Los Angeles, CA – Last time HipHopDX spoke with Yelawolf, it was around the fairly turbulent rollout for Love Story. From troubling interviews with Highly Questionable to social media posts defending his love of the Confederate Flag, those moments all overshadowed his second major-label studio album Love Story. Since then, he’s released several projects, including Trial By Fire and 2019’s Trunk Muzik 3, before departing from Shady Records and parent label Interscope.
Catching up with Catfish Billy before entering the next decade at Downtown Los Angeles venue 1720, he’s touring in promotion of Ghetto Cowboy — his first album solely under the Slumerican label. This time around, Yela seems to have found clarity past the dark moments of his career nearly five years ago.
With the line to the entrance growing nearly out of control, obviously his fans have become as dedicated as ever. Before the doors to show opened, Yela took time to speak with DX about the new album, lessons learned from Eminem in running Slumerican, touring, Hick Hop and how the controversy around the Confederate Flag hurt any chances of his Big K.R.I.T. collaborative project Country Cousins.
HipHopDX: I remember the first time I saw you perform around 2011 or 2012 at Houston’s Fitzgerald’s where Rittz opened up for you. What’s touring like for you now as a veteran watching your fans grow with you?
Yelawolf: I mean in 2011, I was out to put my stake and really earn a lot of performance respect. I was trying to crack open something that was brand new. I can say with full confidence that in 2011, no one was performing in that style. No one was jumping on stage and starting mosh pits like that shit. That’s how we stormed SXSW and that’s how it started to cultivate my following was through my live stage performance.
It was all the band experience I had before Trunk Muzik that I had created this live performance style and I just transferred that over into the Hip Hop show with a DJ. Before Trunk Muzik, our little underground band was traveling around and it was still Hip Hop. We had people wearing helmets to shows and shit. It was rowdy, rowdy. We just transferred that over to the live performance and we were showing and proving. It’s always something to prove being from a small town in Alabama and being a white boy in Hip Hop. At least at that time it was actually a thing.
If you were following me during the Arena Rap days then you just stumbled upon it. We were super local. We bounced back and forth between Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta. If you followed the progression from there, it all seems natural. If you caught a record later on in the years around 2015 or 2016, maybe the first time you heard Yelawolf was on something like A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train.” Going back and discovering all of that shit might sound schizophrenic creatively. It all comes from the same pile of inspiration. If you look back, you can see the country, rock ‘n roll and Hip Hop influences glued together.
HipHopDX: Looking back at that now, those three different influences seem fairly common nowadays using the success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Time Road.” I’d like to call you one of the pioneers of that getting to that point.
Yelawolf: There was Bubba Sparxxx was the one to crack it open in regards to mainstream artists who exploited that juxtaposition of the country/redneck-isms and Hip Hop. I give it to him. He opened that door. For me, I had a different approach lyrically, a different approach with Hip Hop and with country and with rock. All of it had an aggressive style to it. You can’t reinvent the wheel, but I definitely am one of the pioneers but I’m not the pioneer.
HipHopDX: Your last project on Shady was Trunk Muzik 3, which was released earlier this year. Why release your first big body of work Ghetto Cowboy as a full-on indie artist now?
Yelawolf: Well, we move quick. I’ve always had an album ready. I’ve always had an album ready despite the release time with a major, the album was there in the pocket. We took a lot of time to make Love Story, but even when that was turned in, there’s this six to eight-month rollout plan, this A – Z artist is dropping now, they have to see if the album fits into the schedule and all this other statistical bullshit. So, Trunk Muzik 3 was already in the pocket and I was sitting on 90 percent of Ghetto Cowboy before I did Trunk Muzik 3.
Because I had Ghetto Cowboy in the pocket, we realized that it wasn’t Trunk Muzik. It was dope, but it wasn’t Trunk Muzik. It’s not going to translate with that album. Ghetto Cowboy was too organic and didn’t have that raw 808 Trunk Muzik sound that people are expecting to hear. So we went back to the studio and created Trunk Muzik 3 as we felt it was best fit for the project. After we put out Trunk Muzik 3, my focus was just on Ghetto Cowboy. I was ready to go there. I was ready even before Trunk Muzik 3, but I didn’t think Ghetto Cowboy would be the last right album for Shady. I thought it was fair that I leave with the style that I came in with on since I signed to Shady through Trunk Muzik.
HipHopDX: Ghetto Cowboy features a new track in your “Box Chevy” series in “Box Chevy 7.” From a creative perspective, what deems a track worthy of having that name?
