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A New Shade of Rap:

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Yelawolf w/Almost Kings, SUPER bob and DJ Craze
Hooligans Music Hall
2620 Onslow Dr. • JAX, NC
Friday, 9/9 • Tickets: $20

THE OTHER SLIM SHADY: Eminem signed Yelawolf to his Shady Records label last December. The rapper comes to Jacksonville with a new hit under his belt this Friday. Courtesy photo.

Admittedly, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I envisioned living the life of a vagabond, traveling to and fro for my next lead or inspiration. I always wanted to write hilarious, insightful pieces (thank you, encore). However, when I’m walking out of the grocery store with two dollars left in my bank account, I find myself wanting to be an accountant (I concede that in those moments of reverie, I imagine myself in a Marc Jacobs power suit lying on a bed of money holding a gold calculator).

So, in my recent interview with rapper Yelawolf, who has finally broken into the music scene in a big way, only after more than a decade of hard work, I inexplicably found myself asking, “Why didn’t you just give up and become an accountant or something?” For the first time in our dialogue there was a notable pause.

“Oh no!” I thought to myself during the interview, “Peter Travers would never have asked such a stupid question.” Yelawolf began to laugh a deep, hearty Southern-boy guffaw and exclaimed, “I’m really horrible at math!”

His loss is our gain.

Born Michael Atha, Yelawolf is one of the hottest thirtysomething MCs on the scene. In the last year, he signed with Shady Records, gained a massive following on the Vans Warped tour, traveled Europe opening for the Wu Tang Clan, and was chosen as one of XXL magazine’s “Top 11 Freshmen of 2011.” He’s just begun his Hard White tour on the East Coast, titled after his breakout single of the same name, featuring Lil’ Jon. He’s on the journey of a lifetime. A few things are in order for him to continue at this break-neck pace.

“On tour, I need my skateboard, my guitar, my Gadsden flag, Louisiana Hot Sauce and a gallon of Milo’s sweet tea,” he says. “Oh, and peanut butter and jelly.”

The flag represents his hometown of Gadsden, Alabama, where he was born to a 15-year-old mother. In many ways, Yelawolf has been on a journey his entire life.

“She dated a couple guys in the music industry and even married one,” he notes of his mom. “So, I was sort of born into this lifestyle. I remember getting a little tool belt. I think I was the world’s youngest stagehand,”

However, he readily acknowledges the trials he endured during his formative years. It was a mother-raising-son-raising-mother situation. “My mom was only 25 when I was 10,” he says, “so she was still partying pretty hard back then.” The strains of a childhood filled with alcohol and drug-use, instability and poverty, and an absent father ended up proving useful fodder for his music.

“Even though I went through hard shit, now that I’m doing it, it all makes sense why I went through it—all the pain,” he explains. “It’s my fuel.”

Yelawolf concedes that on his previous records, he didn’t dig very deep emotionally. The use of metaphors helped him avoid the truth. Yet, on his newest release “Radioactive,” he says he began dishing the details of his life as he knew it. “Recording is real therapy,” he says. “I can confide in [‘Radioactive’].”

Set to release on October 25th, 2011, “Radioactive” is the first full-length studio album Yelawolf has released under Shady Records. Record label founder Eminem signed the rapper last December. In fact, vast number of parallels run deep between both MCs.

In the August 2011 edition of Rolling Stone, Yelawolf says, “I always wanted to meet Marshall and let him hear my shit. I was like, ‘Yo, man, I think that if he heard the shit he would really get it’ . . . There are so many similarities about the steps that I had to take, the steps he had to take in order to get to where he’s at. There are a lot of life similarities that we clicked on.”

Being white men in the rapping industry with troubled childhoods draws obvious correlations, but when it comes to musical stylings, Yelawolf has a remarkably individual sound. His wildly popular viral mixtape, “Trunk Muzik” (released in December 2010) demonstrates his ability to blend rap and Southern rock. He fuses the two with expert precision, blending his trademark staccato rap with soulful rock rhapsodies. The combination is downright addictive.

Signing with the record company owned by an idol is a feat for Yelawolf, but success doesn’t come without challenges. “I hit rock bottom a lot,” he says. “But I never had Plan B—ever. Lookin’ at my mom and birth father, no one ever did it. No one followed their dreams. They blamed it on kids. But I had to break that curse . . . I just wanted more out of life than I could get from mixing mortar.”

Unsure of his current homebase, the musician has traversed the states, attended 15 schools as a child, and even began his tour at a very early age. “I’m used to living on the road,” he says. He’s taking it to the next level this go ‘round by introducing DJ Craze to his fans. “He’s brilliant,” Yelawolf boasts. “We’re going all out on the visuals. It’s going to be a party for sure.”

Catch Yelawolf live with Almost Kings, SUPER bob, and DJ Craze at Hooligans in Jacksonville on Friday, September 9th. And make sure you don’t try to talk to him about accounting. He’s not interested. Trust me.

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