Yelawolf's most recent is a potential prequel for greatness.
After Yelawolf’s first major-label album Radioactive proved to be, well, just that; and failed to meet the standards set by his 2010 mixtape Trunk Muzik, it felt as though - with his second effort Love Story - an explanation or apology was due. He seemingly traded in his trademark mud-coated country roots for pop-pandering.
But don’t call Yelawolf a hillbilly. He’ll take umbrage to that. On “Whiskey in a Bottle” the Alabamian emcee clearly states: “But am I a hill billy, no/I am the truth behind these fuckin' illusionist/Yellin' redneck, you about as red as the color blue is/Call me a redneck, and I just tattoo it/Because of the abusing I use it as therapy in music.” In fact, it’s an explicit warning laid on so thick among the first third of Love Story, so much so it seems self-conscious and paranoid. Especially paranoid, since it’s a sentiment peppered in right after a song like “American You” - a track that is hard to listen to if you’re not holding a cheap beer or barbecuing.
With that being said, however, it's “Whiskey in the Bottle” wherein Catfish Billy seems to truly plant his feet into the ground, establishing what exactly Love Story is as an album: an accomplishment on many accounts.
On Love Story, Yelawolf not only transcends his major-label-endorsed rookie effort Radioactive, and overcomes the country rock-rap stigma created by the mostly depthless discographies by the likes of Bubba Sparxxx and Everlast, he also begins to scratch the surface of a new subgenre entirely. A subgenre that he himself has the chance to pioneer.
So it’s really no wonder that Eminem has not only polished up the Dirty South rapper as a pet project of sorts, but he's given the record some boosts, executive producing and delivering a jaw-dropping verse on "Best Friends," the album's only track with a guest. His cameo actually helps differentiate the styles of Wolf and Shady, which is a crucial and unavoidable comparison to rise above sooner rather than later.
Em, who himself feuded with Everlast, must see in Yela everything he didn’t in Everlast. Everywhere where Everlast failed to create resonance in his music, Yelawolf achieves tenfold in terms of genuity, vulnerability, and most importantly, diversity.
In layman's terms that’s what Love Story truly is, is a showcase of all of those things: genuity, vulnerability, and diversity. Almost every track offers a fully immersive experience that manages to implement a myriad of influences that will tickle many fans of multiple genres. Each track could warrant revisiting based solely on the fact that Yela is able to seamlessly take the listener on a joy ride of genres. Tracks like “Empty Bottles” offer guitar licks that feel almost John Lennon-ish before sinking to the darker depths reminiscent of something you may have heard by former Rhymesayer-signee, the late emcee Eyedea. However, the impressive cohesion of sounds are not the only reason a re-listening is in order. Across the board, Yelawolf’s delivery of sharp-tongued lyrics, haunting hooks, and general ear-worminess is at an all time high on Love Story, perhaps due in part to embracing the Shady mentality of marching to the beat of your own drummer. On the album’s closing track “Fiddle Me This” Yela even thanks Eminem, blatantly saying “The most honest I could be with you to date/is to say thank you, thank you Shady,” in a case of the emcee’s edges getting rubbed down a little too soft.
The edges being dulled down is an unfortunate pitfall - one of the few - that Love Story stumbles upon in its final third. After the heaviness gets put aside for a more triumphant, funky, “Box Chevy V” that harkens back to the cheeky “started from the bottom” type of song you might expect from Outkast, the album takes time to cool down with its title track. Then, even more songs come along. Five more tracks to cool down with, to be exact, which if you workout you’d know is about five tracks too many. The extra handful of songs draw out what could have potentially been the album of the year into a less gratifying experience with just a little bit too much bloat.
Years of successful tapes set up Yelawolf for big things until Radioactive, and now with Love Story he responds accordingly, proving that his finger is indeed to the pulse of his fans, critics, and detractors and supplying a more mature, eye-opening project to sink your teeth into. The catharsis Yela achieved in making it is contagious to the listener, if they’re willing to buy in. Now, it’s up to the tattooed rapper/rocker to keep the momentum going and prove he’s willing to carry the cross of the polarizing genre he represents to new and uncharted territory.