Summer Sensations 2010: Yelawolf
The growth and emergence of a hip-hopp artist is a process that comes in many variables. No story is alike but the love for music is a trait they all share because if not for that love they would have never accepted the fate to be a rapper. In the case of Alabama native Yelawolf, his upbringing into music is as complex as any story can be and it’s that complexity that has garnered him an unapologetic following of fans that know the chants to “Catfish Billy.”
Born Michael Wayne Atha to a single mother in Gadsden, Alabama, Yelawolf would find the word “home” used loosely over pretty much his entire pre-adolescent and teenage years. Holding down residence in Baton Rouge, Franklin, TN, Nashville, Atlanta and hometown Gadsden of course would be expected for a military brat, but he wasn’t. In fairness…some good came out of his nomadic upbringing, because the love for hip-hop grew while living in Antioch, TN starting around 1993. The suburban neighbor on the outskirts on Nashville ushered a young Yelawolf a wide view to street life and an appreciation to hip-hop courtesy of artists like Snoop Dogg, Three 6 Mafia, N.W.A., Ice Cube, Souls of Mischief, Digable Planets, UGK, Skinny Pimp, Nappyhead and Goldteeth, along with local artists like Southside Hustler and Haystack. “Antioch is where hip-hop really became real to me, that’s where I started writing raps. It was like…I already knew about hip-hop, but I really didn’t jump head in first until I moved there.”
“I actually got suspended for my first rap there too. I was going to this school called Carter Lawrence in downtown Nashville. I started writing this one particular rap and my boy was like ‘let me get a copy of that’ and I was in the principal’s office making copies…please don’t ask me why, but I wanted to give people a copy. While I was in the office the principal was like, let me see that and he snatched it up and it was a bunch of profanity in it because I was just basically at that point obviously emulating all of my favorite rappers, so he suspended me and called my mom to come and get me. My mom came up there and pitched a bitch. She was like, ‘how dare you try to stifle his creativity. Look at the s*it he’s dealt with everyday, you can’t suspend him for writing this.’ She got me back in school and after that, I knew my mom had my back on it. She kinda showed a sign of believing in me and that I was onto something. After that, I just kept writing and I’ve always been a writer.”
After years of perfecting his writing and moving back home to Gadsden later, Yelawolf met his friend Jeremy “J Dot” Jones who would go on to become one half of his management team along with Courtney “Bear” Sills. “When I first met Yelawolf I quickly connected with his vibe and sound. I understood it! He reminded me of several friends I grew up with in Alabama. A cool ass, country white boy who listened to hip-hop and hardcore rap, and had Rebel flags on their trucks, but when I heard him flow, I was instantly blown away, and now I’ve been working with him ever since,” says J Dot. Starting back in ’07 J Dot took him to the Atlantis Music Conference in Atlanta to pass out CD’s and network. While there they met Sills and bridge a network that would open a major door. “On that day I had collected close to 50 CDs, so when I went back to my office I listened to three other CDs before I popped in Yelawolf’s. I was blown away from the first song and the next seven songs were equally jamming. I called Jeremy and he invited me to Wolf’s show that night. I called up KP (Kawan Prather) to tell him I had met an artist that was so refreshing to my ear that he had to check it out. I went to the show that night and what I saw was raw energy. It was fun. He had charisma, he had his own style and he was a star. I told him when he got off stage that I was going to make something happen for him to change his life. He didn’t believe me, he said ‘yeah sure.’ I had KP come down that night and I had setup a showcase at 2am that same night. Wolf rocked it! KP said, ‘Let’s do it. YelaWolf has it; enough said.’
Yelawolf says, “We raced over to this place and when we walked into the room setup for us, KP was sitting there and I just knew what time it was. I went over and threw my CD in and I told everybody let’s put it on now and we performed for him—just him…my whole crew. After performing for like 800 people the night before, it was worth it because he basically signed me on the spot. He was with Columbia at the time, so the deal ended up being a Columbia/Ghet-O-Vision Ent. agreement.”
Although Yelawolf felt like he caught a break once a deal was struck with Columbia and Ghet-O-Vision, it would be short lived once Columbia began making cuts. “They reconfigured their whole shit when they hired Rick Rubin and he shut s*it down man. He got rid of everybody, but before he could do that, we dipped. People had a misconception about what happened with me. Some people thought I got dropped…most people think I got dropped, but that wasn’t the case. They ended up getting rid of my whole team and along with KP and myself, it was like there was no reason to stay at Columbia. My whole team was leaving, so we left and we’ve been pushing with just Ghet-O-Vision on the streets ever since.” In those years, Yelawolf has dropped a collection of mixtapes like Slick Rick and Bobby, Stereo and now Trunk Muzik. He also released an EP called Arena Rap.
Although his music is unparalleled to many artists out now, he knows more than ever this is the time to make things happen for his career. “I spent many years trying to figure out what and how I can say, or how I can convey this culture that I live and still be listenable and cool with people because it wasn’t easy to figure out how to talk about all this redneck and ‘hood shit in one record, you know. It took me a minute to figure it out, but once I got the sound and figured out what I was going to say, I just ran with it. The music scene in Gadsden is like Hustle & Flow and there’s a lot of talent here and I’m hoping that the door opens up for these guys, but it’s completely up to them. I can only help by being me and using my own perspective to write my music to help open the market up.”
View Yelawolf in our Summer Sensations 2010 Lookbook.
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