Last summer, Alabama rapper Yelawolf found himself in a Ferndale recording studio taking a meeting with Eminem.
The Alabama rapper didn't know it at the time, but he was being sized up by Slim
Shady. Em was getting ready to re-launch Shady Records, which had gone dormant when his career was put on hold several years ago, and he wanted to see if the lanky, heavily-tattooed MC would be a good fit for the Shady Records roster.
York earlier this month.
He remembers Em pounding Diet Cokes — "I think he drank like a 12-pack while we were sitting there" — and the meeting going, in a general sense, well. And apparently it did: In January, Shady Records announced Yelawolf was joining its family.
Since inking with Em's label, Yelawolf — who performs at the Royal Oak Music Theatre tonight with fellow recent Shady Records signees Slaughterhouse — has seen his profile rise considerably.
Previously best known in hip-hop circles for his acclaimed 2010 mixtape "Trunk Muzik," which showcased his Southern drawl, lightning-quick rhymes and razor-sharp wordplay, Yelawolf has landed on hip-hop magazine XXL's cover twice in a row: alongside Em and Slaughterhouse for the February issue, and this month in the mag's prestigious "Freshman 10" list of up-and-comers.
This summer he'll launch his major label debut, "Radioactive," and support it on the Vans Warped Tour. He's also opening a number of dates on Lil
Wayne's "I Am Music II" tour.
"There's a lot of excitement, obviously," says Yelawolf, who grew up in the early '80s but doesn't like sharing his age. "When you get a co-sign from (Eminem), it's definitely career-changing." TheDetroitNews
Raised by his single mom, Yelawolf grew up in Gadsden, a town of around 37,000 in northwestern Alabama. He bounced around between homes in Georgia and Tennessee throughout his childhood.
Attending 15 different schools before dropping out between ninth and 10th grade, "I grew up quick," he says.
Whenever things got rough for him, he says he'd go back to Gadsden and stay with his grandparents. It wasn't until he lived in Nashville, which he called home from ages 8 to 13, that he began learning about hip-hop culture.
His first experience with hip-hop was "Paul Revere," a track from the Beastie Boys' 1986 album "Licensed to Ill."
"I remember hearing the reverse 808s," says 'Wolf, "and I didn't know what it was. I just knew that I fell in love with that sound."
As his appreciation for hip-hop grew, he became fond of artists such as Souls of Mischief, Digable Planets, 8 Ball and MJG, UGK and OutKast. Eventually, he began honing those influences into his own sound, mixing them with hard-edged rhymes about meth labs and Confederate flags.
Rap wasn't his only interest; 'Wolf also dabbled in skateboarding, painting and writing. But he didn't begin to hone his talents until 2005.
"I've always been super driven, but that was when I really started learning how to channel my drive into a concentrated thing, instead of it being so sporadic," he says. "I had a lot of dreams, but no real focus on one particular thing."
That changed when he put magic marker to paper and wrote down a list of goals he wanted to accomplish. He tacked it on his ceiling and stared at it every night, and packed it with him in his bags whenever he traveled.
He doesn't like to say what, specifically, was written on the paper, but he does say he's done pretty well by the list. "A lot of the goals, honestly, I've crossed out," he says. "So I had to start new ones."
Yelawolf has been to the big label dance before. He inked a deal with Columbia Records in 2007 only to see it fizzle out.
This time around, he's wiser, and built his buzz from the ground up throughout 2010. Aside from self-releasing "Trunk Muzik," Yelawolf also appeared on the solo album from OutKast's Big Boi and collaborated with D12's Bizarre on a track from his "Friday Night at St. Andrews" album. He signed with Interscope Records, the parent company of Shady Records, which released a commercial version of "Trunk Muzik," titled "Trunk Muzik 0-60," in November.
Following the announcement of the Shady deal, Yelawolf recorded "Radioactive" in a two-week period last month in Las Vegas.
"It flowed nicely," he says of the album, which is due sometime this summer. "There was a real vibe. We caught it, man, and ran with it."
An Eminem cameo on the album is reasonable to expect, though 'Wolf isn't talking album specifics just yet. He did appear with Em and Slaughterhouse on "2.0 Boys," a track released to the Internet earlier this month.
Looking ahead, Yelawolf's staring down a hectic work schedule but he's not complaining. "Pretty much for the next six months, I don't get a break," he says.
"We're taking advantage of every situation possible, and (Shady) only fuels our situation," says 'Wolf. "The only con so far is I don't go home anymore. At all. But that could be a good thing. I remember being at home, pacing with nothing to do. Now I don't have time, and that's a blessing.
"I do miss going home, or little things like being able to go skateboarding, but that's nothing, man," he says.
Or at least it's nothing so far.
"Holla at me next year," he says laughing, "and we'll see wassup."