A year to the week after Trunk Muzik deservingly got the retail treatment as one of the finest mixtapes in recent memory, the pride of Gasden, Alabama offers his studio debut, Radioactive. Despite the artist’s esteemed major label backing and iconic co-sign in Eminem, the record feels as any ascent to the majors would have for Yelawolf. His authenticity is what sustained him through previous deals, and it’s what made him an emerging star in spite of his refusal to conform. Still respecting that authenticity, Radioactive may veer towards the mainstream Pop, but nothing changes the fact that in an era of neon-Rap, Yelawolf is the bug light.
The first third of the album is what will appeal most to Catfish Billy’s devoted supporters. The self-proclaimed “White trash heartthrob” kicks off his show with a display of lyricism and content that aligns very closely with Yelawolf has always been about – sincerity, family, community and of course Chevrolet Caprice Classics. First single “Hard White” succeeds in blending velvet-rope club music with a Pabst Blue Ribbon-pounding anthem. In this call-back to Crunk, Yela chops, “I don’t cook my shit, I don’t break it down for you motherfucker out there waitin’ around for some Rap savior / You better look up at what it is that you facin’ now / ‘Cause Jesus drives a Harley, the devil wears Prada / If God was one of us, he’d probably’ drink vodka.” The emcee’s boosted arrogance and brushes with anger occasionally on Radioactive are elements that make the album shine. The Southern gentleman is at his best when he drops the humility and takes ownership of being a multi-talented counter to legions Upper Middle Class rappers popping up. “Let’s Roll” is another stadium record, with Kid Rock’s pleasant crooning. This is a week-in-the-life of Gasden, but really, a Middle-America anthem. In the same way Jay-Z and Alicia Keys made a cap-tipper to their city, this is Yelawolf’s “I see you” nod to the Hip Hop fans of the Red states. Wal-Mart parking lot music hasn’t sounded this good since Nelly’s Country Grammar, and don’t be surprised if this song is the one that delivers Yela to Rock Radio.
Despite a strong opening, Radioactive‘s biggest detractors are a bulk of its choruses and beats. “Radio” has the Lynyrd Skynyrd reaching riffs and ’80s Buggles interpolation, but this Girl Talk mash-up concept takes away from Yela’s potent verses about the changes in music, including mentions of Black Star, Trick Daddy and Group Home. “Made In The U.S.A.” battles a similar problem, as Yela’s earnest lines about the war, the economy and the state of the union are compromised by Priscila Renae’s wretched chorus, sounding like stage-exit music to a small-town political campaign. Besides Kid Rock, the singing guests on Yela’s debut cramp the style. As he proved early in his ascent, on Slim Thug’s “I Run,” Yelawolf can handle the heavy lifting of melody and a bridge, and can make songs that sound mainstream but authentic. A more recent example of this, “The Hardest Love Song In The World” lives up to its name lately, with a David Axelrod sound and a polished performance from an uncredited R&B singer. For some reason on Radioactive, the versatile Yela focused on writing strong verses and interrupted many of his messages with cheap choruses or poorly translated musical ideas.
When Rap is the vehicle for Yelawolf to deliver his message, Radioactive lives up to its anticipation and falls in line with the exciting musical possibilities of the DXnext alum. From Gangsta Boo to Lil Jon to Kid Rock and Killer Mike, the Alabama emcee was adamant about pulling his influences and trail-blazers onto his studio debut. 2008 mash-up mixtape Stereo was strongly considered as was Trunk Muzik in making Radioactive. The concepts and the potency of some of the sixteens absolutely dazzle, as Middle America may feel included in the mainstream Hip Hop conversation for the first time in years. However, what worked for B.o.B. isn’t necessarily possible with Yelawolf. Regardless of how it’s delivered, Yelawolf has a message that is felt beyond the confines of Rap music.