Yelawolf is plotting his return to rap with a forthcoming double album, War Story, a nod to his 2015 Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart-topper, Love Story. The project will serve as the follow-up to 2022’s Sometimes Y, his rock album with Shooter Jennings. Speaking to SPIN, the Nashville-based artist explained how he never really “abandoned” rap like many people assumed; his love for the craft of rhyming is something he could never escape.
“I was so fueled by the rock & roll album that I did with Shooter,” Wolf said. “The Sometimes Y album had such great critical acclaim. And Shooter would make statements like, ‘I think we’ve saved rock & roll,’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, man, that’s a f###ing statement.’ But then it just kind of coasted its way under the radar. And for whatever reason, that’s where it lives. And although we’re very proud of it—we played the Grammy Museum and were in consideration for a Grammy and all that stuff—then it was like crickets.
“I couldn’t get the band together to push it, and I wasn’t going to perform with another band. So me and [DJ] Klever just said, ‘F### it. Let’s just go do a Hip-Hop set.’ So I was just so fueled to rap again. My tank got refilled, so to speak, and it turned out I had a lot to say.”
And that’s evident—the 24-track album is split into two parts: Trunk Musik 4Ever produced by longtime collaborator WLPWR and Michael Wayne produced by Malay. He played the record for an intimate group of people who’d been invited to an early listen at East Iris Studios in Nashville last month.
Now in his early 40s, Yelawolf has learned a lot on his journey, especially when it comes to the music business. He kicks plenty of jewels throughout the project, specifically on the song “Ticket,” which lives on the Malay side, the more personal of the two.
“This double album is full-on OG, mentoring, artistic MC—it’s me at my best,” he said. “That part honestly is a little scary, because these albums don’t come along very often. The last album I felt like was this sharp was Love Story. I do feel a responsibility to play my part in the culture and to bring other people up. I’m telling them the only way to get to where you want to be is to leave the situation you’re in, no matter what that may mean to some people. If you have a dream, you have to put that first in order to change the destination of your family. And if that means leaving, then you need to do it. Because in the long run, your kids will understand, your family will understand, your friends will understand, and it’s important to not become complacent with your surroundings or your friends.
“If there’s anyone around you who doesn’t understand that work ethic, it’s OK to say, ‘Hey, man, I gotta go, and I’ll catch you around. I got work to do.’ Like today, it’s Halloween, but after this meeting I’m going straight to the studio and working on some features and doing some mix tweaks and stuff like that. Sometimes work just calls and you got a decision to make. Like, ‘Am I going to party and celebrate or am I gonna lock down and work?’ My choice is to lock down and work.”
That relentless work ethic has carried Yelawolf to staggering heights, including a deal with Shady Records, where he released four albums: Radioactive, Love Story, Trial By Fire and Trunk Muzik III. Since then, he’s steadily established his own brand—figuratively and literally. He founded the company Slumerican in 2012, which has evolved into a merchandising powerhouse and carefully curated independent Hip-Hop label. He’s also the mastermind behind Creek Water Whiskey, an endeavor he launched in 2018—and that’s only a fraction of what he’s juggling.
“I got a lot of irons in the fire,” he told SPIN. “I’m sitting on this record, which honestly feels like I got a rocket in my pocket. If the team behind it does their job with the rollout, I believe that it’s going to be a really impactful record. But all that has yet to be seen. There were songs in my career that I felt like were unappreciated by the staff that was hired to do their job. It can really be out of your hands. Unfortunately as an artist, you have to have an army to put it together.
“But you know, I own Creek Water Whiskey. I own Slumerican clothing and apparel. I own Goldtooth merchandising company. I have the Bible Belt, which is a skateboarding accessory that I created, and that company is about to launch. Diversifying and hustling is kind of just in my DNA. I have a line where I say, ‘I got ‘80s Baby Syndrome/I’m addicted to hustlin’.’ And I’ve always had that. My first hustle when I was eight or nine years old. I used to climb trees and pick mistletoe, and I would wrap them in red bows and sit out front of Longhorn, where my mama worked, and slang mistletoe for Christmas. I’d be pulling a wagon around the neighborhood and washing cars so I could buy myself a bike, just always finding my own hustle.”
War Story is expected to arrive next year.
(Lead photo image credit: Tyre Grannemann)