We've been doing these "1 Listen Reviews" for a hot minute now - Yoh did one for Young Thug's new album just today - and for each and every one I've done, I've had an opinion, an experience, or some sort of relationship with the artist. Logic is my hometown dude, as is Wale. Before Mr. Wonderful I had tried Action Bronson on for size 5,000 different times.
With Yelawolf, things are different. Aside from two guest spots, (this one and this one) I haven't really listened to Yelawolf. I'm sure I penned a few blurbs early on in my DJBooth career, of course I've heard the music as it came floating by, but I never really took the time to dive into his library. Don't ask me why, I don't have a good reason. Sometimes an artist just slips by you until one day until you finally catch on.
So while I don't know his entire catalog, I do know he's southern, I know he likes his hip-hop mixed with a little bit of rock and I know he's had his fair share of ups and downs. After reading Nathan's profile it seems like Love Story is a rebirth for him. It feels like he's shed his skin and is now a new, more seasoned artist. In a way then, Love Story seems like the perfect place to start our relationship because its a new start for him too; I won't be caught up in how it compares to his previous work. Clean slate for us both.
I got a bowl packed, my fancy headphones on and I'm wearing sweat pants. The usual 1 Listen Review rules apply, no pausing or rewinding, just my gut reaction thoughts as I listen to the album for the first time. Let's do this.
Crickets and the sound of a car pulling up a drive-way. Perfect start to the album. I'm already picturing a log cabin/moonshine distillery in a dreary, backwoods swamp. Yeah. This is exactly how I expected this Yela album to start.
On second thought an alien abduction isn't exactly what I had in mind. This is really cool. He hasn't said a single word yet and has already set the scene. Ah there's the music. This is kind of funky. Reminds me of the Beastie Boys or early Red Hot Chili Peppers. This beat is really interesting. I didn't know what to expect from his flow, but this was not it. It's not bad, just very different. This hook is strange too. One thing I am sure of though, is the production is top notch. I'm gonna chalk this weird (yet dope) one up to being an intro, you're allowed to weirdly fuck with shit on the intro
Wow. Though this is drastically different from "Outer Space" it flows really well. I didn't know he could sing like that. The echoing effect is a bit much, but I really like Yela singing. Annnnnnnndddddd heres the rapping I was expecting. His inflection is really cool; kind of a whurrring flow. Is it just me or do the instrumentals sound a bit louder than Yela? Woah. How did we go from him singing to him talking through some sort of alien-tuner? This is so unconventional. I'm not quite sure why, but that last little section gave me goosebumps. There's something really cool about it...
Holy fuck. This is a rock song. Wait, maybe it's country? Either way it's not hip-hop. Whatever it is though, I'm digging it. Shit. He can really sing. I'm not big into country music in the least bit (except for the Dixie Chicks of course) but what's not to like here? The drums give it a little more bite than your typical country tune. Also, I'm still trippin over the fact that he sounds just like a country singer. I hate when country singers try to do that weird sung-rapped thing, but Yela can clearly pull it off. I don't know how many artists in either genre could blend them like this. I'm trying to pay attention to the content, but I'm too interested in this sonically to focus on lyrics. Also, fuck you too.
"Whiskey In A Bottle"
Yo! Those drums!!! This one sounds like System of a Down did a Willie Nelson cover. Shit, Yelawolf can really sing! I know I've said that like seven times already, but I am really impressed. I had no idea he was this skilled. Has he always done this? This is probably the most complete effort yet. It has a "pop" to it the other records don't. It definitely resonates with me. Also, Yela really carries it. Maybe those two facts are related...gotta say, not a big fan of him saying "faggots." Aren't we beyond that at this point? Aside from that hiccup it's a wonderful song. I love his passion. I love his jabbing flow and that smooth hook gives those verse even more potency. Best effort so far, by far.
"Ball And Chain (Interlude)"
Man, I might have to dive into the credits on this album. The emphasis on the live instrumentals is the real takeaway so far. That and Yelawolf can sing, but I've said that already. Soft and mellow here...have a feeling we're in for something hard coming up.
"Till It's Gone"
"Hello I'm Johnny Cash." Literally the first thing that came to mind when I heard this riff. Ohhhh shit feeling this; Yela's really impressing me with his vocals, not just the singing but his rapping too. I love his inflection. It adds some grit to the vibe. Sometimes I wish it was a little more constant and even-keeled though. Hook game proper; every hook has been incredible. Can we even call him a southern rapper anymore? How about southern artist? The way he's incorporating the southern flavor of blues, rock and country is incredible. Still, I find myself listening to the music more than what he is saying; I'm waiting for a verse or a line to really grab me. So far it's been all about the vibe and the sound. Enjoying it, but I'm still waiting on that moment.
