"Pop The Trunk" provides a bleak examination of Yelawolf's roots.
To place Yelawolf in the wide-ranging realm of Country-Rap, while seemingly a safe bet, would be a surface level analysis. For a cursory scholar, a southern drawl is evidence enough to merit inclusion in the subgenre. Yet Southern hip-hop is an elaborate and wide-ranging web, having spawned no shortage of eclectic artists, many of whom boast different upbringings and styles. With Lil Nas X’s viral “Old Town Road” shedding new light on Country rap - while simultaneously opening a wider discussion on genre and the confines such a term presents - many contemporary artists have likely smelled the sweet combination of blood and hay. Though we currently stand on the verge of a sonic movement, in which shallow elements of country are implemented for little reason other than trend-hopping, one essential truth should not be forgotten. The country aesthetics contemporary artists are looking to emulate are simply intrinsic character elements for rappers like Yelawolf, derived from the environment in which they were raised.
We’ve long seen outsiders draw elements from a broader country subculture, and when treated with integrity the results can be enjoyable. Songs like Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Bad Azz, and Techniec’s “Gold Rush” found the Doggfather channeling Josey Wales over a western-inspired odyssey. Eminem and Dr. Dre painted a similar sun-drenched picture on “Bad Guys Always Die,” a back-and-forth tale of outlaws, duels, and lawless horseplay. Yet such tracks are simply homages to an idealized fantasy, hardly drawn from personal experience. Enter Yelawolf, whose “Pop The Trunk” severed several purposes in introducing the Alabama rapper to the game. For starters, both the song and accompanying video cemented the rapper’s authenticity as the product of the American South, all while bringing a variety of unconventional traditions into the forefront. An exploration of the darker corners of the Country Rap subgenre.
Consider the Motion Family-directed “Pop The Trunk” video, which features elements closer in spirit to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance than Red Dead Redemption 2. Rather than enlisting actors, Yelawolf cast his mother and stepfather to realize his haunting lyrics. Both parties perform admirably, dead-eyed depictions of an often overlooked fragment of the population. “Meth lab in the back, and the crack smoke peels through the streets like an early morning fog,” spits Yela, in the song’s opening moments. “Momma's in the slaughterhouse with a hatchet, helping Daddy chop early morning hog.” An unlikely origin story, rife with visceral imagery of literal butchery. As the video progresses, Yelawolf paints himself as an observer, watching a cold inevitability unfold: trespassers will be shot on sight.
There’s something uniquely Southern Gothic about Yelawolf’s “Pop The Trunk.” A subgenre that often centers around the grotesque and impoverished qualities of rural America, Southern Gothic qualities rarely infiltrate hip-hop music. A tradition originally conceived in literature through the work of American authors like Flannery O’Connor & William Faulkner, the Southern Gothic presented bleak and thankless scenarios, which more often than not ended in gruesome acts of violence. “Pop The Trunk” emblemizes the subgenre in a way hip-hop has rarely explored, under a refreshingly neutral lens. There is no judgment cast, nor fetishization of the impoverished, disturbing though its conclusions might be; they are simply accepted as the bleak reality of Yela’s environment.
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Even the second verse, which finds Yelawolf witnessing a sudden act of spontaneous brutality, speaks to a ruthlessness inherent to the Southern Gothic. The video does an excellent job of bringing Yela’s written imagery to life, with Shawty Fatt appearing imposing and hellbent, popping the trunk to emerge with a shotgun in hand. While environmental violence is a recurring theme across all hip-hop locales, there’s a decidedly different flavor when juxtaposed with flashes of hanging dead-carcasses and decrepit woodsheds.
It is because of that unapologetic authenticity that “Pop The Trunk” never feels like horrorcore. Instead, it’s a refreshing introduction to Yelawolf’s reality, a complex and multifaceted one at that. While his further albums would come to explore some of those alternative elements, thus branching Yela’s exploration of Country Rap into a variety of intertwining pathways, “Pop The Trunk” proved that the South could be a dark and unyielding place. Such unexplored corners speak to the vast possibilities entrenched within a given “subgenre,” and go miles beyond slapping an acoustic guitar blues riff over trap drums and calling it a day.