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Yelawolf on His Debut Album Radioactive, His Reality-TV Past, and Hip-Hop Race Relations

Today marks the release of southern rapper Yelawolf's much-anticipated debut, Radioactive. Infused with trunk-rattling beats and an earnest Alabama sensibility, the album features guest appearances from Shady Records label mate Eminem, Fefe Dobson, and a cadre of fellow Southerners including Lil Jon, Mystikal, and Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia. While on the road somewhere in Colorado, Yelawolf jumped on the phone with Vulture for a conversation about his reality-TV past, Eminem’s concise sagacity, and the ubiquitous N-word debate.

Radioactive has already been called a classic by the hip-hop literati. Congrats. Do you feel any added pressure from the great expectations?
Nah. I didn’t make the album for critics; I made it for me and the fans. All the accolades are just added bonus for the hard work. I’m grateful that everyone’s feeling it, but you can’t allow critics to put pressure on you, whether they’re calling it a “classic” or “the worst album ever.” It should never matter to the artist.

It's been rumored that a slew of heavyweights worked on the album over the course of recording. How did you vet the final track list?
Well, we were careful. We didn’t cut any features. We were absolutely sure that we wanted those particular features on the album. It's just ain't cool to cut records and [then] not put them on there. It just makes for bad … it’s just not good all the way around, you know? At the end of the day, we did it for the sake of the song and not for the sake of just having a name on the record.

That’s very diplomatic. Have you ever been on the receiving end, where your feature with an artist was unexpectedly cut?
Yeah. I mean, plenty of times, but I’ve never been emotional about that and always understood that it just is what it is. The artist is going to do what he/she is going to do to make the song that they want to create and it’s just like tattoos; it’s just skin, you’ve got to wear it. I’ve done records that haven’t made the cut for other artists. At the end of the day, man, grown men or mature artists, period, should never be bickering about that.

Your Shady Records boss Eminem makes a guest appearance on your album on “Throw It Up.” Has he imparted any gems of non-musical advice?
The best advice he’s given is kind of letting you live through it. A lot of this shit is new to me. He’s basically just said, “Welcome to the game, buddy.”

A hot-button topic in hip-hop — and politics — this year has been usage of the N-word, specifically by white people. Where do you stand?
I don’t think white rappers or white people period should ever be saying that. The way I was raised, it was something we could never do. As far as being a white rapper, it’s partly my responsibility to check people when they’re out of line, because it affects us all. If I don’t say something about it then it might come across that I don’t care, which I do. I think it’s disrespectful and insensitive and really just lame.

Barbara Walters caught heat on The View last month for using the N-word while reporting about Rick Perry’s notorious hunting camp. Do you think she was justified insofar that white people can use the word when it comes from a news/neutral place?
She [Barbara] and other people — black, white — you gotta respect each other’s upbringings. You don’t jump down a kid’s throat — a white kid’s throat or a black kid’s throat — for using it [the N-word]. You just be like, “Ay man, chill. Check it out, that’s not cool.” Now, if there’s a white rapper throwing it around all over their records, then they need to be addressed immediately because they’re reaching hundreds of thousands of white kids who all of a sudden will think it’s okay. I was raised in Alabama and it’s never cool. I don’t think it’ll ever be cool.

Moving along, a lot of people may not remember that you competed on the 2005 reality competition Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott. What spurred your foray into reality television?
Well, I was doing anything to feed my baby, my newborn child. I would have done anything. That show was supposed to be a hip-hop reality show for the next hip-hop superstar or whatever. I think any artist that’s going to become anything in this world faces humility: with great humility comes great success. I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done because when I did it, I was passionate about it and I was doing it for a reason. You just live and learn, you know?

I think it’s safe to say that you came out as the real winner in the end.
Well, you have to fall. You have to understand what that feels like. For what I want in my life and for where I want to go with this music, you gotta be humiliated, man. You gotta understand what that feels like. It just makes you stronger.

Photo: (Photo by Chris McKay/Getty Images)