"Devil In My Veins"
I wonder how his hardcore fans will take this album, because I know nothing about him and it's nothing like what I expected; this acoustic guitar is really great. Honestly, I think I like his singing more than his rapping. I could listen to a whole album of this, of just him singing. This is the most convincing Yelawolf on the album and he's not even rapping. It's remarkably not hip-hop and I love it. This has to be new, right? He hasn't been doing this his whole carrer has he? Fuck. Have I been missing out on this for years? Now I really have to listen to all of his other projects. I hate country music, but I really love this. He's more country than half the country artists out and he's a rapper. I'd love to know how much changed songwriting wise for him. He's not rapping here he's straight making a country song. The process had to be different, right? Honestly, my dad would dig this shit. I think even my Mom would. I didn't expect a lot going in, but if you had told me Yelawolf made a song my parents would dig I'd call you a dirty, dirty liar. Dark, brooding, powerful; I wanna rewind this one so bad.
"Best Friend ft. EMIN3M"
The production on this album is phenomenal (all hail WLPWR), this is such a great beat. Oh shit, completely flipped the script. More guitar. More singing. With the Em feature I was expecting a pure rappity-rap beat, but he still manages to sneak in the instrumentals. That scratching is perfect. Piano too? Fuck man. Yela is fine, but truthfully I keep waiting for Eminem. It's like a horror movie. I know the monster/killer is gonna pop out, but where? When? Excited to hear what he's gonna do on this. Huh...really not feeling Em here. There's no passion. Sounds like "Rap God" extended. Too herky-jerky. Okay. OKAY. Here we go. Eh. Actually. Really not feeling Eminem on here. Fuck though, he's so good technically, but it just doesn't fit the record. It's too balls to the wall and Yela is too smooth; too drastic of a switch. I'm disappointed. I was expecting big things from this one. Has Em lost his ability to reach me?
That last one kind of took the wind out of my sails. I'm trying to stay invested, but this one feels like it's missing something. "Faggot" again? Call me the PC police, but I hate when rappers use the word. Be better. Still, this last verse is much more interesting; love the passion. Yeah, he's really going in - awww man why'd he stop? WOAH! I thought the song was done but he's just double timing it. Oh wait. He's kind of half double-timing it. Stop stopping! I wanna hear you rip this shit with an onslaught. This last half of the song is everywhere and I love it. I'm trying to catch my breath, but he keep's changing shit up on me. Now the beat is this clapping, a salsa-esque joint. Still, would have liked to hear more of that super-fast, agitated flow, but I went from losing my steam to feeling ready to rock so I guess it's a win here.
Man. What the fuck? I can't get over how crazy this production is. From Johnny Cash to System Of A Down and now Elton John? The piano-based instrumental is bananas in pajamas. I also really love Yela here. Find myself focused on him. This hook. THIS FUCKING HOOK. Goosebump city. This shit goes hard. Yela is fiery and passionate, but you can also feel the pain in his voice; very convincing. Eminem would have fit much better on this one than "Best Friend." Has a serious Em vibe too it. Yela is really commanding here. There's an extra level of depth and passing here that's missing in other places. "Sleep At Night" and now this? He's really good at making "fuck yo ex" songs. This makes me want to go get a baby momma, leave her, pay her half my money, get rip roaring drunk, and sing along with the hook.
Yela's really taking the reigns here. Find myself focused on him much more than in the first half of the album. The beat is airy and spacey, so it's really up to him to carry it. I'm listening and I'm liking it, but not all that invested in this one. Um. Don't really have much else to say. This is a long album and I feel like this record maybe could have been left off.
"Box Chevy V"
I know "Box Chevy" is a Yelawolf thing, but I'm not sure what it means. This must be like KRIT's "My Sub" series. Expecting him to really go in over a bangin' beat. Sounds like Outkast here, kind of. I hate comparisons, but when I hear something and someone else immediately comes to mind, I have to mention it. That little breakdown - "In my Chev-ro-let" reminded me of "So Fresh and So Clean." Then a Still DRE reference? Yelawolf is bringing so many different flavors together all over this album; it's impressive. I wasn't sold on this one, but then he hit me with the guitar switch up and I'm all in. Aw shit. Just like that it's gone. So many progressions and changes on this album. Oh it's back. Yay! I'm so impressed he can do all these switch ups with all these different flavors and still keep a cohesive, fluid sound.
