Yelawolf Radioactive Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

The Alabama rapper’s star is sure to shine for the foreseeable based on this debut.

Mike Diver 2011

With a catalogue stretching back to 2005’s self-released collection Creek Water, it’s perhaps surprising that Alabama-based rapper Yelawolf (born Michael Atha) has taken until now to reveal his debut album proper. (There have been mixtapes and EPs, but nothing more substantial.) But as its generally positive reception stateside illustrates, Radioactive has largely been worth the wait. With a plethora of guest vocalists crowding the credits, as well as a diverse array of production talents on board, it risks being a case of too many cooks – but the myriad styles just about gel together, enough to ensure that the central voice is worth focusing on throughout.

Subject to release delays – it was originally slated for September – Radioactive probably won’t make a mark on too many year-end hip hop best-ofs; but it still packs a substantial punch, the impression left likely to last into next year. Big name collaborators – Eminem features, as does Lil Jon on the lead single Hard White – deliver predictable enough turns: the latter barks wildly like he’s trying to attract the attention of a girl seven dancefloors over; the former drops dizzying rhymes at hyper-speed which reinforce his position as one of this generation’s genuinely great MCs. Kid Rock earns kudos, too, for a surprisingly complementary contribution on Let’s Roll. So often a spotlight-hogger, here his restrained harmonies work excellently. A pair of lesser-known voices, Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo and Mona Mona, provide soft-chorus contrast to Yelawolf’s hard-edged raps on Throw It Up and Write Your Name respectively.

Evidently a man proud of his southern upbringing, Yelawolf raps unashamedly about what he knows best: what’s immediately around him. But it’s not quite as flag-waving as a scan of the tracklist suggests: Made in the U.S.A. is no celebration of the nation’s greatness, instead an account of the countless problems faced by its residents on a daily basis, the sort of nuisances that tourist boards brush under the carpet of so much aesthetic wealth and natural beauty. Priscilla Renea, a writer in the past for the likes of Rhianna and Cheryl Cole in the past, delivers the track’s sweet hook – but the aftertaste, the underlying message of poverty and its associated hardships, is sour indeed.

Not everything works – the unrefined Rusko-recalling dubstep shudder of Growin’ Up in the Gutter, and its unnecessarily gruff chorus, obscures a fine Shabazz Palaces-echoing narrative (again, darkness spreads across Yelawolf’s wordplay), and Radio is a throwaway piece of pop fluff that might not even make the cut for a Bruno Mars album. But when he’s in his element – ruling over frenetic beats with rhymes that cut right to the bone – it’s clear that Yelawolf’s star is sure to shine for the foreseeable. Patience, rewarded.

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