2 out of 5
Alabama-born rapper Yelawolf’s debut LP Radioactive shoots for the golden standard of Southern rap set by Big Boi, Gucci Mane, 36 Mafia and the likes, with heavy production and a tongue-twisting (almost Eminem-emulating) cadence. Unfortunately he falls short; Yelawolf’s flow isn’t distinctive enough, and he’s upstaged by mentor Eminem’s characteristic verse on ‘Throw it up,’ which affirms comparisons already circulating and makes it easy to see the former’s style as uncomfortably close to being imitative.
There’s some interesting, musically diverse production, ranging from a laid-back acoustic riff on ‘Everything I love the most,’ to ‘Growin’ up in the gutter’s brain-numbing synth attack, with some more soulful, R&B indebted stuff in between. ‘Animal’ opens with a snoop-dogg-esque funky-smooth keyboard, then escalates, attempting a skull pounding, deep synth drop, which is in actuality more like a ray-gun ear zapping that doesn’t manage to elevate the song to its desired epic heights.
‘Made in the USA’ uses a subtle transformation of the instrumental from Dre’s ‘What’s the difference’ to provide the thrust behind the verse, a polemic exposing the ‘real’ America of “late on rent paying” “dope cookin dirt dealers” and “nine to five back breaking” blue collar workers, making the point that the titular product is “a manufactured dream”; but the song can’t sustain itself with only the perpetuation of a pretty hackneyed cultural critique, and totally self-destructs with the appearance of a flowery hook, the eye-rolling annoyingness of which is not diminished despite the proffered ‘depth’ behind its sarcasm: “isn’t it great how we got it made in the USA”.
Ditto for ‘Write your name’, and ill-advised collaboration with Kid Rock, ‘Let’s Roll’.
Lil’ Jon adds clout, appearing on the (humorous?) nod to staple self-aggrandizement ‘Hard White (Up in the club)’, where Yelawolf sticks up two middle fingers to the haters who are mad at him “cuz im in VIP with a fuckin jack bottle.” In fact, he’s got “two bitchez waitin’, two ‘tens’ that’s a win win situation.” Lil’ Jon’s contribution, “up in the club, don’t give a fuck,” secures the track as a sure-fire club banger. (It is good fun though).
Unfortunately, Yelawolf never quite moves beyond his tired preoccupation with ‘juxtaposition’ (as he proudly announces in the press release) of rap and more Pop-y genres, an impulse that is tempting even to well-established artists, and which stems more probably from commercial rather than creative interests. Big Boi’s Sir Luscious Left Foot, on which Yelawolf featured in “You ain’t no DJ”, indulged in this catastrophic trope with disastrous results in that album’s worst track, “Follow Us”: with the overblown ‘rock’ hook by collaborators Vonnegut it aligned itself with the all too comfortable trend of the concerted chart-topping hip-pop ‘hit’; rap-lite, with verses diluted by a generic chorus –c.f. B.o.B’s “Airplanes,” and Jay-Z’s venture with Linkin Park; it follows, then, that Yelawolf’s desire to be Radio-active (to generate radio play, just to unpack the album title’s ‘clever’ pun for the hermeneutically-challenged), occasions similar failure.
Luckily, Yelawolf’s underwhelming lyrical capability (of his mother: “all I know is I was made in you, so I put faith in you”) and play-it-again variations on a theme are covered by the Radio-active aspirations of the album’s production; it makes for bearable, radio-friendly listening.