Yelawolf opens up about why "Mile Zero" is among his most important projects, the next chapter of his career, and how TikTok has come to impact the way music is consumed.
Yelawolf's April Onslaught has come to an end. In his wake are four projects. The RiFF RAFF-assisted TURQUOiSE TORNADO. The DJ Paul-assisted Slumafia. Mile Zero, produced in its entirety by DJ Muggs. And lastly Mud Mouth, Yela's sixth studio album and the closing chapter of this current phase of his career.
While it's evident that he holds each of his recent projects close to heart, there's a notable fondness for Mile Zero, a homage to hip-hop's golden era -- an era that played a pivotal role in shaping his own artistry. "I'm the proudest of this project because it is a direct reflection of what I fell in love with in the first place," he explains. "And I've never done an album so closely tied to that. This is me at 13 with fuc*ing headphones, a Discman, fuc*ing skating in San Francisco. This is me, that Krylon can in the backpack shit."
Shortly before the release of Mile Zero, we had the chance of catching up for a conversation with the Alabama emcee, who opened up about his own prolific output, how TikTok has impacted the rap landscape, his own inspirations, and some of his notable collaborations -- including Ed Sheeran, with whom he laced an entire EP in 2012.
Check it out for yourself below, edited for length and clarity.
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Yelawolf: Yo, what up?
HNHH: Hey, how you doing?
Good, man. How are you?
Not too bad. We meet again. Last time was over the phone. It's good to have a face-to-face this time.
That’s what’s up.
I'm wondering, given how much music you have released this past month, are you looking to get back into the live gigs soon?
I'm not really jumping out the window to do live shows. I mean-- I’m comfortable getting into it in 2022 if it’s chill, but I’m not racing to do it. I was on tour when COVID hit. I was overseas when Trump made the call for everyone to come home or stay there. We caught the plane back and literally landed in New York hours before they started checking everybody at the gate. We just missed it. Then we landed back in Nashville, quarantined at the crib for a couple of weeks, and honestly I just got back to work. I started traveling as soon as those two weeks were up. We shook it during the pandemic man. [Laughs] We got busy.
Yeah man, I can see that. I saw that last year you were teasing the Mud Mouth album on Instagram. Did you record all this new material in the past year or so?
We did a lot. We did about six albums I think, something like that. Well, five that are legit coming out -- done, mixed, mastered, and dropping. A sixth one is also in the works. So we’ve just been busy, man.
Did you always have that idea in mind, coming out with four albums in April?
Nah, we just recorded all this music and we went out to Mexico and shot a movie for Mud Mouth. Ideally, that would’ve been the time to start releasing music, but we were actually running out of time because they couldn't come out after Mud Mouth. Mud Mouth is my studio album, and the other projects are albums in their own right but they’re also mixtape style. I didn’t want anything to come out after Mud Mouth. Mud Mouth is a different experience. It’s a studio album and I’ve always treated my records like that. I’ve tried to set up throughout the past ten years of releasing studio albums with freestyles or mixtapes. This collection of records I dropped in April is like a portfolio of my styles. It kinda goes in reverse, from TURQUOiSE TORNADO which is super playful and fun, fucking partying and broken down 808 shit, to the core southern street shit with Slumafia. Then Mile Zero is back to the roots of where I started writing on lo-fi beats, 93-95 era style beats with wordplay for wordplay’s sake. That’s why we called it Mile Zero because it’s back to the beginning. After Mile Zero, it's Mud Mouth and that’ll be it -- until the rock and roll album comes out.
Oh shit. So you’ve already been working on that?
The rock and roll album has been done since-- shit when did we finish that -- like a year ago something like that. We did Sometimes Why with Shooter Jennings literally on Sunset Boulevard, literally during the marches, the George Floyd marches. We actually marched with them, all of us. A few times. Just to put a time stamp on when that was recorded. It was literally the day after that happened. When the world was on fire, we already had a plane ticket booked to California. So we landed in downtown Los Angeles when it was going down and we were going back forth to the studio every day recording Sometimes Why. It was a heavy vibe. That’s when we did that record.
I wanted to do a lot for hip-hop for my own career, the fans, and to basically tip my hat. Because Mud Mouth is it for a long time. I don’t know when’s the next time I’m going to return to make another hip-hop record. So I just wanted to just give as much as I could before this next phase of my career starts. Hip-hop will always be a part of my life, one of my first loves, obviously, but I am excited about the next phase of my career and where it’s going to go. So, that’s what the April onslaught was about.
