Click on the pic to go to a site that’s streaming the album (thanks fistintheair.com!).

Writing under the bump.

Like any hip hop album should, Yelawolf starts with some braggadocio. It’s essential that the bragging comes sui generis, with maybe just some wonky, attention getting, red herring of an introduction. If the bragging came after the heartfelt songs, well, the bragging seems less important, because the songs before have already proved his lyrical mastery.

Bragging has to be nature filling a void. Silence awakens the artist.

And every time he raps about how good he is, the rhythms his mouth articulates in perfect rhythm and cadence to the beat around him proves his words. The method justifies the meaning. When the album returns to braggadocio, on “Throw it up”, it’s introducing Gangsta Boo and Eminem in a cypher like trading of verses attempting to top each other. [Eminem, in his sole vocal contribution in about a year, wins].

But it’s not like the album is just bragging done right. In “Throw it up”, there’s even a perfect dripping up of a beat to a single piano note that gives four measures of quiet anticipation before Eminem’s verse. It’s perfectly paced battlerap.

But it’s not always about when Yealwolf’s rapping. The first time Yelawolf relents, a piano fills the void, resembling Kid Rock (yes, Kid Rock. Yelawolf’s session musicians are yesterday’s southern trash anthem superstars. Lil Jon’s on the next song). But, when the song ends, a piano fills the void, an instrumental refrain of the chorus.

Huh, it seems these are actually supposed to be songs.

And a funny thing happens the second time Yelawolf just ride the beat. Its silence pushes the song’s narrative as much as the verses did. He and Lil Jon just ride the beat, yelling how they’re still up in the club. He even nails the inconsequential ad-lib ending a song.

“Lettin me in the game is like lettin me drunk drive your truck”. That’s a good line. And he delivers it like a hipster hoodlum in a tie dyed hoodie that’s popping an expensive bottle of champagne.

And another ad-lib (one of the very few, and well placed ones) ties the album together, at the end. Especially when the last rap albums I’ve reviewed have had static roles that race assigns. The only mention to race (outside of Shawty Fatt describing himself pejoratively twice when relating a story form another person’s perspective) comes from a guest rapper, Killer Mike:

“See what you don’t understand is, this ain’t about race. It’s about who got it, and who ain’t”.

Well, that settles that question.

And what’s more, it’s a throwaway ad lib under a magnificently busy beat that features uncredited percussion form Blink 182’s Travis Barker (at least, wikipedia claims that the liner notes, which haven’t been released yet, don’t credit him), whose subtle polyrhythms embroider the beat without ego. Nothing about this album is about a specific ego. It’s more about the triumph and motivation that having goals can inspire in one’s life. Yelawolf sometimes demonstrates this through his own braggadocio, but when he does, it always feels deserved.

When guest stars appear, they curb their ego, too. It’s refreshing. For as much as the newcomers have been bragging, all Yelawolf needs is a guest list for hype and speculation.

Kid Rock, Lil Jon, Shawty Fatt, Mystikal, Killa Mike, Eminem, and some newcomers. All who have been performing for at least five years and have had a little time in the sun, each. And they show up, not to come back or assert their own authority, no. Just to make Yelawolf’s album better. And they uniformly do, which is the weirdest part. Even Lil Jon rocks a new saying (“HAPPPY BIRFDAY!”) between his usual three key words to pivot between. And I couldn’t be more happy with that development.

But it’s not like the guest stars are the only reason to listen here. No. I mean, Eminem’s verse is uncharacteristically brilliant, manic, and unhinged without resorting to shock appeal or yelling. Oh, and the other guest spot on the verse, Gangsta Boo, whom I’ve never heard, manages to rock an empowered verse that doesn’t shy away form the performer’s femininity, or attempt to copy a male perspective. Gangsta Boo is a great find, and an even better guest spot. The female guest stars, unknown to me, don’t have much style beyond contemporary dance pop, but at least they’re willing to follow Yelawolf and WillPower’s songwriting through bridges and different arrangements for hooks.

And, hey, Raekwon did a guest spot before Eminem signed Yelawolf to his label. A song whose ad libs dripped with praise for Yela, and little else.

 

Oh, haha, I was trying to stop talking about the guest spots, huh? Well, it’s safe to say that higher expectations have only gotten Yelawolf hotter. Whereas earlier he suffered lazy production and spurts of uncreative verses, that’s never the problem here. Every song works with a specific lyrical focus, even the minimal and aggressively abstract “Growin up in the gutter” works brilliantly as redneck meditation in nature blinded by dubstep’s highbeams. Initial single “Throw it up” has a great cypher/encouraging and competitive plainness to it that emphasizes the virtuosity of each vocalist. And those are the tracks that I have to squirm to justify.

When Yelawolf tries to be on point, it’s hard to match him. When he’s trying to make a club love song, he lets em know that it’s for the “bad girl goin good”, and he rocks a song about trying to be better than the standard. And the next song, “Made in the U.S.A.”, deflates the American dream as sharply and spectacularly as Bruce Springsteen did.

And it’s not even like Yela’s trying to knock it out of the park every time. The very plain arena pop-sounding “Write Your Name” (really, it’s chorus is so ewwww) even takes a lot of time to rhyme about people who never look to brag about their situation, two teenage fuck-bundles who cant take care of their kid but can’t morally give up their kid, and he rhymes about their small dreams. In the same breath, he addresses tireless employees of the month and trashmen. “You may just be the star the world doesn’t see. but that doesn’t make you any less of a star to god.”

I have to say, though, “the hardest love song in the world” is a little disappointing. Especially when he actually does write the hardest love song in the world, and puts it on the record five tracks.

It’s about his family, broken by an absent father, and it’s beautiful. He takes the independence that an absent father forced on him as his greatest strength, and he can’t help but feel the glow of his own triumph more than he ever could if it was handed to him. Letting his father first see his son in smiling success in a magazine becomes the most rewarding moment.

 

And it’s almost where the album ends. The last moments are addressed to his mother, after he stops “[trying] out the men who’ll talk to him, looking for a father”:

“and i feel like im raisin you, but what do i know, baby blue. all i know is i was made in you, so i put all my faith in you. yea i was only ten, and i felt like a man, i had to let you go. all i wanted was for us to be rich, tear drops in my cereal bowl. So i turned into an asshole, young and dumb, smoking weed. vandalizin, robbin houses. stealin cars. that was me. Everything i did i had to see, feel the pain, had to grieve, to become who i am, and im proud of the man i came to be. what i’ve learned cannot be taught, what i’ve earned cannot be bought, i never counted shit. i count my blessins. if you see him, don’t give him the cold shoulder, give him the message: ‘hear me on the radio'”

It’s pretty much everything I want from gangsta rap. And it’s addressed to his mom.

Absolutely my favorite rap album of the year so far.

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