Yelawolf delivers so much more than hillbilly hip hop on ‘Love Story’

Yelawolf has always struggled with his limited appeal. Hip hop purists find any attempt to mix country with an art form that is distinctly ‘urban’ outright offensive. Conservative country music fans are likely distrustful of any element of African-American culture.  In reality, Yelawolf is right at home on Eminem’s ‘Shady 2.0’ roster, with underground outfit Slaughterhouse. He’s an indie artists who’s only popular with rap nerds who can appreciate his aesthetic. Yelawolf’s debut album Radioactive was blasted by critics for its attempt to appeal to an audience wider than the bijou. Bring back Trunk Muzik; the soundtrack for a catfish and corn cookout. Love Story isn’t likely to win him mainstream success, but it will make him loved by critics and hip hop heads alike. On Love Story Yelawolf brings a whole new level of artistry to his refreshing brand of hillbilly hip hop. 

If you’ve never listened to Yelawolf before; imagine B. Rabbit’s self-deprecating final battle against Papa Doc – but stretched over an entire album. Yelawolf is a part-Cherokee, Alabama native. The son of a cocaine fuelled rock star, Yelawolf received his musical education in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s as American as mom and apple pie. A quick glance at the track listing shows Yela is pure Dixie: American YouWhiskey In A Bottle and Box Chevy. But Catfish Billy shows a vision of Alabama different to Lynyrd Skynrd. Rap music is guilty of rehashing the same tired themes of money and excess over and over again. Yelawolf brings a perspective that’s not only unique, but genuinely interesting. “Spitting shotgun pellets out my fucking chilli bowl / but am I a hillbilly, no?” he says on Whiskey In a Bottle. The imagery is fresh and transports you straight to Hazzard County. Heartbreak is an entire song about alimony. Best Friend uses the image of Jesus as Yelawolf’s best friend, whilst Disappear uses the image of Jesus as Yelawolf’s actual biological father. Even though this same device is used twice to talk about religion, it’s still so fresh to hear a rapper talk passionately about something other than Balenciaga. Many complained that Yelawolf shied away from his Southern Roots on Radioactive; on Love Story he goes full Confederate.

With Love Story Yelawolf promised “something special for music lovers.” There’s no doubt it’s only going to be fully appreciated by people with a respect for genres outside of rap. Yelawolf takes the absolute best of Southern sounds: country and western, folk, heartland rock, bluegrass and blends them seamlessly with hip-hop and pop. It’s so organic that he’s almost invented a genre all of his own. All of these songs are supported by a blue-collar guitar or a hillbilly banjo. Empty Bottles is the Deliverance-banjo-battle for the 21st century. Opening track Outer Spaceshowcases the mash-up. Playing with the southern fixation with alien abduction it’s a blend of sounds of the Deep South and weird, futuristic sounds of deep space. A distorted banjo plays on a strange loop over some 1970’s funk. It’s Jamiroquai meets the Beastie Boys. It’s like listening to the Dukes of Hazzard get anal probed.

On Love Story Yelawolf as a performer is on centre stage. In the age of the rapper/singer, he takes it to the next level by choosing to sing every single one of the albums hooks. Enjoying Love Story is going to depend on your appreciation for country music and of Yelawolf as a singer. Some rap fans might be absolutely baffled by the inclusion of some songs that sound like Taylor Swift B-Sides. Either way, there’s no denying Yelawolf has serious pipes. American Youth is a nostalgic ballad that sounds like it could be a John Mellencamp song. That’s if John Mellencamp had neck tattoos. Or a Bruce Springsteen song, if the Boss had spent the summer of ‘69 on Tylenol and mushrooms. Less music from America’s heart than its sphincter. But the impression is scarily good. You wouldn’t tweak if you heard it playing in the background of a Reese Witherspoon movie. Between expert rapping, Yelawolf lays a hook on single Till It’s Gone that’s as good as anything you’ll hear on an indie folk record. On Devil In My Veins Yelawolf channels Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen for a haunting vocal performance. This one could have just as easily been the theme music for True Detective. Expect a Matthew McConaughey film clip to follow. He also does a killer Chris Isaak on Have A Great Flight. Yelawolf shows his pop sensibilities singing all throughout the Eminem produced Heartbreak. You can hear his range and anger when he shrieks “there ain’t no fucking way I’mma let you take my hard earned money bitch.” Yelawolf’s singing is impressive, varied, and gives the album that extra bit of southern flavor that makes it so different from anything we’ve ever heard before.

Love Story shows to the world the huge talents of Yelawolf. It just might be a classic.