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It’s interesting you say that, about wanting to pay homage to hip-hop because something that I think is pretty evident throughout all the projects so far -- including the one you dropped with Caskey -- I noticed you’re really spitting bars on these albums. There’s a lot of heavy rhyming, a lot of emphasis on flows, you can tell your appreciation for the craft is really coming through. So I guess that's what lit that fire for you -- wanting to pay homage?
So much has happened in the world-- in 2019, 2020 -- not just for me personally, but also socially, that it struck me to draw a proverbial line in the sand of who I am and what I do and where I come from. I think that there may have been some confusion about maybe where I was or possibly about where the culture is in the South because of the amount of carelessness that a large group of artists are giving to hip-hop from the South. Namely white boys, you know what I’m saying. Out here it’s like-- there are so many artists, I ain't even going to say artists. There are so many wannabe rappers that are tip-toeing in the culture that I wanted to draw the proverbial line in the sand between me and them. Because I was the first to bring it the way I bought it.
"There are so many artists, I ain't even going to say artists. There are so many wannabe rappers that are tip-toeing in the culture that I wanted to draw the proverbial line in the sand between me and them. Because I was the first to bring it the way I bought it."
Not to say that a white artist didn’t bring it before because Bubba Sparxxx certainly did, but not like I did it. Nowhere near it. There wasn’t the lyricism, there wasn’t the history, there wasn’t the skateboarding history, the graffiti history. There wasn't the core hip-hop, the b-boy history. There wasn’t that core history with Bubba that I had. The rock and roll, the country, all those things that started to infuse came from a really real place and that wasn’t like a plan. That was just where I come from. Naturally, I feel like I was unique but I also opened up a door to a group of people and I felt like it was just time for me to set the record straight for myself, you know?
Although I think a song like “Til It’s Gone” is one of the most prolific records I’ve ever written. But because the music doesn’t necessarily provide a bed for an MC to appreciate the MC craft of it, sometimes you have to do it over 808s for people to hear. They don’t hear you rapping over a record like-- “Punk” with Travis Barker. There are bars in there that are so fast, it’s some of the fastest shit I’ve ever spit and some of the cleanest shit. But I needed the music to reflect more of the story of hip-hip and my love for it, my appreciation for it. I think Mile Zero is the one that’s really, really going to permeate for a long time. DJ Muggs and I, we really went in.
I think what you're saying about really wanting to showcase your appreciation for hip-hop and draw that line in the sand, I think it really comes across -- especially in the technicality. It's clear you’re a student of the game. Not every emcee is catching these pockets or thinking of these wild images you're bringing to the table.
I appreciate it, man. I’m definitely a student and I’ll always be. I feel like the era of MCs that I grew up on has never been superseded. Kendrick is the closest, and I say that with all due respect. There’s a lot of talent out here man, a lot. I’m not going to go down the list of people that I listen to currently, but it’s long. There’s a lot of new talent that I’m into, but I’ve learned to appreciate it in a different way. I’m not looking for their lyrical capabilities, I’m more vibing with the music for vibe's sake and appreciating what they're doing. I’m a huge fan of Future, but then again, Future is a son of Organized Noize -- that’s Atlanta. I didn’t know that before I loved it so much, but then I was like aww that makes sense, the cleverness of it. How clever it is musically, how clever it is melodically, how clever it is lyrically.
"I feel like the era of MCs that I grew up on has never been superseded. Kendrick is the closest, and I say that with all due respect. There’s a lot of talent out here man, a lot. I’m not going to go down the list of people that I listen to currently, but it’s long. There’s a lot of new talent that I’m into, but I’ve learned to appreciate it in a different way. I’m not looking for their lyrical capabilities, I’m more vibing with the music for vibe's sake and appreciating what they're doing. I’m a huge fan of Future, but then again, Future is a son of Organized Noize -- that’s Atlanta."
