Yelawolf also isn’t just a white boy. He takes his name from his Cherokee roots, but he understands perception and will confront the distinction every time he gets a chance, most recently through double time cadence in a freestyle over Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” beat: Alabama funk make you lose your teeth like a Mountain Dew soda/ Some saltines wanna live in a box, but guess what? I’m the cracker who showed up. He’s one of them, anyway. And as the other, inﬁnitely more famous one is continuously touted as the greatest rapper of all time, declared so by Kanye West through his Twitter account, Yelawolf looks forward to growing weary of the comparison. “I wouldn’t get tired of talking about Eminem like I wouldn’t get tired of talking about Led Zeppelin,” he says. “That’s a 10-year veteran, the greatest white rapper that ever lived. It’s human nature though. Someone is gonna have to deal with being compared to me at some point.”
The inevitable comparisons, and subsequent debate, will need new parameters. A large majority of any relevant discussion of hip-hop as black culture was excavated (on and off record) during the ’90s, and mostly done so in an effort to preserve the sanctity of hip-hop as black contribution to American music. Yelawolf’s mixtape catalogue speaks more directly to Outkast than any white rapper in existence, but his success will be measured against Eminem’s directly, probably until Yelawolf is ﬁnished with music altogether. Eminem went through it in another way, ﬁelding misguided questions about his impact and defending himself against ill-conceived verdicts about his right to participate. And despite an almost religious dedication from white fans across the country, Eminem could never be accused of appropriating rap. He was, and is, a purveyor of proper perspective. Like Eminem before him, Yelawolf is an original, which explains why artists from Bun B to Raekwon to Gucci Mane to Big Boi place his voice amongst their own, for their fans to heed.
The melanin-deficiency of Yelawolf’s earliest adopters casts doubt in the minds of some of hip-hop’s devoted, but in another way, it’s a very logical extension to the pattern of a lot of people who spend a lot of money supporting artists they don’t share very much in common with. “I’ve had people tell me that ﬁnally somebody’s telling our story the right way,” Yelawolf says. “Kids who grew up in a trailer park or just on classic rock, they understand cause they lived it. White boys just can’t get besides yourself and start thinking this shit is something you created. That’s where you go Elvis.”
Yelawolf loves Elvis, though. He shouldn’t have to worry about being perceived as some kind of cultural conqueror, but he does. Not so much for his own sake, but for the sake of his fans, people who can look at him and see kids they grew up and fell out of touch with, or ones they never paid any attention to in the ﬁrst place, or even themselves. People who listen to his music hear the stories of their own towns, stories they’ve told or stories they’ve heard, or just a story that reminds them of what it’s like to love the things that made you. And there also people who don’t see or hear any of those things, people who were never waiting for a Yelawolf to break through, but who will listen anyway, because he’s just that good.