Interview: Yelawolf Talks About Rap
Yelawolf is a very talented rapper from Alabama. Rather than ask him to tell his story again, I recently talked to him about his taste and influences in rap music for the first installment in a new series here called TALKS ABOUT RAP. This interview was conducted several months ago when Yela was in DC on the Deal Or No Deal with Wiz Khalifa. Both him and Wiz have deals now. Make of that what you will. Yela’s Trunk Muzik: 0-60 is in stores today.
What was your first encounter with rap music?
The first rap shit I ever heard was [the Beastie Boys'] “Paul Revere,” that was the first time I ever heard that 808 sound. I didn’t know it was hip hop or rap, I was in Alabama at the time, off in the woods. My mom was dating a dude who was on tour and he brought back some Run DMC and some Beastie Boys shit. So the first time I heard the 808 sound was “Paul Revere” and I was blown away by it. I remember how it felt when I heard it, I just fell in love with the sound. I didn’t even know how to define it at the time. I didn’t learn how to define hip hop until years later. There wasn’t no urban radio in Alabama back in the day. Shit, it’s still hurting now. The hip hop scene is more like in Hustle & Flow – dope boys, Chevies, just Country Rap Tunes as Pimp C would say, rest in peace. It’s sparse out there. If you’re up on some shit you’re really dolo. I got into skateboarding early and I was hearing Souls Of Mischief and Black Moon and Mobb Deep [on skate videos]. And at the same time I was hearing Three 6 Mafia, Skinny Pimp, all these locals from Tennessee and then UGK, MJG and Eightball, Outkast. So I was getting a wealth of Southern music, along with the bass music that came through like Magic Mike all that big speaker shit. It was just blending all that shit as I grew into knowing who I was.
How did you feel about the East Coast stuff getting more national attention than the Southern stuff?
I remember when the East Coast was the shit. It always has been to the Southern hip hop head. I remember in Tennessee the West Coast underground shit was just Hieroglyphics but it didn’t mean that we weren’t as impacted as everybody else when The Chronic came out. The one thing about the South is that we never really favored the underground over mainstream. If it was jamming it was jamming. It was no favoritism. We loved Black Moon but we loved Snoop, we loved NWA. I’m from a small town and I grew up in small towns mainly. I lived in Antioch, TN for a while and then I lived in Atlanta but my roots and all my family is from small places. And like every small place all over the country they had cliques and niches and you had to pick your sides with little stupid shit like the east side or west side of a town that’s maybe five or ten miles wide. But as far as having a [hip hop] subculture it was never big enough to pick a side. There was only a few kids who knew about certain shit. It wasn’t enough people to even have sides. I remember playing Devin when The Dude dropped in a Box Caprice and I was just being put up on it, amazed by it and then the same dude who put me up on Devin put me up on some Tribe shit I had never heard before.
Well it seems like Devin kinda plays both sides of that fence too.
Devin’s a B-Boy, man! Busting freezes on his album covers. Before Devin it was the Odd Squad, which I didn’t find out about until years later. He’s one of the greatest of all time, for real.
So you’re from the whole four elements school then?
Yeah I became this little nerdy head at one point, which I think everybody does when they first fall in love with hip hop. But I kinda grew out of it because… growing up you find out that shit ain’t cool at all. Fuck that. There’s nothing cool about it. Nine times out of ten it’s some cats who can’t get no pussy, obsessed with lyrics that mean nothing. That’s just growing up and learning about myself. Not to say I won’t listen to Def Jux just as quickly as I’ll listen to UGK. Good music is good music. I listen to country music, I’ll play some Johnny Cash and I’ll play some Outkast right behind it. I’ll play some Bon Jovi [Laughs]. I don’t give a fuck.
Are you heartbroken to hear about the end of Def Jux?
I didn’t even know it ended. Well… I’m not heartbroken about it.
It seems like there’s sort of a self loathing tendency for people who came up on that strain of underground shit.
Well it’s funny when you look back on it. At one point I didn’t want to hear nothing that wasn’t underground. If it wasn’t underground it wasn’t cool. That’s lame though, it’s laughable, it’s nerdy – “spiritual lyrical miracle.” You heard that and you were like “OH FUCK WHAT DID HE SAY?!” “Scientifical mythical ithical… fell out of pickle juice.” “WHAT?! THAT SHITS DOPE!” It’s just corny. Outkast put that in perspective for me. When they dropped it was around the same time as when all that super lyricism was out there and you were like “damn… the South is bustin.” They really pulled a lot of people out of that in the South. Like “oh we got something now.”
I remember Outkast saying that Souls was a big influence around the time of that first album.
[KP, Yela's manager and Dungeon Fam OG chimes in]: Yep!
Yela: Man, Hieroglyphics, if your ears were open and you heard them and you weren’t influenced by them. Man, I don’t even know what to say about you. [Yela and KP bust into the opening bars to "93 Til Inflinity"] Listen to that shit man. Today, if that record dropped it’d be timeless. I [recently] saw them live in Atlanta. It was dope but there was only two of them. It was only Phesto and A-Plus. That was it. That’s another sad part about hip hop – not seeing the full group you like. Like we saw Bone but Bizzy wasn’t there! That shit… they killed it. But, Bizzy!? Everything about Bizzy was sick, shit really stepped up when he got on the mic. But yeah I’d like to see more groups come back and kick it. I swear they’d make a lot of money if they’d just come back together.