I've always had an appreciation for the more simple style of music. I mean you always crave what you don’t have yourself. So like it’s easy for me to be complex, that’s why I appreciate listening to Crunchy Black from Three 6 Mafia. I was a huge fan of Group Home and the Nutcracker when I was coming up. People didn’t understand why. I was like “Damn, it’s hard to be that simple and dope.” My style is what it is and I enjoy crawling through records, finding cadences, the subjects that can go on and on as far as what I talk about. But yeah man. I think April is an important month in my career. People may think I’m nuts for dropping this many projects, but then again, they had to f*ckin come out. I was literally like these are coming out or they’re not coming out at all. You can put them on the X-Files because nothing’s coming out after Mud Mouth. My manager, my whole team they were like, “Alright, f*ck it let’s go!"
So many artists are dropping at such a rapid pace, but you’re coming with such a concentrated dose that feels like you're making a statement.
The album is still important to me. I had a discussion with another band last month about that. Let’s not forget the album, let's not forget the concept project. I’ll always be the one to champion a project. Just for the sake of saving the art of doing it, because we’re going to be in a content cage if we’re not careful. It’s not about content, content, content. That’s not what makes the artist, but somehow it’s really shifting to that really quickly. It's like I got a single but I also have 17 vlogs that just dropped or some sh*t. So I think dropping a project is important.
I also went quiet, on Instagram this month and online period. Dude, I’m dropping an album every week I’m not putting anything else out. What the f*ck else am I going to say. Here’s an album every Friday, f*ck off. I don’t need to tell you where I’m eating dinner tonight. That’s another thing I wanted to say without saying it -- even though I just did -- but it was a statement I wanted to make. Put records out, man. All you really have to do is music. Everything else will fall in place.
I fear for the album as an art form. I hope that a lot of people share that philosophy. It’s like you said, there’s so much content that comes out. That start-to-finish listen, I don’t want to say it’s an endangered species, but it feels like that sometimes.
No, it is. It is. What artists have to do is take control, and remember that they’re in control. The labels are always going to push for the most lucrative, fastest way to get a turnaround. And right now, that’s probably TikTok. A big TikTok song. That’s the most lucrative piece of content there is. Other than an NFT. It’s either a hot single on TikTok or an NFT piece of art. And let me tell you, both of those things came across my table. Do you want to do an NFT? Would you consider a TikTok single? And you gotta be like ehhhh, maybe, maybe not.
"What artists have to do is take control, and remember that they’re in control. The labels are always going to push for the most lucrative, fastest way to get a turnaround. And right now, that’s probably TikTok. A big TikTok song. That’s the most lucrative piece of content there is. Other than an NFT. It’s either a hot single on TikTok or an NFT piece of art. And let me tell you, both of those things came across my table. Do you want to do an NFT? Would you consider a TikTok single?"
I feel like, in another universe, Pop The Trunk could have had some TikTok momentum.
[Laughs] Yeah right!
People popping trunks, I don’t know.
Maybe popping fuckin’ corn pops. Poppin’ the top on some cracker jacks. Nobody’s popping the trunk on TikTok.
I don’t know man, I saw somebody trying to start a TikTok challenge to Griselda, so you never know.
First of all, it’s a lot of work. I do have a TikTok account. It’s funny actually, cause I had like a thousand followers, I had just started. I was like, what do I do with this? I played with it a couple of days, and I was like, fuck, it’s too much. I’m already doing Instagram, doing music, what am I supposed to do? This is like thirty more minutes to an hour of my day trying to create new content. It was driving me nuts, man. So my manager was like hey man, feed everything you do on Instagram to TikTok. I’ll hit the send button, but I ain’t bout to curate a TikTok page at this point of my career.
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It’s hard enough to keep track of all the social media platforms at this point. I find it pretty difficult, to be honest.
Everybody’s getting exhausted, and are going to become more and more exhausted with it. It’ll die down. Something’s always going to pop up for children, but we adults have to make choices. I never made music for children. Not since day one. So I can’t cater my way of putting art out there to children, I can’t do it. Kids are always going to have something new, something fresh, something driving their generation. TikTok is that. A lot of adults do play around with it, but for the most part, you have to be careful where you place yourself as an artist. TikTok I found quickly to be too much work and too playful.
Fair enough. On the playful note, you did a collaboration project with RiFF RAFF recently. How did that come about, and what was it like working with him on TUQQUOiSE TORNADO?
