We’ve seen it before. Rapper X with loads of underground buzz finally cracks the mainstream glass ceiling and immediately goes … well … mainstream. Hip-Hop traditionalists (see oldheads) tend to scoff at such antics, claiming Rapper X is a sell out or has bowed to the pressure of the suits at the label. The edge that brought them thus far has been rounded and in exchange for radio spins homey sold his soul to the tedious world of Top 40. It’s all so dramatic.In the immortal words of Billy Sparks, owner of First Avenue:
Dis is a bidness!
Unfortunately our view of the perfect music world where art trumps commerce is fantasy and folks on majors are required to sell music. When looking at Radioactive in that light, it’s easy to understand what happened to Yelawolf here. And taking that route doesn’t always ensure the music will suck. But that still doesn’t make the album any better.
The entire album doesn’t fit this paint by numbers profile. It’s actually a tale of two separate offerings. The Yelawolf we have come to know and love surfaces a few times.
“Hard White” features layers of percussion and rolling waves of sinister synth with Yelawolf telling a tale of hard fought entitlement. Redneck representing takes center stage here in between some personal big-ups and bitching about his entitled chick. Industrial elements and a hazy synth line lay the foundation for “Growin Up In The Gutter,” a song that chronicles the everyday bleakness of life in the trailer park. Abused kids, dead bodies in the park lot, drug dealers and the dudes that rob them, all get a nod. Yela brings the soft delivery on the verses allowing the hook to carry the power. But the track substitutes noise for power. Rittz is always a nice addition.
The young and restless piano of “Throw It Up” provides a really odd backdrop for a song about throwing up the bird. It sounds more like a weepy man-getting-in-touch-with-his-feelings track. Em is still calling women cunts and being mad at them for no known reason. Gangsta Boo still rules, hoe! “Slumerican Shitizen” is organic and funky. There’s a tribal feel to it and Hip-Hop aesthetic is a nice change of pace from the pop songs its bookended by. Yela’s delivery here has energy but the lyrics are pedestrian and enough already with the Chevy. Big Mike steals the show on this one.
Unfortunately this is where the traditional Hip-Hop ends and the fusion begins. One can assume that’s why there is a small child mixing chemicals on the cover. There are some serious attempts at alchemy going on in the rest of this album.
“Let’s Roll” has a sorta popish/countryish vibe going on with its sparkly synth, church bells and cymbal washes. There’s more talk about being from the south and having a box Chevy (yes, we know). Kid Rock is capable on the hook, but this song is dull. “Made In the USA” is a heavy-handed pop song that sounds like it could double as a patriotic PSA until you realize Yela is really tossing out a laundry list of reasons why the country sucks. Fefe Dobson stops in on the sexy electro-pop song, “Animal.” This is a cool Diplo offering if you’re M.I.A., but this is an odd fit for Yelawolf. But not odder than “Radio,” a candy-coated synth and guitar-fueled pop song about how much Yela doesn’t like radio programming. The idea of making a bad cliché radio friendly song to complain about the fact that all you hear on the radio are bad and cliché radio friendly songs would be brilliant in its irony if the song was bad on purpose. I don’t think it is though.
There are a couple of R&B songs for the bitches, as Eminem so eloquently put it, “Good Girl” and “The Hardest Love Song in the World.” Both are solid, but not spectacular. A couple more filler pieces dot the track list, ending with “The Last Song.” It’s an emotional ode to relatively unknown father that Yela doesn’t seem to harbor any resentment towards. His simple request for his father to be proud is poignant and beautifully communicated. This is the dynamism we’ve caught glimpses of in Yela’s previous work, realized. And it proves he doesn’t have to yell or fall into an angry double time pattern to be powerful. Well done.
Radioactive presents an interesting dichotomy with mainstream pandering living alongside hard-edged music. Yela’s emceeing doesn’t falter as much as his song construction does, but it’s within the structure that albums are made or broken. There’s enough good material here to make the album listenable, but not enough to make it great.
2.75 out of 5
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