The official release for Yelawolf and Gucci Mane’s “Wanna Party” video hit it a snag when it leaked two weeks ago. Word circulated that it was unfinished, prompting a Polly Pocket-style recall. When the the official version arrived several days later, it had minimal alterations. Of course, hackers hit all the time — but usually to the likes of chronic malcontents like Lupe Fiasco (triggering foggy glasses, label time outs, and poorly punctuated letters.) Yet this time it occurred to probably the only new major label rapper of the last few years whom most people can agree on, during the roll out of his first official single for the house that grew The Chronic.
Wolf has predecessors. Several other Internet hopes like Kid Cudi, Wale, and B.O.B. have blown up and taken credibility hits in the process. Ultimately, that’s probably irrelevant to them because they’re all getting paid and sleeping with the extraterrestrial bird-women that Kanye hooks them all up with (well, maybe not Wale). But in support of the idea that the idea of music is to make great music, all of them have fallen short of general expectations. And the last time anyone saw Jay Electronica, he was riding an alpaca into a Peruvian silver mine to meet with “an oracle.” (Puff sent him). So like Interscope’s once and present cracker hope, Yelawolf operates as a Trojan Horse representing anachronistic values (consistency, experimental tendencies, lyricism) that smug Internet critics often like to call antiquated — which might be true, but it doesn’t make them dismissible.
Yelawolf is a great rapper in a genre that has released exactly two major label albums from great rappers in 2010. One of them, Big Boi’s “Sir Lucious Left Foot” was a critical darling but a commercial dud. The other, Eminem’s “Recovery,” boasts the sanctimonious drivel of a 12-step program run by Scientologists. It has sold roughly 3.2 gazillion copies and purchased Jimmy Iovine another swagged out ancient temple from the distressed Greek government. There are several young great rappers floating around, but most are either too weird, too radio-unfriendly, or aren’t attractive enough shirtless and/or in a white ninja suit to ever see release on a major.
Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go…
But by virtue of possessing the rare combination of marketability and talent, Wolf will find himself one of the only guys to actually release a commercial record, provided his 0-60 actually sees release on November 24. Compromised of five old tracks from Trunk Muzik and seven new ones, he seems to be the recipient of the new low expectations strategy that labels are taking. Waka Flocka and Die Antwoord both released records in the last two weeks, neither of which feature national hits (though “No Hands” is rising fast.) Both are unlikely to sell more than 200,000 copies, but will likely prove profitable to their imprints bottom lines, considering that both artists are selling out shows across the country and are probably locked into 360 deals.
In the process, Yela has deftly straddled the line between integrity and the idealized idiocy that rots large swaths of American pop culture and critical discourse. Jay-Z admitted to “dumbing down his flow, so they all yelled holler,” and people hailed it as a great virtue rather than reacting negatively to being patronized. And yet a 30-year white ex-skateboarder is poised to potentially be one of the biggest rappers in the country, a mere three years after Rick Rubin released him to focus on producing Weezer records and perfecting the ultimate vegan twinkie His position stems from his ability to be one of the few rappers capable of bridging the gap between high and low.
Over the last six months, he’s shuttled between playing Fader-sponsored mustache twirling extravaganzas and dropping tracks for Peter Rosenberg tapes. He’s rapped over “I Need a Dollar,” “Ain’t Going Out Like That,” and “Lemonade.” He’s collaborated with Gucci Mane, Big Boi, Eminem, El-P, and old Alabama allies like Ritz. He even dropped the Anticonish “Looking for Some Alien Love,” which may be the closest Dose One’s sound will ever come to permeating a major label roster. If it sounds more complex than a simple underground/overground binary, that’s because rap right now is far too atomized to fit into any cheap binaries — Yela’s chief utility is his ability to appeal to the diverse electorate: Nascar fans, Dark Side of the Moon-worshipping bong hitters, stoners, skaters and street rap heads. Along with Freddie Gibbs, he may be the only rapper acceptable to both Okayplayers and Ozone readers, but unlike Gibbs, he remains on the Interscope roster.
The Pathological Thinker
In an alternate universe, he’d already be on the radio. The video for “Pop the Trunk” has exceeded 1.3 million YouTube plays. When I interviewed the Interscope-signed Far East Movement, they told that “Like a G6” was originally a mixtape track that blew up on YouTube. The moment it crossed seven figure views, Interscope took it to Clear Channel and Emmis, where it metasized into the #2 song on the Billboard charts, with over 1.3 million paid downloads. But a song like “Pop the Trunk” has as much place on contemporary urban radio as the Hurt Locker does at the multiplex. It’s too dark and gory for mainstream consumers. And whereas, the Oscars will honor Kathryn Bigelow & Co., the far more irrelevant Grammy’s are pretty much destined to lavish awards on a smug aftershave MC like Drake rather than a guy rewriting “body in the trunk” with bumpkin protagonists.
Which is where ” Wanna Party,” comes in. It’s as transparent a radio bid as anything Wolf could’ve released. It has Gucci Mane rapping like his Odie chain was being held hostage. It has a tweaked out tramp cooing, “I Just Wanna Party,” and its lyrics are slavishly devoted to just really wanting to party. It’s conspicuously stupid and obvious, but somehow, it works. It’s neither as sleek as “Nothing on You,” nor as perfectly zeitgeist capturing as “Day N’ Nite,” but it succeeds because of a honesty that the song and video capture. Both Yela and Gucci come off as sleazy trash who want nothing more than to get fucked up. Gucci walks out of a banana-colored Lambo carrying a 40 in a brown bag. Yela sits shirtless and heavily tattoed on a front lawn strewn with passed out knuckleheads and a “For Rent” sign.
Meanwhile, the party itself looks like The Hangover as re-conceived by Jesse Pinkman. Scantily clad females, graffiti on the walls, domestic and foreign substances everywhere. And Big Boi and Jackie Chain are there too. It looks like a pretty fun time, which is the entire point of a song like this. Plus, Gucci and Yela exhibit a natural chemistry, trading off bars on the hook, swapping ad-libs, and successfully dumbing out. It’s the antithesis of why most of Yelawolf’s Internet fans like him, but it reveals a versatility that hopefully augurs well for a long career. As tawdry and trite as it is, it feels honest. And it’s certainly better than “Chillin.'”
When I interviewed the Souls of Mischief fan #1 earlier this year, I asked him if he was worried about having to conform to contemporary tastes. Of course, he said that he wasn’t. That’s what he has to say. But what struck me was when he added “I know what the underground is, I’ve been there for a long time.” At a time, when the notion of an organized hip-hop underground seems absurd, Yela remains one of the few major label rappers able to retain artistic integrity while avoiding alienating compromises. Whether or not his record will see radio remains to be seen, but it probably doesn’t matter. He’s got a still growing fan base, a ferocious live show, and is surely making more money than he was last year at this time. But you can’t blame him for trying to court mass appeal. There is no underground rapper pension plan, and if there was, I wouldn’t trust Ill Bill with my IRA. –Weiss