We did a record called “Million Dollar Mullet,” and of course, he was like we have to do a video for it. I had time to do the video. I refused to cut a mullet by the way. I was like, muthafu*ker I had a mullet during "Pop The Trunk." I was one of the first to bring it. He tried to get me to cut a mullet in the trailer. Dude, he’s just a fun person to be around. He’s super, super, super fuckin’ smart. He knows exactly what he’s doing. I respect that, I respect that about an artist that understands their spot in music. No matter what genre. An artist that understands their place and what to do with themselves. You either got it or you don’t as far as that goes, and RiFF’s got it.
I always appreciated somebody who can be simple and fun. He even said in the video, 'this is the first time you ever smiled in a music video.' I was like, you might be right, man [Laughs]. We had a lot of fun out there vibing. Of course, he's like, yo, you should come to the crib, come party, and we'll jump in the studio. I was like, Oh shit, here we go. And by the end of that night, we had the whole fuc*ng record recorded. So we just jumped in there and vibed -- drinking Creekwater and making records. He was like, I'm gonna turn this shit into a project. So that's how it happened. It's really that easy, really that simple. It happened one night with Ed Sheeran that way too. I did an EP with Ed Sheeran back in the day, and pretty much the same exact thing. We just vibed one night, did the album in one night, and that was it.
Man, that's crazy. He's like a global superstar now, one of the biggest artists in the world. How did that collaboration come together in the first place?
At the time no one knew who Ed Sheeran was -- including me. I had no clue who he was, and my manager was just like, yo, there's a new kid who signed and they really believe in this kid. He wants to meet you, he's trying to do a record. The label offered him to do a song with a rapper, his favorite rapper or whatever, and it was me at the time. He was a big fan of Trunk Muzik. He loved that record, and he loved "Daddy's Lambo" and "I Just Wanna Party" and "Pop The Trunk." So he wanted to do a record with me. I think part of that at the time was to get some credibility in hip-hop because you know, there's a part of Ed that's a rapper. He's really part rapper, and back then he would do bars. He would sing a little bit and he would spit bars -- it was like atmosphere.
"I had no clue who [Ed Sheeran] was, and my manager was just like, yo, there's a new kid who signed and they really believe in this kid. He wants to meet you, he's trying to do a record. The label offered him to do a song with a rapper, his favorite rapper or whatever, and it was me at the time. He was a big fan of Trunk Muzik. He loved that record, and he loved "Daddy's Lambo" and "I Just Wanna Party" and "Pop The Trunk." So he wanted to do a record with me. I think part of that at the time was to get some credibility in hip-hop because you know, there's a part of Ed that's a rapper. He's really part rapper, and back then he would do bars. He would sing a little bit and he would spit bars -- it was like atmosphere."
He was like hippie hip-hop, you know, hippie-hop or whatever. He was a super nice kid, man. I couldn't do anything but respect him. He's super talented. He wrote quickly and could sing really well and we just vibed and made it happen. I'll tell you, though, I didn't hear from him for six years pretty much after that day. [Laughs] It was like, Oh, shit. And then next thing I knew, it was like, fuc*ing three nights at Wembley Stadium. He's the man, though!
I think it's interesting what you mentioned about these two collab projects, how you did them in a whirlwind session of heightened creativity. Compared to an album, which might be a little bit more meticulous, with more thought placed on the structure. I think that there's something interesting to unpack there, between those two approaches.
Some songs come really easy. Some projects come easy and some don't. Some are really hard. And neither one of those are definitive of the success or the appreciation of a song. None of them. Some you know, you spend fuc*ing three days on one song and everybody loves it. You spend ten minutes on a song and everybody loves it, or you spend ten minutes on a song and everybody's like ehh it's alright. You never really, really know. You never know. You think you know, but no one really knows. No one has a crystal ball on what is an actual big record or what's a classic -- you just kind of fish for it, man. It's fucking trying to catch that magic, man, it's like a second. That's what keeps you going. It's like this neverending search for just that next fuc*ing record, I guess. I don't know.
It's funny too, cause man -- I remember when the internet was first coming together and people were sharing music forums and shit. I was pretty in tune with album reviews and stuff, and people used to be so critical back in the day. And now these projects that were panned then are beloved today, because the sound has changed so much and people are nostalgic for it. So you could drop something that people aren't feeling now, but then in 10 years, they might look back on it and be like, this is a classic record. And it's like revisionist history.
