travis Barker ["Psycho White"] is like a year of just going back and forth. Just every once in a while hopping in the studio. Even that, you can just hear the difference. You can hear that we're not rushed in it. It's just a different thing, so I'm going to try to make an album that I spend more time on. So, 2013. Sorry.
If you weren't here doing this, where do you think you would be? Guarding your internal organs, no doubt?
Yeah, man, somewhere with a bulletproof on. Guarding my "innards." That's what my pop-pop said.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.