Hip-hop rise has been no 'Love Story' for Yelawolf

Yelawolf (Michael Wayne Atha) says his music draws from all the styles he's listened to: "That's why I think I end up with so many different people at the shows. There's a vibe there for a lot of different people. I like a lot of different music and it comes out in my music, too."

Photo by lionel deluy

Yelawolf (Michael Wayne Atha) says his music draws from all the styles he's listened to: "That's why I think I end up with so many different people at the shows. There's a vibe there for a lot of different people. I like a lot of different music and it comes out in my music, too."

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Rapper Yelawolf is lost in Los Angeles.

"I don't know where we are right now, but it doesn't look right," he says to the driver of the car. "We're going to a subdivision. Maybe this is a gate. It says Hidden Hills, no (expletive)! You can't see it!"

The Gadsden, Ala., native, whose given name is Michael Wayne Atha, has just finished shooting three videos in four days in Los Angeles with Travis Barker, with whom he will share credit on the upcoming EP "Psycho White."

"We've done three in like four days," says Atha. "It's been crazy, but we got it wrapped up."

He's says it's not been an easy ride to hip-hop fame and fortune.

"I don't even think the word 'easy' should even be in the same universe," he says. "Breaking into the music industry, culturally going against the grain ... breaking into hip-hop is already hard enough. Tack on that I'm from Alabama and I'm white. And I'm just talking straight (expletive)."

Yelawolf's breakout was a 2009 mix tape called "Trunk Muzik," which featured the song "Pop the Trunk."

"It was really more the video that changed everything," he says. "We just went out and rolled tape. It wasn't scripted. The thing wasn't created. There was no treatment. We just went out there and I said, 'Let's just create these lyrics and recreate these scenes.' It was dope. My ma, my pop, real places, the real connections with people."

Atha got his first shot in 2005 when he appeared on "The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliott," the same year he released his first CD, "Creek Water." He signed with Columbia Records in 2007 and released the single "Kickin'," but the album, "Fearin' and Loathin' in Smalltown, U.S.A." was never released and Yelawolf left the label.

Quickly thereafter he signed with Eminem's Shady Records. Atha says Marshall Mathers (Eminem) appreciated the significance of a white Southern rapper.

"When Marshall broke through with credit and respectability in hip-hop as a white artist, it was the first ever that took it that far. It was almost 12 years before he decided to co-sign another white artist, which was me. It's just the way it is. ... I think he understands how special it is to be in the position where I am, to be where I'm from and have the kind of respect. I'm a perfectionist about songwriting, period, and I think he just understood what it was. He understood the void that was being filled by branching that right in-between him and Kid Rock."

In fact, Atha teamed with Kid Rock for the song and video "Let's Roll," which was a highlight of "Radioactive," Yelawolf's first album for Shady Records.

"That's a very special club of white rappers. I was just being adopted into it. Just getting to co-sign, you know. It just happened to be that bridge. I understand the South. I understand both sides, black culture, street culture, redneck culture, trailer parks, hoods, projects, suburbs, I've been in 'em all."

Yet part of what makes Yelawolf's sound special is that the beats aren't the most important thing for him when writes a song. He grew up hearing a lot of classic rock on the radio and it had an effect.

"I can't really write unless I can feel a melody in some kind of way. There's something that just drove me to write about that. Being a lyricist, I sing records sometimes. Even though I can't sing I still do it. It's whatever I want to do."

It's obvious there are some tensions between Atha and Interscope Records, which distributed "Radioactive." The next Yelawolf album, "Love Story," has been pushed back to 2013 for release and, in the meantime, Atha released a new mix tape "Heart of Dixie," as a free download.

"'Radioactive' was more externally influenced by industry bull, but that's like the first and last time that I'll probably get that kind of opportunity. Now I'm back to doing whatever I want to do."

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