The recent signings of rapper Yelawolf and super-group Slaughterhouse have sparked renewed excitement about Shady Records among hip-hop fans. The Shady 2.0 BET Cypher at the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards displayed Yelawolf, the fearsome Slaughterhouse foursome- Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, Royce da 5’9″, Crooked I along with Eminem trading lyrical bombs to the awe of viewers around the world. Outside of Bad Meets Evil’s “Hell: The Sequel,” Yelawolf’s debut studio album, “Radioactive,” is the only other Shady Records release for the year. With his November release, the Alabama-based rapper faces a tremendous amount of pressure to produce a successful follow-up to his critically acclaimed “Trunk Muzik” mixtape and help put the label back on the map.
The first two tracks “Radioactive Introduction” and “Get Away” featuring Shawty Fatt and Mystikal illustrate that as far as flows go, few emcees are better on a technical level than the rapper also known as Catfish Billy. The lead single “Hard White (Up In The Club)” featuring Lil Jon contains an effective backdrop with an ominous chant along with bottom-heavy drums. Yelawolf continues his trend of dropping hard, double-timed raps as he represents his Southern hick roots, while indulging himself in the rock star lifestyle of drinking, partying and smoking. The impressive “Throw It Up” featuring Gangsta Boo and Eminem demonstrates his ability to drop a rapid-fire, show-stopping verse over a simple piano loop and stuttering hi-hats:
“Here the king of archery comes with a cracker dick
To fuck you in that pussy carpet you munch
If I’m not hardly the one, you must be barely the one
Barely and really you kiddin’, bitch I’m the prodigal son
And I’m stuntin’ like my daddy, dr-dr-dr-drinkin like my momma
C-c-country like my uncles, stutterin’ like a CD in a donk go bump-bump-bump-bump
And I’m in a blue Chevy, runnin’ over motherfuckers in first
I ain’t even shift gears yet, I ain’t even here yet
I’m outta this Earth, right? (Yeah hoe) But I just hit the surface
And I’m about to walk into a bank with a shank and a black can of paint and check the clerk
(Where the keys?) Bitch you better check your purse, I got a brick of herb
And a hit to serve, and I’m feelin’ like I might just hit the curb
So get the fuck out of my way, buddy you don’t wanna walk around the chicken house
With a hawk and a puppy dog, Yelawolf and Eminem, shit
Sufferin’ succotash, yeah suck a dick bitch!”
This verse not only tops the one spit by Marshall Mathers, but it is symbolic of everything good about “Radioactive.” Unfortunately though, it also marks the climax of the album. Right after the track ends, a humorous skit ensues with Eminem suggesting to Yelawolf that he needs a love song for girls on the record. Yelawolf seems hesitant at first and in disbelief, but the next song is the forgettable “Good Girl” featuring Poo Bear where the Alabama rapper spits awkwardly over a saccharine, tinkling piano questioning what his kind-hearted girlfriend is doing with a bad guy like him. Without question, the pressure to ensure record sales and crossover pop appeal for the label ultimately hurts the record. For example, the conceptually interesting “Made In The U.S.A.” featuring Priscilla Renea which questions the American Dream, fails in its execution because of a corny hook and marching band drum line directed for the mainstream to enjoy. Similarly, “Write Your Name” featuring Mona Moua speaks about the value of life’s unsung heroes- a war veteran and a single, young mother. However, the generically-crafted piano and synth beat combined with an irritating chorus ultimately hurt this tune.
The interesting thing about “Radioactive” is that when Yelawolf stays within his element and doesn’t sound contrived he is quite entertaining. “Let’s Roll” featuring Kid Rock is a surprisingly good track with a beat composed of sped-up high-hats, organs and synths where Catfish Billy talks about blowing money, getting throwed off and cruising around in his Chevy. The final track of the album, “The Last Song” is a heartfelt dedication to Yelawolf’s estranged father which features a smooth piano-laced beat where he effectively both raps and sings. As a whole, “Radioactive” is a mixed bag that has some outstanding tracks, while others fail from a lack of execution particularly in the production and hook department. Though this record on its own will not put Shady Records back on the map, it does provide a glimmer of hope that Yelawolf’s potential will shine through in time with a cohesive sophomore album.