After a flawless performance Monday at Rock & Roll Hotel, it's easy to see big things in Yelawolf's future. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)
At the Rock & Roll Hotel on Monday night Yelawolf's rapping was the equivalent of a searing guitar solo, with hissed words taking the place of fingers racing up and down a fretboard. From a purely technical standpoint, there are maybe only a handful of rappers than can currently compete with the heavily-tattooed 31-year-old.
So it was fitting that there was nobody but a DJ sharing the stage with Yelawolf, aka Michael Atha. He's both a rare talent and the rare rapper that has no partner, no crew, no posse -- and no need for any of them. In addition to being a verbal vitruoso capable of breaking syllable-per-minute records he's also a gifted lyricist with a fully-formed point-of-view that many of his fellow superstars-in-waiting have yet to discover.
His stories of down-and-out Southern living -- fast cars, cold beers, hard beats, harder drugs and the folks for who those four things are the only reasons to live -- ignore vague generalizations in favor of vivid scenes. "11:30 and I'm pullin' up dirty smoking babbage out the back of my buddies Monte Carlo," he offered in a Southern sneer on "Pop the Trunk," one of a parade of highlights from Monday's show. Like most of those songs, a head-spinning verse leads into a club-ready chorus. It's impossible to rap along when Yela is breathing fire on such songs as "Billy Crystal" and "Good to Go," but it's just as impossible not to during those songs' meaty hooks.
Onstage, Yela opts for simple self-assurance over superstar swagger. Sure, he wants to drive your "Daddy's Lambo," but he feels like a king in his "Box Chevy." There's an everyman quality that makes him feel genuine, not generated by hype. When a patron was getting removed for smoking a joint, Yela was able to reason with the staff and allow him to stay. (After giving up the contraband, of course.)
Yelawolf may be on-the-verge, but he's definitely no rookie. And the grind has served him well. By the end of Monday's flawless 45-minute set it was hard to shake the feeling that the 200 or so folks in the room had just witnessed a very special performance -- rap's next superstar at the very top of his game, just waiting for that spotlight to shine on him. His upcoming album "Radioactive" will serve as the unofficial re-launch of Eminem's Shady Records label. With any luck it will be free of guest stars, big name producers and radio baiting singles. Let Yelawolf be himself and the country might just have a new favorite rapper.