Yelawolf – Radioactive (REVIEW)

November 25, 2011 7 comments

Throw on your HazMat suits and pick up Radioactive on iTunes

Alabama rapper Yelawolf has, arguably, one of the most distinctive sounds in hip-hop. Last year’s Trunk Muzik still stands as the proper testament to that. “Pop the Trunk”, “Box Chevy (Part 3)”, “Good to Go”, “I Wish”; all showcases of a hungry, snarling, filthy-south MC matching his flow against the likes of Chip tha Ripper, Bun B, and Raekwon respectively. Radioactive comes by way of a major deal with Shady Records, behind the endorsement of Eminem himself. A series of events that display the organic rise of a truly original voice getting recognized purely on the merits of his skill.

Of course, we’ve seen this story before. Underground prodigy rises to gain the attention of the big label, only to be coaxed into conforming to the stencil mold of mainstream hip-hop. So, naturally, my inherent cynicism led me to the believe that Yela would succumb to a similar fate. Surprisingly, it took less than one major label debut to polish off the indie dirt and straighten the unique path that Yelawolf had been following to this point.

On “Throw it Up”, my bid for the best track on here, we get the last vestige of Trunk Muzik Yelawolf, in terms of flow and subject matter. But, about 15 seconds into the short skit that follows the track, Yelawolf has a dialogue with Eminem about the direction the album should head in. The conversation goes something like:

{Eminem}: Um yo, you know what I was thinkin’ man?
I think the one thing that uh.. that the album don’t have
That might be missing
Is like uh.. a song for like, for girls
{Yelawolf}: Uh, what do you mean? For like bitches?
{Eminem}: Nah, girls. Like a love song

Whether this was done in gist, or meant to serve as a qualifier for the change of direction on the album, Radioactive simply never recovers from switching focus to that “love song”. Or, any of the multiple love songs that bog down the second half of this record.

As far as the first half goes, though, it’s a deceptively fun bunch. Not only is the “Radioactive Introduction” a spare, haunting cut featuring some of Yela’s more effective and introspective wordplay, but its followup, “Get Away”, opens the blinds on Mystikal’s career after, essentially, 10 years of silence (Yup, this album). And, while I can’t personally see myself listening to the Kid Rock assisted “Let’s Roll” (do you even have to have heard the song to know the hook?), I can certainly see University of Alabama fans getting their “Roll Tide” on to this in Tuscaloosa.

“Growing Up in the Gutter” is anchored by a beat that resembles something like an alarm that’s sounded when Guantanamo Bay is breached, but Yela’s storytelling — which has been his ace in the hole when he’s needed it — carries this track above average. And, the aforementioned “Throw it Up”, accompanied by an Eminem in full on “rap-game attack mode”, and Gangsta Boo, who essentially performs a vocal career resurrection for the time being, finds Yelawolf tearing through the lightly ominous WillPower beat with the confidence of a rookie with nothing to lose.

So, for everything to go downhill immediately afterward simply because Lord Marshall “speaketh it to be”, is a little upsetting, considering the solid momentum built prior. “Good Girl” is the “love song” segue in question and, honestly, it’s not terrible. The Audibles deliver their best replica Dre circa-2001 beat, and Poo Bear is admirable on the hook. It actually would’ve been the perfect “song for bitches” if it only occurred in that one instance. Instead, the album halts to accommodate it’s new M.O.

“Made in the U.S.A.” is especially offensive. Not because of the subject matter — Yela actually handles the topic of working-man blues coupled with first world guilt fairly well — but that hook… That hook is just deplorable. I’m sure she’s probably a nice girl, but based on this song alone, I’d have no problem with Priscilla Renea mysteriously vanishing from existence (you know, quicker than the natural decline her career will determine). She can take Skylar Grey with her too.

Elsewhere, we get Fefe Dobson on the dubstep-lite “Animal”, which I assume needs no further elaboration. “The Hardest Love Song in the World” tries, and fails, to live up to its advertising (sorry, this still exists), but isn’t a complete clunker. Its follow-up, though, “Write Your Name”, is just a head-scratcher. First off, this is Mona Moua (mysery solved). Mona is a fan who was so distraught after missing Yela live, that she made a tribute video, and was given an opportunity to be featured on his debut. Yeah, touching I guess. All irony aside, she’s not that bad here. But, she’s also pretty unremarkable. As is the song, with its J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat (“Aston martin Music pt. 2”?) and generic delivery. It’s almost like they didn’t want to give her anything too challenging, so they stuck with something so basic that it ended up hindering the track itself.

There’s an eerie similarity in that story that takes a metaphoric role in why Radioactive is such a disappointment. Though the album does come back to form later on tracks “Slumerican Shitizen” (Killer Mike is clutch) and “The Last Song”, which gets a tad bit sappy. But, not before the damage is done. What got Yelawolf here is clearly not the major concern of his handlers, and that’s what’s so concerning. I don’t hear Yelawolf all the time on Radioactive. The emphasis on production, and features, and themes, and structure have, without a doubt, stifled Yelawolf’s most important instrument: his personality.

There are millions of people who know who Yelawolf is and are aware of his potential. Sadly, I don’t think the majority of the people behind the release of this particular album can be included in that group.