Yelawolf: For me, when I hear a track, I can immediately say that it is a “Box Chevy” track. We’ve done some that didn’t make the cut. We did two for Trunk Muzik 3 that we canned and we ended up making “Box Chevy 6” featuring DJ Paul and Rittz. When “Box Chevy 7” came around for Ghetto Cowboy, we had this ill fucking drum break from Travis Barker that matched the vibe of the series. At this point, it’s tradition. My fans can expect to hear a “Box Chevy” track with each project.
One day I’m hoping to collect them all and release it on a vinyl or something like that.
HipHopDX: You also have Outfit,TX opening up for you. What attracted you to them enough for you to form a working relationship with them?
Yelawolf: I give credit to my manager J. Dot who really keeps his ears to the streets. He pays attention to what’s going on as I just pay attention to my own world deeply. Outfit, TX was one group he brought to my attention. Before we even dove into the music, I brought the Outfit guys out to Nashville to hang out with them. So I went out with Mel and J Hawk and we hit up Broadway and hung out as homies. We just kicked it and picked each other’s brains. I just like how they think first of all. I love where their creative minds are at and how they feel about music alongside their connection with Texas. Then there’s their fashion and merch and how they flip that. Those pieces make great artists. I respect their angle and whole approach to music.
Style is everything to me. It’s not what you say but how you say it and the delivery. If you put the right sauce on it, it’s a really attractive group. I just love what they do and their style. I just try to bring groups that are trying to push the limits. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re platinum artists or no one knows who they are. That’s something that never attracts me to an opener or co-headliner. It’s like, what would I like to introduce my fans to? I once brought a band out like Hillbilly Casino with me on tour. I brought Trevor “Trouble” Andrew years ago and now he’s designing for Gucci. It was his style and approach. It’s all about that with me.
HipHopDX: One of the coolest working OG relationships you’ve built over the years is with DJ Paul. You guys even made the Black Fall EP together some years ago. Can you describe the evolution of your relationship with him from collaborative to him signing to Slumerican?
Yelawolf: Three 6 Mafia and Mystikal in 1997 at the Atrium in Atlanta. I was 18 years old in the mosh pits. Only white boy in the crowd. For years, I’ve met a lot of people in just happenstance. Like I remember running into Big Boi in Times Square with a backpack of my old demos and heading to the studio. He randomly asked me how to get to Charlie’s. He was with his mom and had a show in Madison Square Garden. I had tickets for it. He thought I was from New York. I knew who he was immediately, but I thought when the time comes, it’ll come. That happened with DJ Paul and a few other people.
I just let people figure out who I was. I reached out to Gangsta Boo for the “Throw It Up” feature on Radioactive. Then that set the seed and DJ Paul came to Nashville with the whole Three 6 Mafia before Lord Infamous passed. We just mobbed and clicked. We’ve been working for years and we’ll always work together. It’s just one of those things.
HipHopDX: How do you feel about the term or subgenre of Hick Hop and the controversial reputation it’s received?
Yelawolf: I think it’s terrible. I think it’s a terrible, disrespectful slap in the face. I don’t think it deserves a name. Look man, Hip Hop is what you make of it. It’s been that way since the beginning. Hip Hop is sample-based music with looping other people’s music and blending it; whether it’s a sitar from India and that becomes a Fugees record or a Shaolin sample for Wu-Tang or a Funkadelic sample for Dr. Dre and so on. Naturally, pulling inspiration from country music like a sly guitar or banjo could be the same for Hip Hop. Calling it Hick Hop is undermining the whole idea of creating Hip Hop in the first place. I think it’s deplorable and I want no parts of it. Those dudes who call themselves Hick Hop is 99.9 percent garbage, which is why you never hear me featuring or touring with any of those clowns.
HipHopDX: As a label boss, was there anything, in particular, you learned from your time at Shady with Eminem?
Yelawolf: Well, when you talk about Slumerican, you have to use the term label very loosely. I’ve never come out by saying Slumerican is a music label or anything like that because labels have a specific infrastructure. Slumerican is a culture brand really. It’s an umbrella to create music and join a fanbase that understands the style of music that you’re making. As far as becoming an official label, Ghetto Cowboy would be the first album with this type of promotion, push and potential. We’re still a baby company wise in regards to measuring it against companies that’ve been around for ten or twenty years. It takes a lot of time and a lot of mistakes to build a brand and company. Being with Shady is learning the power of branding.
