Had Yelawolf never elevated his game beyond the flush of his furious 2010 mixtape Trunk Muzik, which contained at least one bona-fide masterpiece in “Pop the Trunk,” he’d yet remain a significant footnote in the history of modern hip hop — an Alabama-born rapper of manic intensity and talent who gnawed his initials into the rusty proud husk of Southern culture on the skids of the 21st century.
And with one foot in the door, and other in the gutter, Yela’s major label debut on Interscope, 2011’s Radioactive, caught the artist stillborn in an outfit that didn’t fit — some prefab peacock spittin’ syllables across scratched tracks for a TRL crowd long dispersed.
Really, it’s an age-old story: prodigal son turns heads, flirts with fame, wanders into faulty expectations and gets lost. More than a few promising careers end here (footnotes), but not so for Yelawolf. Instead, he blew it up; he kicked that door open and brought the gutter with him.
On 2015’s Love Story — which features the brilliant single “Till It’s Gone,” a sort of gothic swamp-rat sequel to “Pop the Trunk” — Yelawolf has re-embraced his “Slumerican” roots, returning to a native soil that resembles some post-apocalyptic revamping of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, where whiskey and meth, pride and loss, guitars and guns vie for the souls of the beloved and dispossessed.
“Man, it’s funny,” Yelawolf told me during his November stop at WOW Hall. “It’s like, yeah, I’m probably closer to my 10-year-old, still-in-Alabama-country self than I ever have been. I just feel comfortable, man … it’s kind of like exhaling.”
That comfort is evident all across Love Story, from the infectious anthem of “American You” to the bluesy lament of “Devil in My Veins” to the frenetic self-actualization of “Fiddle Me This.” Let us not talk hip hop; this is a pop album, and one that bends and blends genres into something as new and southern-drenched as R.E.M.’s 1983 debut.
Yelawolf’s “The Love Story: Chapter 1” tour, with Hillbilly Casino, starts 9 pm Friday, June 5, at McDonald Theatre; $20 adv., $25 door. All ages.