That's true. This is just the end, dude. It's a fucking tough time to put music and art out to be honest, because it's like the whole world's getting shit out of their system. It's been a fucked up couple of years, man. I mean, it really has. If you're lucky enough to catch someone's attention just for a little bit, you got to be grateful. You know, you definitely can't ask for or pry for someone's attention. Everybody's so torn apart from every angle. So you just throw your music out there and let it do what it does. Because you're right. I mean, if they miss it now, they'll catch it. It will come around, you know what I'm saying? It will.
So many times in my career-- basically, every five years -- there's the opportunity to completely catch a new wave of fans because that 15-year-old is now 20. And he's 21. And he's drinking -- or her -- and they're starting to make their minds up of what they really, really like, and the shit that they liked, from 10 years old to 15 they don't like anymore. Nine times out of 10. So they're starting to gravitate towards something that's real to them. And there's always a slew of kids at my shows, you know, brand new. There's always a group of 20-year-olds at the shows that I've never seen before because that's just how it is, man. I mean, it's rare that a kid likes what they like forever when they're super young. I was one of those kids, but I fucking hung out. When I was 15, I was hanging out with 20-year-olds. I wasn't like other 12-year-old, 15-year-old kids. All my friends were older. So I was different in that way. Yeah, but most kids are not that way.
I think something that could maybe be factored in there is like...I was listening to hip-hop albums when I was pretty young. Maybe even eight or nine, just through my friend's older siblings. So we kind of got their records and it became a very cerebral process. You had the headphones and you had to listen to all the lyrics, you really got to unpack it. Whereas some younger people today, they're getting a lot of music through, like you said, Tik Tok. It's very social, you know. It's like this big shared experience. So you kind of lose a little bit of that attachment.
I can't even wrap my head around it, dude. I still buy records on iTunes, man. Like, pay for it, buy it, download it, listen to it. That's it. I've never used Spotify. I've never used anything. If there's something that catches my ear somewhere, I go to iTunes and buy it. I do that for two reasons. One for the support, you know, so that the artist is getting money. And two is that I get to buy it and listen to it -- go workout, go do something, go ride. Front to back, listen to the album, what are they doing? You know, what are they thinking? Where were they at? But you know, I'm an artist. I'm not a passive fan. I don't casually listen to music. I fuc*ing listen to music. So that's it.
"I still buy records on iTunes, man. Like, pay for it, buy it, download it, listen to it. That's it. I've never used Spotify. I've never used anything. If there's something that catches my ear somewhere, I go to iTunes and buy it. I do that for two reasons. One for the support, you know, so that the artist is getting money. "
Before we part ways, anything you'd like to say, any last type of statements you want to make about Mile Zero and Mud Mouth?
Well, I would say that the record would DJ Muggs is like a milestone in my career for hip hop records. I'm the proudest of this project because it is a direct reflection of what I fell in love with in the first place. And I've never done an album so closely tied to that. This is me at 13 with fucking headphones, a Discman, fucking skating in San Francisco. This is me, that Krylon can in the backpack shit. This is that era -- being really excited to find art of emceeing and rhyming. Dude, that's it. The features are insane. I just can't believe it.
Was there significance to working with Muggs to capture such impactful nostalgia?
Esteban, the photographer from World Famous Esteban, he and I became friends. Over the past 10 years, he's shot my career. So every time I'm out there, we hang out, he and Muggs and all of Cypress Hill. He started as their security, you know, and then he started shooting, photography through that opportunity. So he had known Muggs for a long time, and I had been saying, Man, I'd love to meet Muggs one day. I'd love to meet Muggs one day. Finally, it just came up where Muggs was available. I was there and I told him before I went there, I was like, man, I'd really love to work. I hope something happens. So we went to the studio. There was nothing laid out, there were no ideas. But within about 30 minutes Muggs and I had an idea and it flourished quickly. We just knew this was the way to do it. We just we figured something special out and I'm proud of it. Muggs is proud of it. We're excited.
It’s something you gotta celebrate right?
Me and my friend are gonna go bomb a train. That means graffiti for all you nerds out there. We’re not actually bombing a train, it just means to write on it. We gotta do something man, but you know I’m excited. Enjoy the rest of 2021. I will say before we go, thank you and I appreciate your time. I haven’t done an interview in fuc*ing forever dude, and I’m happy to be talking about stuff again. I’m stoked everybody is getting this music.