Can you combine country and rap? Kid Rock tried to do it when he was touring with Ice Cube. Now Kid Rock seems to be a redneck rallying point for Trump supporters. I don’t think the rap world still wants him. Big Smo was an A&E country/rap gimmick, but that really hasn’t worked that well either. But, obviously Eminem seems to think history doesn’t always have to repeat itself. Meet Yelawolf, signed to Eminem’s Shady Records in 2011. An Alabama native, Yela is proud of his country roots; still, he is very much a rapper.
I heard him years ago, when Yela was the greasy singer of Daddy’s Lambo. But,I didn’t take him seriously and thought he was simply another mid-2000s Eminem clone. Then, Sons of Anarchy featured his song “Till its Gone” in 2014. It blew me away. Yela had evolved.
Yela’s latest release Trial by Fire is far more mature than his first self-released Creek Water or Trunk Muzik. Gone, or at least polished up, is the greasy “white rap” that seemed to define his beginnings. No more glorifying being poor and seducing rich girls. Instead, Yela collaborates with genuine country stars like Lee Brice and Wynonna Judd. Joshua Hedley, a new face in the country world, also has a guest spot.
Yelawolf produced Trial By Fire himself, which might explain the raw feeling. No, this isn’t grandpa’s country, but it also isn’t Tupac’s rap. Instead, it is a legit mix of both. If you’re still leery, which I can believe some people might be, then dive into the tracks “Daylight” or “Row your Boat.” The whole album has a Southern feel, which makes you want to go visit the Bayou.
I have two final thoughts. First, if you buy this album, also pick up Yelawolf’s Love Story at the same time. Trial by Fire is raw, but Love Story helps you witness the change from greasy rapper to what has become country rap. Second, take my jab at Kid Rock with a grain of salt: Yela still says Kid Rock has had a big influence on his own music.