“Country music artists talking about, ‘I’m in VIP. Shake it for me.’ Shit like that. It’s bad man.” — Yelawolf
Halloween is the holiday where we turn fear and horror into fun. But for so many, especially in the forgotten and abandoned backwaters of the crumbling American South, it’s Halloween every day, particularly for youth surrounded by addiction and violence, who are thrusted prematurely into the adult world and ironically find themselves as the most mature and responsible individual they know—the only compass pointing towards right and wrong in a sideways and devolving reality being the one instilled in them by birth.
Many youth never escape this cycle of poverty and addiction, slowly succumbing to the bad habits they’re exposed to from impressional ages to the point where they can’t see right for wrong anymore through the layers of habitual behavior placed upon them, stifling the audience with their moral compass until they become the perpetrators of bad examples to their own children.
Yelawolf’s last album Love Story was a hip-hop record that employed strong influences of country music into the mix, and created a model for how country and rap could actually interact and not result in an acrid experience by watering down both influences instead of enhancing them through the combined inertia of sister narratives. Of course the “country + rap = crap” crowd will never completely acknowledge this exercise could ever result in a sum positive, but unlike Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean, Yelawolf is not claiming to be performing country. This is hip-hop that happens to include country in its cadre, and the result could be catastrophic for stadium country by showing folks how this conjoining can be accomplished creatively.
With the first two songs off of Yelawof’s impending new record Trial By Fire, he proves that his fusion of rap and country wasn’t just a one-off affair on Love Story, but is the style he wants to establish his legacy around. The first song “Daylight” frankly illustrated the weakness of Yelawolf and hip-hop in general in how it leans too heavily on self-referential, and self-ingratiating chest pounding that has no place in any music of class, despite whatever creative accolades the performance deserves. But his second effort “Shadows” finds Yelawolf getting back to the heart of what made Love Story so compelling, ripping its narrative straight from Yelawolf’s own experience, and articulating it in a manner that is so authentic it’s hard not to succumb to the pull of it regardless of genre allegiances.
Helping Yelawolf in this effort is the criminally overlooked talents of Joshua Hedley—a mainstay of the lower Broadway honky-tonk scene in Nashville, and a regular collaborator with many of east Nashville’s best and brightest. Contributing the country chorus to “Shadows,” this adds yet another element of authenticity and talent to the track, and points the listener’s nose in the direction of understanding that societal breakdown and its effect on youth is not just a rural or urban problem, or a black or white problem, but an epidemic that can affect any area or individual where the safety net has been stripped away, often through the infection of addiction which in recent years has become the greatest killer of us all, even overtaking automobile accidents.
Yelawolf was one of the few that escaped the cycle of poverty, addiction, and violence, and now through little help from the mainstream industry, has constructed an independent empire. He was one of the few who learned from the mistakes of his caretakers, but only due to the self-awareness that broke through the layers of learned behavior when he saw himself becoming one of the same monsters he was so scared of in his youth, while his tattoos and scars prove his story isn’t just vicarious escapism, but the tales of someone who was the victim, like so many youth, of living through a Halloween nightmare every day perpetrated by the people who were supposed to protect him.
Memory is the human mechanism that helps us learn and grow, while also being a rich place of positive emotions through recollection. But for many, the mental scars they hold are their greatest burdens, and only through sheer willpower can they hope to break the cycle of bad choices that many times span generations.