Yela and Radioactive
We got up with burgeoning rapper Yelawolf to discuss hoops and hip-hop.
At some point during this past NBA season, say in the first dozen games or so, I noticed that a fair amount of players in a fair amount of locker rooms were playing music by an artist named Yelawolf on their headphones and iPod docks. I was surprised at the time…but I shouldn’t have been.
In the weeks that followed, Yela emerged from his humble underground roots to, if only momentarily, take over the hip-hop discussion. In rapid succession, the native of Alabama signed a deal with Eminem and Shady Records, appeared on back-to-back XXL covers and—pertinent to SLAMonline—got shown love by none other than Shaquille O’Neal.
Now, months and months later, Yelawolf is preparing for the release of Radioactive, his full-length debut album. Set to drop on October 25th, Radioactive, Yela promises, is sure to be heard in locker rooms this season—assuming there is a season.
Over the course of a pretty dope conversation a few weeks back, the emerging rapper discussed working with Shady—or Marshall, as he calls him—Alabama stereotypes and the NBA Lockout.
SLAM: Where are you at?
SLAM: Oh, laying down that cipher with Shady for the BET Awards?
Yela: Yeah, man.
SLAM: How’d that go?
Yela: Well, Eminem is Eminem (laughs).
SLAM: We’ll talk hoops in a sec, but rapping with those dudes, that’s like rapping with a team of all-stars right there, right?
Yela: Yeah, definitely. I’m definitely with a crew of champions. Lyrically, f—ing, those dudes are unreal, man.
SLAM: I can’t wait to hear the cipher…So did you play ball when you were younger?
Yela: A little bit. I played with the homies around a couple of rec center and neighborhood games. It’s funny, man. Anything that I get into I’ll take to the extreme. So for the short stint that I did get into basketball, I started really trying tricks and shit, really trying to be ill with the handle. Really, somewhere, I lost a passion for it. I ended up being crazy at the game of H.O.R.S.E. I did play Marshall (Eminem) in a game, and he’s pretty fucking good at basketball.
SLAM: Is he really?
Yela: I mean, he f—in’ definitely kicks my ass in the game of basketball. Actually we played a game of 21, me, him and KP (Kawan Prather)—and that was the last game of basketball I played honestly. That was the last time I played ball, with Em, and he f—in’ killed us.
SLAM: Do you have time to watch ball at all?
Yela: Last game I went to I sat courtside with Jimmy Iovine when I did my deal with Interscope at the Lakers game. It was Celtics versus the Lakers, so I got to watch Shaq and Kobe play against each other. It was pretty dope.
SLAM: Y’all don’t have a team in Alabama, so who was your team growing up?
Yela: I guess I was like any other kid; I was a huge Jordan and Shaq fan. Pretty typical. I was so focused on my music, especially after I decided that I wanted to make a career of it, that I can of put on blinders and I’m just now starting to appreciate other shit in the world. (Laughs) Now that I have a deal, I can kind of exhale. You know, I have a situation and I have a career. Most of my life was spent on the grind, so I didn’t have time to appreciate much other than trying to make it in the music business.
Shaq, Shaquille O’Neal—not that I had to say that (laughs)—gave me a shoutout and a homie of mine told me about it. He said, ‘did you see this?! Shaq gave you a shoutout.’ I went and saw it. I couldn’t believe it.
I called my manager and said, ‘Shaq is coming to town next week; I’d like to meet him.’ So I met him, shook his hand and he told me, ‘Don’t give up. Stay at it. You got something serious, and I’m a huge fan.’
SLAM: Yeah, you probably have heard this before, but I’ve heard a lot of your stuff played in NBA locker rooms. I know a whole lot of the southern born players listen to you.
Yela: Dude, I think that’s the illest compliment ever. I think what we have in common, from an athlete to an artist, is the work it takes to even get in that position. And metaphorically, just being in the game, playing the game, winning the game. You know, it’s the same ideas. And to finally get a position, to finally join a team, Shady Records, I’m playing with the best.
SLAM: And like ball, people only see the finished product. They don’t see all the work and practice that goes into an album or a game.
Yela: Yeah, but it’s really dope. The music, obviously, I think is speaking to people and speaking to athletes. Especially if they’re from the South or if they understand that groove, it’s ill motivation, gets you crunk, ready for the game. But also, I’m in the face of adversity. I have been in the face of adversity for most of my career, and I think more than anything they (athletes) can relate to that hunger, to that fearlessness.
SLAM: And I was thinking about this: You being with Shady, being with Em, is like cats who play in Charlotte for Michael Jordan or who played with him in Chicago.
Yela: It’s definitely like. Take yesterday’s cipher, man. It’s just like watching an expert. It’s not really different at all from what you’re saying. No one can ever do what Jordan did; there will never be another. But there is LeBron, there is [Derrick] Rose, there are these guys that come up and make their own place in the world. That’s pretty much exactly what I’m doing.
You’re not gonna repeat what Marshall’s (Eminem) done; you’re not gonna out-rap Marshall. You have to stand there and create your own world.
SLAM: Even more so, coming from Alabama, a place that’s not exactly steeped in hip-hop and basketball success, it’s got to mean something extra, right?
Yela: Yeah. Anything that comes out of Alabama is special to us. We have a great sense of pride. In movies and comedies, it’s the brunt of all the jokes.
SLAM: Maybe that’ll change, at least come hip-hop and basketball.
Yela: I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. Just like people associate certain attitudes with New York, people associate certain things with California. Honestly, some shit is just true (laughs). Stereotype or not, some of that shit is very real. At the same time, that’s part of what makes us cool. You go there and things that you hear about are really there.
SLAM: My biggest association with Alabama right now is dude who went down to Auburn and poisoned that tree.
Yela: Oh my god, man. I got a text from my sister—she’s a huge Auburn fan, a die-hard. In Alabama it’s either Auburn or Crimson Tide, right? You born into either/or. We’ll she got the bad side; she’s a hardcore Auburn fan. When that happened, she was really, really messed up. Some people wanted to kill that motherf—er.
SLAM: Where’s the album currently holding?
Yela: The album’s looking good…
SLAM: That’s whassup because I know I’m going to be hearing it in the locker rooms once the lockout is over.
Yela: Yeah! I got something for them this year, for sure.
SLAM: The NBA has this lockout, right? So players can’t go play in the arenas or talk to their coaches or have contact with their teams. What if hip-hop ever had that? What if you couldn’t talk with Shady?
Yela: F— that shit. I don’t know what kind of contracts NBA players are under, but some shit just don’t apply (laughs). I’m in the business of breaking rules, but that sucks. How did the Lockout happen?
SLAM: It’s all about money, man. And it’s crazy because the players can’t even have contact with their team or coach.
Yela: Wait?! The players can’t talk to the coaches?
SLAM: Nah, if a team so much as tweets at a player, that’s potentially a million dollar fine.
Yela: What the f—. The whole NBA?
SLAM: Let’s say the Celtics Twitter account tweets at Glen Davis, that’s a fine.
Yela: Damnnnnn. Twitter?! Twitter! Million dollar Twitter fines (laughs). That’s horrible, man.
SLAM: I need to see some FREE THE NBA t-shirts or something at the BET Awards.
Yela: I’d definitely do that. This is ridiculous.
SLAM: So let’s say someone told you that you had to hold your album for a whole year—what would you do?
Yela: I’d leak it.
SLAM: And that’s what they’re doing. They’re playing for the fans and for themselves in open runs around the country.
Yela: Anytime business supersedes the core of why the business is there in the first place, you’re really f—ing up.