Alabama rapper Michael Wayne Atha AKA Yelawolf has been busy – his mixtape Trunk Muzik Returns and collaborative work with Travis Barker and Big Boi only came out last year, and already he’s releasing his second official studio LP, Love Story.
“We were in Nashville, [producer] WillPower and I, for like five months and we turned out Trunk Muzik Returns,” Atha says. “That was a mixtape/street album, whatever you want to call it. Then we did Love Story. It was a total of somewhere around five or six months of non-stop work. It was the hardest album to record yet. It was really fucking stressful, but it was all worth it.”
Atha explains that the extra effort devoted to Love Story involved significantly altering his writing approach and adopting a thorough method of self-critique. “I used to fire off verses like nothing. There was a period where I could just go, go, go. Now I have the ability to write fast but I don’t want to for some reason. Especially this past six to eight months of writing, between Trunk Muzik Returns to Love Story, it just grew more and more intense.
“I would record a verse five or six times before I was happy with it. I would write a song four or five times. Entire records, hooks, I would record and sit with them for two days and then erase the whole thing.”
One major point of difference that Atha points out between the development of Love Story and his debut Radioactive is that he’s had less interference by outside forces.
“The ball’s been in my court. We had no interruption from anyone. No managers, no A&Rs, no production company; no one was allowed in the studio,” he says.
It was outside influence that Atha thinks hampered the consistency of Radioactive – and that’s exactly what he wanted to avoid with Love Story.
“There were a lot of hands on Radioactive, a lot of pre-written hooks, a lot of pre-produced records, which I was willing to try. I was just being a team player, but I saw what worked for me and what didn’t work for me. I thought it would be best to be left alone, so that’s what happened with Love Story. I had free range to do what I want to do instead of what someone else wants me to do.”
Atha’s presence on record has always been striking but, having been allowed full artistic freedom, he feels like he’s finally achieved the most honest work of his career.
“I don’t how to explain it, it’s just me. Except for Trunk Muzik Returns, this will be the first time people hear me just untamed, untainted. All I know is that I really, really care about this project more than anything thus far. That’s why it’s called Love Story. I worked harder on it than ever before and I think people are going to hear that hard work.”
Atha says the only outside contribution to Love Story will come from the one and only Marshall Mathers (AKA Eminem) – his label boss at Shady Records and past collaborator – when Em helps him wrap up the record.
“Thus far it’s just been me and my producer WillPower, we made it together. We turned in like 14 records, so now we’ll go to Detroit and sit with Marshall, when he’s ready, and finish it.”
The fact that Eminem will pass final judgement on the album sounds like an intimidating prospect, but Atha says he’s past the point of being affected by the stature of his collaborators.
“[It’s] like when you’re on a team or you play ball with somebody, you know that ‘I’m good at what I do. If you pass me the ball I’m going to do what I was supposed to do’. Of course when you first start working with someone that you’ve looked up to and been inspired by you have to get over that hump of nervousness. I think those days are long gone of being intimidated by any artist. I’ve been on rap records with some of the best MCs ever and I’ve never really felt intimidated.”
Atha’s always had the hunger to be one of the best in the game, and with Love Story he feels like he’s finally fulfilling his potential.
“Your talent really has to catch up with your drive in order to be successful. I had way more ambition than talent when I started. You’ve got to want it bad. So yeah, I had a fucking eye of le tigre,” he says, with a laugh. “I definitely learned after Love Story that it’s worth the time and the frustration if the outcome is a good song. You’ve got to listen to your gut.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Yelawolf plays the Metro Theatre on Tuesday, July 9.