Q&A: Yelawolf Talks Dubstep, Harmony Korine, and Trunk Muzik 0-60

Q&A: Yelawolf Talks Dubstep, Harmony Korine, and Trunk Muzik 0-60
Hannibal Matthews

Yelawolf began the year with the mixtape Trunk Muzik and he's wrapping up his 2010 with a major label EP, Trunk Muzik 0-60, out today. Between the internet release of his mixtape and the EP's arrival in stores, Yelawolf signed to Interscope records, toured with Wiz Khalifa, showed up on "You Ain't No DJ" off Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot, bored a bunch of Brooklyn Bowl attendees, humped some girls on-stage in celebration of his The Fader cover, and rapped over the Cars' "I'm Not The One" in a holiday sweater. This interview took place at a hot wings spot in Carrboro, North Carolina in the spring and a tour van a few months later in Greensboro, NC as the Gadsden, Alabama rapper prepped Trunk Muzik 0-60.

Do you keep a rhyme book?

I'm a writer but I don't have a book. I used to write in books but I'm weird with art--like, I'll paint a picture and leave it somewhere, you know? I did like a whole series of paintings when I was living in Atlanta--a whole collection, like ten canvases--and when I left the house, I just left them. I didn't even sign them. I'm just strange like that. The same thing with writing rhymes. I just don't find any value in keeping a book but yeah--I do write. On receipts, scraps of paper, the wall--anywhere.

When did you start rapping?

When I heard rap, I was like "I could do this." You know? I started in the fifth grade. I was influenced by gangsta rap and had some real gangsta-ass raps with my bowl cut and Randy Travis sweater. You gotta understand how this country rap shit runs deep with me because when I went to school, I didn't understand how to dress. My momma's boyfriend was on tour with Randy Travis and I'd be wearing a Randy Travis tour sweater and some fuckin' Eastlands and fuckin' bowl cut. Just crazy. But writing raps, you know?

Did the whole white rapper thing intimidate you?

No, because the first white rapper I had ever seen was this dude named Southside Hustler. His name was Eric McAnally and you know, he was a dope boy from Nashville and this was when Vanilla Ice was out and I was like, a kid. And he had Cadillacs and Benzes and he was a white boy, you know? Nashville was like this mecca for white boys in this hood shit. Like, real motherfuckers making real street money. So I got a taste of that shit and from there, you could never tell me that white boys weren't "real" because I had already seen it.

Those lines from "I Wish" about white kids and relating to rap: "Confederate flags, I see em' on the truck with the windows down/Why's he playing Beanie Sigel?/Because his daddy was a dope man/Lynrd Skynrd didn't talk about moving keys of coke man." You're aware that can rub some people the wrong way, right?

It's not like I'm "taking shots." I just made an observation. I think talking about Confederate flags and rebel flags is perfectly fine as long as you're making sense of the situation. Like, this white boy likes this rap shit because he can relate to it on a very real level. I live in Walnut Park in Gadsden. It's an old factory neighborhood that's got a steel mill and my great grandaddy worked there, but since it closed down, it's just all these hood-ass white boys. There was a kid that is that line, you know? Anybody can come see it for themselves. Anybody.

You did a show in Atlanta last year called "Gummo Stars." Roping that movie into your aesthetic really fascinated me because I thought it might be the kind of hicksploitation you'd avoid.

Gummo is just like a piece of my upbringing. When I was just getting to Nashville, I was younger and skateboarding. Harmony [Korine], who directed Gummo was just graduating and I got some friends who are friends with him and my homeboy is from the neighborhood in Nashville where they shot that. Gummo is spot-on.

Spot-on? Really?

It's the oddness, man. Like there's people in Walnut Park, that you could do a Gummo movie about. The dude who gets shot in the "Pop The Trunk" video? His mother never comes out of her room. Like, she smokes back-to-back and she's got her dogs and that's it. When I went and picked him up for the shoot, he was like "C'mon, I want you to meet my mom." So, I'm walking in the house and you know, he's got like car speakers wired to his TV and like, you go in there and the dogs start going nuts, and she's like "These are my babies, these are my babies," and she's like, overweight and you can tell, she doesn't get out of her bed. She just smokes and has her room covered in blankets so it's pitch-black and she watches Law & Order all day. It's weird, man, know what I'm saying?

My grandmother used to have an Elvis room. So yeah, I do.

Poor white people can be odd like that. You walk up the street and you see some kid in some Bathing Ape shoes with no laces and some ankle socks and his legs are tore up from mosquito bites and he's got fuckin' stonewash shorts on and a fuckin' Auburn hat on, and his bangs are in his face and to him, he is the coolest motherfucker.

It sounds like you're writing your next song.

I just understand it. I can talk about it. That's all it is. I know how to observe it and turn it into a song. But like, ninety-five percent of what I talk about and maybe more, I've done myself. "Pop The Trunk" though is obviously not one of those things--but I watched it. I wrote "Pop The Trunk" as an observer. I hear people saying "He ain't no gangster, he ain't gonna pop the trunk on nobody..." but they're not listening. I'm talking about shit that I've seen.

You started the year with a mixtape and you're ending it with an EP, and that's really it except for Big Boi's "You Ain't No DJ" and a few songs here and there. How important is quality control to you?

Too many rappers think "it's just a mixtape," and it's not just a mixtape. It's a body of work that represents you and it doesn't go away. Not saying that you can't recover from a bad mixtape but if I could give any advice man, it would be: Treat your mixtapes like a real project. One mixtape that blows my mind and is like a cousin to Trunk Muzik and is what mixtapes should have evolved into, is that Big K.R.I.T mixtape. I'm just a fan of that dude. I rode from Atlanta to Alabama listening to K.R.I.T Wuz Here just straight through. Hip-hop is in a dope state right now to me.

More so than a few years ago, for sure.

Man, when I had record deal with Columbia, there were days I'd rather be skating and drinking than recording and that's not right. Trunk Muzik 0-60 is on Interscope and Interscope has historically nurtured acts. Think about The Chronic or think, Gaga. Lady Gaga is out of her mind! She's brilliant to me. Eminem. So, you gotta trust the brand and the history of the label. I didn't sign to Interscope with nothing. I signed to them when I was already on tour and Trunk Muzik was out.

Trunk Muzik 0-60 is referred to as an EP. Is it like a stopgap between the Trunk Muzik mixtape and your official album?

Yeah. We wanted to release a project soon and not step too far from i>Trunk Muzik, so we decided to take five of the fan favorites from Trunk Muzik and put six or seven new ones onto it and call it Trunk Muzik 0-60. It's not like a debut album release, it's just making sure that people have an opportunity to hear it all over the place. Now all these people in small towns are able to get it.

Something like "Billy Crystal" will definitely resonate in small towns.

Me and Jim Jonsin went like, real gutter on that one. "Billy Crystal Meth." Like, it's not "Lollipop" or the "Whatever You Like" type of sound from Jim Jonsin. It's pretty nuts.

Musically, it's really dark, brooding electronic music. Almost a dubstep influence in there...

Dubstep's got this half-time, double-time style anyway. Like you could double-time over most dubstep. It just happens to be a good marriage between Southern bounce shit and dubstep and I think it's dope.

That music might be a challenge for a small town audience though, right

I know what I liked to listen to when I was coming up and I just expect kids to be the same way that I was when I was fifteen years old. I was listening to Hieroglyphics. I was listening to all the underground, classic shit when most of my friends weren't. But I was a skateboarder and on some other shit. Those other friends though, were onto UGK and Triple-Six Mafia--all the hood shit. I listened to it all.


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