Long before Lil Nas X yeehaw'ed his way to the top of the charts, Yelawolf was spitting bars over twanging guitars and stomp-clap percussion sections. Born Michael Atha in 1979 in Gadsden, Alabama, with a childhood spent bouncing around Georgia and Tennessee, he emerged in 2005 as a flamethrower of a rapper, following the tradition of Southern luminaries like Outkast and 8Ball & MJG—with a bit of Kid Rock thrown in for good measure. Yelawolf’s introduction to hip-hop came early, from the Run-DMC tape he’d listen to while riding the bus to school from the Nashville projects each morning, but he found his way to the industry haphazardly, spending his young-adult days as a commercial fisherman and skateboarder before he ever touched a mic. Immediately, though, Yelawolf proved himself to be a ferociously confident rapper with a knack for clever branding and sharp bars. His 2010 breakthrough tape, Trunk Muzik, showcased his rapid, double-time flow with a backwoods, country-style delivery. The mixtape earned him an early deal with Interscope Records, before he eventually landed a contract with Eminem’s Shady Records. The comparisons to Mr. Mathers are obvious, considering they’re both white rappers with dexterous flows and a penchant for the absurd, but Yelawolf used his country roots to inspire a now-widespread style of rap music. After four albums over eight years with Shady, Yelawolf released Ghetto Cowboy in 2019 on his own label, Slumerican Records. On the album, he sounds free and energized, happy to be a pioneer among many now bridging the slimming gap between rap and country.
BORNDecember 30, 1979