Did you think Yelawolf was finished? Hands raised. I had my doubts too. I wrote this article 18 months ago and had been waiting for him to validate me ever since. We’re living in a post-good kid, m.A.A.d. city world and it makes failures like Radioactive and Attention Deficit Disorder seem more toxic in retrospect. All three were released on the house that headphones (and 2Pac) built, but only one of the trio showcased the artistic courage to follow its vision no matter how weird or bizarre it seemed. Weird and bizarre are always qualities that have been plentiful in Catfish Billy’s lake. This site declared “Looking For Alien Love” it’s #1 song of 2010. But that was a red herring. A song that Wolf had recorded much earlier and had accidentally leaked. When I was shadowing Wolf in Vegas, I asked his manager about “Alien Love.” He laughed and said that Wolf could do songs like that any time he wanted and there were several others like it in the vaults. He didn’t explain why they were unreleased, but the intention was clear. They were too strange to fit into the plan to morph him into the next Kid Rock — which was an abject failure.

The beautiful thing about rap right now is that for the first time in over a decade, the okie doke doesn’t work. When Waka Flocka tried to go pop, he bricked. So did Wolf and Wale (at least until he was cloaked in Rick Ross’ ample bosom). When I spoke to an executive at Warner, he told me that radio didn’t want anything to do with forced cross-over collaborations. The only thing that you can guarantee in the music business is that people will follow the trends. So, we, those fans that like rapping, are suddenly blessed with being able to hear good rapping. A few years ago, “Black and Yellow,” was the closest thing to a pure rap song that you could hear on “urban” radio. Now you’d be hard pressed to hear the cheesy pop slop. “Fucking Problem” might be corny, but it is a highly rappity rap song. “Poetic Justice” rocks the Janet sample, but Drakkar Lamar go in. And even the Mallard from Toronto is dropping singles that are as hard as he can get — somewhere between Nerf and Big Noyd.

My point is that the game has revolved back around to favor Yelawolf’s strengths. And for the first time since Trunk Muzik, he’s actually playing to them. Make no mistake, this a very intentional decision. He followed up Radioactive by working with Travis Barker and Ed Sheeran. They were awkward and uncomfortable and made you wonder if hanging out on Shady had given him Stockholm Sydrome, characterized by robbing banks with Skyler Grey. But look at the guest spots here: Killer Mike, A$AP Rocky, Raekwon, and uh, Paul Wall. It’s also, y’know, called Trunk Muzik 2.

I haven’t had the chance to properly dig in, so I apologize if this is more contextual than specific. At his best, Yelawolf has always been about both. The backwoods and rifles and redneck trappings tucked into the minor details about Alabama Crimson sweatpants. These qualities are all display here. The hillbilly helicopter flow, the slinking eerie rider music, the narrative of how he lost a deal from Def Jam, and beats from Will Power, who should be contractually obligated to produce at least half of every Yelawolf project ever. It’s not up to me whether this will allow Yelawolf to reclaim his spot. In my book, he went from top 5 (in 2010) to not mentioned at all. You rarely get a second chance to blow up and rap is swarmed with young hungry kids trying to come up. But give Yelawolf credit, he’s recaptured his original focus and fury as well as anything he’s put out in the last two years. This is very good. The tank isn’t empty.

Download:
ZIP: Yelawolf – Trunk Muzik Returns (Mixtape)