David Weiner ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
I waited backstage at the Middle East for Yelawolf next to a bag of corn chips and a jug of Crown Royal whiskey. After a few minutes a tall slender man in snakeskin boots, skinny jeans, and a cowboy hat walked in. Tattoos covered his body, neck and face.
Michael Wayne Atha, known as country rapper Yelawolf, is set to release his sophomore album Love Story next year with Shady Records. Yelawolf has faced criticism as a white rapper for over a decade. Critics point out his changing music styles of rap, country, and rock along with his changing physical appearance. “Who is Yelawolf?” they ask.
“Change is a harsh word. It seems to be so derogatory. You changed, you changed, you changed.” Michael said as he lit a cigarette. “I evolved.”
The first time I heard of you was back in 2005 when you were on Missy Elliot’s show, The Road to Stardom. What was that experience like?
Desperate. I had two kids and one on the way. I saw an opportunity. I put trust and faith into it and thought it was going to be a search for the next hip hop thing. Turns out it was a reality piece of shit show. I got kicked off for talking shit. I was political about it. I learned a lot. I went back home with nothing and gained nothing from it, but perspective. I was just young and willing to do anything to get out of Gadsden. It’s not a turning point in my career, it was just a blip on the radar.
I saw you do an interview where you were asked about white rappers using the ‘N’ word. What’s your view on that and everything that’s going on in the news with Michael Brown and Eric Garner?
I’m from Alabama, man. We’ve had a bad enough reputation. Growing up you just don’t say it. You don’t say it in a friendly way as a white person and you don’t say it in a derogatory way as a white person. All my black friends threw it around and shit and that was their thing and I never crossed that line. My grandmother listened to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. She had to hide under the bed to listen to blues music. There’s grandparents and great-grandparents that are still alive today that went through some really traumatic shit.
How do you feel about the U.S. congressional staff walkout that happened last week?
It’s good. Those people have the responsibility to take action, I mean that’s their job. If you’re a politician and your fucking job is politics and government, it’s your responsibility to act on it. We can only talk about it as artists. We can speak our voice and say hey, this is fucked up. (Raps a line from his song “I Wish,” referring to police brutality and racism) “Chipped tooth type of people, illiterate pigs who wanna see you killed type of evil. Confederate flags I see em In a truck with the windows down. Why’s he playing Beenie Sigel.”
It’s that dichotomy. It’s that juxtaposition that I grew up in. I’ve been knowing about that and talking about that even prior to what’s been going on currently with Mike Brown and Eric Garner and really all of the other unspoken heroes who have died because of cops or have been brutally beat up never really got talked about. Ongoing abuse of power. Abuse of the badge.
I think one thing that’s got to be clear is that not all cops are bad. They are human. It’s just that there’s a few bad seeds that fuck it up for everyone. Scared police are dangerous police. You gotta remember that one cop who’s tried to keep it steady for his whole career. You can’t retaliate on that person and scare them and vice versa, police can’t be scaring these kids on the street.
We pay them. They work for us and they forget that. I don’t believe in violence, but sometimes its the only way to get their attention. Violence begets violence. If that was my kid getting killed on the street, then I would do the same thing.
Where are you at now with your family and Fefe Dobson?
I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve come into my own with life and music really. I’ve found that I’ve gotten to a place where the foundation is more solid than ever. I’ve got three kids already and I want more. I mean, Fefe wants a kid for sure.
I’ve always been a fan of the couple that kinda holds it down. I mean I’ve got Johnny and June tattooed on my head. I respect that and I understand it like my grandparents. There’s a balance there, man and integrity. It makes what I do in life easier to know that I’ve got something worth waiting for.
Where are you at with your career and your evolution?
The fear of perception stops a lot of people from doing things. I’m definitely not afraid. I don t know If I’ll be anything forever. I think that now I’m comfortable. I’m more comfortable than I’ve been in my life, but given my history and what I’ve done, who knows you know if one day I might write a full country album, I don’t know. What if I want to do that. What if I want to write a full rock album or a folk album or just another straight rap project mix tape?
When we finish talking, he put out his cigarette on the floor. I brought out a disposable camera and asked to take a portrait.
You can see Yelawolf next at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City and then in Duluth, Georgia at Wild Bills on Saturday.
Photos from Yelawolf’s Set