This is kind of too pop-ish for me. At least the intro is. I love his rapping, but the production is a little lackluster. Ohhh I liked that little ripple effect-thingy doe. Oh shit; he's rapping. Oh shit those drums. Oh shit I'm into his one. Every time I feel myself faltering or losing interest Yela pulls me back in; rap game The Godfather III. It's a long fucking album though. He's going to have to do something really amazing down the stretch to keep me totally invested. "Weight up like I'm carrying fat people"? Corny. I'll let it slide because this song is interesting, but he's gotta be better than that lyrically if he wants to hold me. Those horns at the end are cool though...
This is a really long album...
Oh shit. A song name "Johnny Cash"? Not sure it can be more Johnny Cash than "Til It's Gone" but we'll see. Not what I was expecting. I thought that cheering crowd would have made for a cool, anthemic sample. There it is. I bet this would be dope live. A real crowd singing that "oh oh oh" would be crazy. Man, this last verse is really convincing. I feel like it takes him a while to reach the climax (pause). If he had rapped like this from the beginning I'd be totally sold, but as soon as he really gets going it's over.
"Have A Great Flight"
He kind of got away from the guitar instrumentals there for a minute and I didn't even realize it. Happy it's back though. These acoustic, non hip-hop songs are definitely the most interesting experiences. I know I've written "I know I've said this a thousand times but he can really sing" a thousand times, but he can really sing. I had no idea. Oh shit those drums, too. You know, I might like his singing more than his rapping. Not that his rapping is bad, but his crooning is incredible. Yeahhhhhh let that bass walk. Okay, this is too good. Leave me alone I'm listening....
Does that typing make it seem like I'm masturbating or listening to his rapping at the end? Trick question. I'm doing both. It's that good; one of the best songs on the album.
"Sky's The Limit"
Biggie? Is he gonna do some Biggie now too? No Biggie here, just Yela doing Yelawolf things. Cool horns on this one, but it's kind of hard to get into after the amazing "Have a Great Flight." Again I find myself much more invested in his non rap material. That Boston Marathon line didn't make much sense. The killer isn't free. I respect the conscious stuff, but it doesn't really fit. Feels out of place, no? This song probably has a ton of power and meaning, but I'm 16 tracks deep and pretty spent. It's too much. I'll have to give this one a run through again when I'm fresh. Why a 1 Listen Review is only the start...
Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and need those liner notes. Need to know who all these session players are. Shit. This is really heavy. Yela is really good at the personal stuff; he makes me care. Cool how he goes from a softer, sung verse to a more rap-based one in the second; great 1-2 punch. Cool how he's more talking than rapping, but is still totally rapping. Shit. This is a really heavy track. Not my favorite song but a must listen because Yela is so open and honest. Respect.
"Fiddle Me This"
When I saw the tracklist, I was so excited for this one, I need him rapping over some Charlie Daniels Band type fire. This is like every song on the album all rolled into one; some country, some hip-hop, a funky baseline, some fire emoji worthy lines all in one. Rap over that fiddle! Rap over that fiddle! Do it! Do it! Ahhhhh there it is. Dope. Dopeiddy dope dope! DOPE! This is a great way to end the album. So much fun. Love how he ends the LP with a culmination of everything he's done on the last 17 tracks. Now scratching?! Fucking amazing. Great last track.
Wow. What an experience! As I said a million times, Yela and I are relative strangers, but I have to feel like this is a new sound. Honestly, it might be the hot comparison, but it sounds like To Pimp A Butterfly on grits. I was expecting banger after banger, but instead got a rich, diverse and deep experience. The way Kendrick drew from jazz and funk, Yela ventured into rock and country and still keeps things rooted in rap. That same sprit of adventure, of experimentation on TPAB is here too. Its drastically different sonically, but remarkably similar in terms of approach.
I'm really impressed by Yela not just as a rapper but as a singer and as a musician. This is an album I could play for anyone from my metal-loving roommate, to my rap nerd ladyfriend to my goddamn parents. It may have been a little long for my liking, but that's a small price to pay for listening to something this remarkably unique. I may not know a ton about Yela, but I know enough about hip-hop to know nobody is making music like this.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]