So top five rappers all time.
Snoop, Mystikal, Twista, 3000, uh… Busta Rhymes.
Why do you think Mystikal doesn’t get as much attention as the others?
He gets plenty in the South. He’s had some troubles so he’s been away for a while but he’s so dope that it don’t matter. If he wants to drop a hit record he’ll come back and do it. That’s my dog. The first time I really got a taste of a really good hip hop show was Mystikal and Three 6 Mafia. It was in Atlanta. That really changed my outlook on performance because Mystikal sounded exactly like he sounded on the CD and killed.
Yeah I noticed at soundcheck that you sounded exactly like your recordings.
I’m working on that shit. I catch myself yelling sometimes when I don’t need to, getting too crunk and shit. I’m just trying to become a better performer because at some clubs I might be fighting the sound and I’d end up screaming on “Box Chevy” or some shit where I’m supposed to be just chillin. So I’m just trying to pay more attention.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of rap artists put that same emphasis on their live show.
Nah, most rappers rap over their vocal [tracks] these days. Which I can’t really get with. I don’t know how they’re getting away with it but to each his own. All my favorite rappers rap.
You lean to the fast rappers too.
Yeah Twista, Mystikal, the South in general with that bounce shit. And then Bone, Crucial Conflict those are huge influences. I always forget about Crucial Conflict. We used to just ride to the “Hay” accapella.
You ever fuck with Freestyle Fellowship?
From the West Coast? I know of them, I wasn’t heavy into them but my boy Tuki from Hollyweerd is homies with them and is always like “yo man you gotta get up on them!”
They always claimed to have created that whole style.
Yeah I think Tuki said the same thing. But… were they doing it before Fu Schnickens?
I think so. And Fu Schnickens is a little different to me. They were on more of a tounge rolling reggae thing… though I guess you’d know better than I would.
I wouldn’t say I know better than you do.
Well you actually do it, I just hear it.
Yeah but that shit just takes practice. You learn how to fuck with syllables. It’s all about syllable work. What syllables you can chop, what rolls.
Do you have to do vocal exercises with it?
I gargle water before I hit the stage. [Laughs] Yodellin’ in the valley as Kid Rock would say. [Makes pussy eating finger motion and yodels]
Okay, best rapper in Hieroglyphcics?
A-Plus. Well I like Phesto, uh… Tajai… Souls – they’re all dope man. They’re dope because they’re a group and if you took one out of the group they’re not cool no more. You fall in love with the clique. Even Tribe people could argue who was the better emcee but when they separated they weren’t cool no more.
Why do you think there’s so few rap groups these days?
Motherfuckers are selfish. People don’t want to share no fucking money, no mics, no bitches. It’s a greedy game.
Best member of Three 6 Mafia?
Uh… Crunchy Black is my personal fav. You know why I like Crunchy Black? Because he reminds me of [Malachi] The Nutcracker from Group Home. Tell me if I’m lying. “The Nutcracker… and I have no pity.” They’re just so simple. That shit’s dope to me. I like when people are their best but it’s still simple. When a motherfucker ain’t trying to be simple but they’re just doing as good as they can. And it’s still dope. That’s why I love Shawty Lo, I’m a huge Shawty Lo fan. That was actually my favorite rapper when he dropped. [Sings] “That’s Shawty Lo, that’s Shawty Lo, everywhere I be, everywhere I go.” That’s the best shit ever dog! I think it’s important for hip hop to start appreciating everything, man. We gotta stop fuckin hating on each other. You’ll find that you’ll have fun listening to that shit if you’re just kicking it with the right crew of people. You can have fun listening to Def Jux if you’re hanging with some underground heads but I’ll bring them to Alabama and put them up on Triple 6 or [Playa Fly's] “Nappy [Hair] & Gold Teeth” which is stupid gutter.
Who else have you been listening to lately… other than Shawty Lo?
Yela: Now… Prince Cyhi. I’ve become a Wiz fan on this tour. I didn’t know nothing about Wiz, I didn’t hear much of his music but his shit has grown on me.
KP: Hopefully his fans will too!
Yela: Hopefully his fans will grow on me, or I’ll grow on them rather. I’d like to grow on some of them chicks… But who else? I got this homeboy Shawty Fatt from Gasden. Oh and Rittz, he’s on my mixtape, he’s on “Box Chevy” and he’s ridiculous. I need to make time to listen to more shit, for real. I felt some kinda way about not knowing shit about Wiz, coming out here and seeing all these people. But his shit is dope. Who else? That’s it really.
What do you think about all this other new shit that’s been coming from Alabama?
Oh Jackie Chain, 6 Tre, Slow Motion, Rich Boy, Birmingham J, Mr. Bigg that’s all family man. It’s important for us as a state to just support one another no matter what. Opinions don’t even matter, we need to get out and make music and really push for our state to bring the sound to the world. We’re full of talent out there. I support all my homies from Alabama.
Why do you think there’s all this talent coming out of the state all of a sudden?
You know… the Dirty boys put it down. I forgot to mention them, they had heads turning. Then came Rich Boy a couple years later, he had heads turning. I think it gave kids in Alabama a sense of pride so they all went to the studio and started putting out music. And now that 6 Tre got a situation, Jackie Chain got a deal, Slow Motion is on tour in Berlin or Norway or some shit and Trunk Musik is making tracks in. I think it’s just a collective effort to be heard. We were all grinding at the same time. We’re just all going for it.