“Plenty of white boys for you to pick from this year”
That was Yelawolf, last fall during the BET Cyphers, spitting arguably his best verse from 2011 before shouting out the commercial sponsor of the event, Sprite. Rap blogs took this as Yelawolf firing shots at the equally pasty Machine Gun Kelly–whose personal brand is stuck somewhere between Journey’s and Hot Topic– which it probably was. Yet, different blogs said it was also directed at Mac Miller—the most popular rapper on college campuses right now—who’s notable for not being very good at the job he’s being paid to do (rapping, allegedly). But it could have also been directed at something called “Macklemore,” or the ghost of Asher Roth, or it could have been directed at any other member of the white boy mob currently making their way up major label rosters right now.
The point is, there are a lot of rappers who look a lot like Yelawolf (and me, SPOILER ALERT) and you can basically guarantee that all of them will release commercial product. But where Yela’s targets didn’t have far to fall in order to limbo their way under the bar that is a total Commercial Sellout, circa that BET Cypher, Yela seemed like he was going to be able to achieve near-classic status, if only if Interscope would let him replicate Trunk Muzik over a full-length album. Instead, Yela caved to all the pressures that come with signing to Eminem and Jimmy Iovine’s record labels: Radioactive was a total mess, the latest sausage of Interscope’s radio rap sausage factory (that works on two levels, because there aren’t many ladies on Interscope).
So the idea behind Yela’s new mixtape, Heart of Dixie, a collaboration with M16 and Frank White, is that Yela is back to his old self, cruising in Lambos and letting rich girls do him in said Lambos. But here’s the thing: The foreign car has left the garage on Yela in a way that even his staunchest supporters (me) couldn’t have fathomed 12 months ago. Spend too much time trying to record a crossover smash, and you’re bound to think that a song called “Father’s Day”–which is only a pair of flip-flops away from a Jack Johnson song—is an acceptable thing to put on a mixtape that is supposed to remind people you used to be good.
Spend too much time literally living in Marshall Mathers’ shadow, and you’re somehow still prone to fire off lines like “Why can’t you see I’m not Shady?” a song after you remind everyone you’re signed to his vanity label. Spend too much time whitewashing (Big Pun intended) your sound, and you’ll have mental breakdowns that lead you to recording a song called “NUTZ”, about how you have them and they are big. Yela’s biggest crime on Heart of Dixie is that he’s still the rapper that made the worst parts of Radioactive, and whence being unmoored from the label for this tape, he delivered more of the same.
Yela still has that impossible to replicate flow though, that machine gun (no Kelly) ratatat that allows him to fly headlong in and out of the pocket. It’s still his best attribute, and there are times where I suspect that all I need is Yela saying nonsense in that flow and I’ll be at least moderately entertained (“Let Me Out” and “Wrap Song” are those times). He even beats stupid Machine Gun Kelly at his own “I’m white, I’m gonna get fucked up in this bitch” game on “Sobriety Suck”, even if it ends up being more boring than actual sobriety. And “White Boy Shit” has the humor Yela used to bring to his songs by cataloging stereotypically “white” things, even if it takes a turn for the self-serious, like listing all the boozes you’re going to drink is pertinent information.
This is an “even if” mixtape, as you can see. Which is to say there’s not much here to recommend it by beyond just saying “Better than most of Radioactive, by a hair” and slapping that 1/5 down there. It’s never easy when someone you had pegged as your favorite MC not more than 18 months ago completely falls off this planetoid. Now I know how all the Blu fans feel.