Love Story (to be released April 21, 2015)
Y’all know how hard it is for me to hide my love for my home state of Va. With its musical pedigree, you can’t blame me — Timbaland, Pharrell, Clipse and my hometown homie Missy Elliott all call the shores of Southern Va. home. And you can’t forget long-distance family — D’Angelo, Trey Songz and even my ol’ Cousin Chris Brown are but a few hours away.
Just last week, I mentioned the overlooked musical talents in my second home of Kentucky, where I spent nearly a decade. Nappy Roots was one of the hottest acts in the game at one point; and R&B superstars Playa, including game-changing producer Static Major, is one of the most underracted acts in the past 20 years.
These days I reside in Birmingham, Ala., a state that established Muscle Shoals as a recording mecca. Despite that worldwide acclaim, there have been scant few mainstream hip-hop acts to emerge from Alabama’s red clay.
Gucci Mane was born in Birmingham but embraces Atlanta. Doe B of Montgomery was tragically killed in 2013. Mobile’s Rich Boy must still be paying off those D’s — he’s been MIA for years.
That only leaves Gadsden’s Yelawolf to rep his state. And trust me, the man reps Alabama hard.
Love Story, his second major-label release, is an amalgamation of Catfish Billy’s country-music roots and hip-hop heritage. While his debut, Radioactive, was a much more traditional rap release, just a few seconds into schizophrenic album opener “Outer Space” shows that Yelawolf is now in another world — his world, actually.
“Call me a redneck and I just tattooed it/Because of the abuse and I use it as therapy in music,” Yelawolf spits on “Whiskey in a Bottle” over country-tinged instrumentals. “American You” showcases the hardships of Southern life, relying on the same storytelling that are the foundations of both rap and country:
You got a blue collar father who drinks Budweiser out the bottle
20 dollars, an old Impala, a baby’s mama
You work hard, you don’t beg, you don’t borrow
Night at the factory, daytime job at McDonald’s
Didn’t realize those genres had so much in common, did you? It’s why Love Story‘s blend of dirt roads and candy-painted Impalas make such a perfect match.
Fair warning, though — perhaps Love Story‘s biggest disappointment is that we don’t hear enough of Yela’s underrated wordplay. Sure, we get it in spurts: The title track alone is worthy of the Source’s quotable page (if that page still exists):
Looking for Megalodon, Goliath, Leviathan
I have been dying to find him and tie him to my boat and chop him up and dine with him on a plate with a steak and a coke
Rely on patience and hope, speak to a nation, it shows
Reach through these speakers and grab you, turn the bass up and then choke
Just reading those lyrics don’t do them enough justice. It’s Yela’s impeccable delivery and cadence that makes each syllable sound like an atomic bomb.
Many of the other tracks here are a little more country n’ rock n’ roll. Yela sounds surprisingly decent crooning weepy ballads like “Devil In My Veins” or employing a sing-songy flow on the empowering “Till It’s Gone.” Creatively, they all succeed. I’d just wish we had more songs like “Sky’s the Limit,” where Yela kicks knowledge like a barroom philosopher, rather than tracks like “Heart Break,” which sounds like something from Mayer Hawthorne’s pop playbook. They’re not bad, they just don’t hold up on repeat listens. The album is also held back by its long running time — 18 tracks pushes the limits a bit.
Love Story reads like Yelawolf’s manifesto, a man releasing the demons he’s had bottled up for so long. Sometimes they come out in the form of hard-hitting lyrics, other times in verse. Even on “Best Friend,” when he rides shotgun as mentor Eminem runs absolutely amok, dropping bars like a 600-pound weightlifter, Yelawolf would rather croon his sins away than trade barbs with Em. Many rappers wouldn’t be able to resist the chance to challenge the mighty Eminem on their on LPs but Yela’s not phased. That’s not what this album is about.
Love Story is about his life, his experiences and his home — Alabama. He’s the best we have down here.
Best tracks: “Best Friend,” “Love Story,” “American You”
3.5 stars out of 5