There is Shady and then there is Interscope. It’s big bank and then a blanketed promotional company to support that investment. That investment comes into Shady and Shady blankets that with the co-sign of Marshall and all that comes with that, which is a lot. That’s what I’m doing on a tiny scale. Introducing people to my circle, fanbase and brand. Just letting it be what it is. If you like it, you like it. If you pass on it, you pass on it. It’s not like spending payola to get radio spins. If your cardboard cutout is more noticeable than your music, then you need to rethink your music.
HipHopDX: Congratulations on officially tying the knot last month, man. Ironically, I remember hearing Fefe for the first time on “Animal.” How much as she influenced your work as a fellow artist herself?
Yelawolf: Fefe has been an intricate part of the fearlessness. When I leave the stage or studio and I go back to the crib to analyze what I’ve done, it’s important to have that honest opinion in your corner that’ll be like meh, that wasn’t so good or that’s dope. Also, it may not seem like a big deal, but it’s really a big deal when in 2012 or 2013 where I was thinking about rocking boots. We went on Broadway and I bought me a pair of snakeskin boots in Nashville. She was like if you’re going to buy them, you better wear them on stage. Don’t be a punk, wear them on stage. When I did that, it was such a huge step for me because it was growing toward reflecting what my music was talking about. Then, the fashion pieces started to come together. You look at Trunk Muzik, I’m rocking Jordans and the beenie cocked to the side. I’m straight gutter Alabama. Growing up and being fearless in changing people.
That was a major fear she helped me overcome. That’s how Love Story happened. Disappearing and not giving a fuck. Falling off the map for two years and showing up at SXSW with a full beard, gold grill and cowboy boots. Folks was like what the fuck? That shit feels good. It’s actually addicting. With her having my back with those changes that seem small but, they’re a big piece of being an artist. They allowed me to be free with my music, fashion and whatever I wanted to do. The song “Tennessee Love” that I wrote for her was the seed that sparked Love Story. It was that song that we took to the studio and made sure that all the tracks on the album were based around that zone. We started building from there.
HipHopDX: As a fan of both of you guys, what ever happened to the Country Cousins project with Big K.R.I.T?
Yelawolf: Man, this is what happened to Country Cousins. When shit hit the fan socially with the Dixie Flag situation and that fucking clown running up in that church in Charleston and killed all those innocent people; it was like I’ve been out in the south around all these fans with this Dixie Flag. I got the flag tattooed on my arm. I grew up in the era of Organized Noize and watching Andre 3000 with the belt buckle. I saw the angle of being a part of it and flipping it. If you own it, it’s hard for someone to use it against you. That was the angle I was going for. When it socially got weird and I got online and said it is what it is with me, K.R.I.T. wasn’t having it. I respected where he came from.
I love K.R.I.T.; that’s my dude. It was what it was. I called him and spoke about how we needed to do Country Cousins especially right now. He pretty much said he couldn’t fuck with it. You can see where he was coming from with it. As a fan, I just support him, his ideas and how he moves and it’s nothing but respect. I hope that we can do it eventually. At one point it was me, K.R.I.T. and Rittz. We were a squad. We were doing shows together. We had photos. We were a clique. It was a fucking mean crew of MCs. I so badly want Country Cousins to happen, but K.R.I.T. has to feel comfortable doing a record with me and all that comes with that. My fans aren’t going anywhere. They’re just going to show up.
HipHopDX: Do you have any regrets in regards to the Confederate Flag controversy?
Yelawolf: I got a lot of regrets about the freedom of social media. There are a lot of things that I wish I didn’t have such a voice at the time. That’s the blessing and curse of having an Instagram and Twitter. I feel this way right now, boom and that’s it. So it was written and it’s done. Anyone that says they’ve never had that moment are lying. Everyone has had a moment of damn, I could’ve just not said shit. That would have been smarter. Marshall called me and said if I didn’t feel like talking, just walk off. He told me if I didn’t want to do an interview or be asked a question or you don’t have the right answer just walk away. That was a hard lesson I had to learn, but you grow, learn, change and better yourself. That’s what it’s all about.
HipHopDX: You look a lot more comfortable and happier now.
Yelawolf: Shit man, drugs are a muthafucka. I’m just living these days. Just living and enjoying my music with my crew. I’m proud of what we’re doing and we’ve done. I’m just looking forward to releasing Ghetto Cowboy and moving forward.
Yelawolf’s Ghetto Cowboy drops on Halloween (October 31) here.