Take a moment to acknowledge the obvious: A relative newcomer and slim, white rapper has released his first proper LP on Eminem’s Shady imprint. Now, get over it. Obviously, any white boy attempting to navigate said terrain better bring his A-Game. Luckily, with Radioactive, not only does Yelawolf assert himself as a confident and competent rapper, he also offers up a complex personal narrative colored by masculine posturing (“Hard White,” “Let’s Roll”), good intentions (“Good Girl”), nostalgia (“Radio”) and abandonment issues (“The Last Song,” directed at the father he never knew).
Beyond merely amassing a batch of radio-baiting songs, Yelawolf’s lyrics reflect the culture clash of class issues. Other rappers go rogue in the face of that rift, hyper-sexualizing their lyrics and playing into their outsider status. Yelawolf’s approach marries authenticity with rational honesty. “They don’t want me to lie, but they don’t wanna hear the truth,” he sings in the hook for “Everything I Love the Most,” a song as much about living up to societal expectations as jovially rebelling against them. Minutes later in a verse on “Radio,” he cuts to the quick, defending rap narratives with the pithy wisdom that, “If Eric Clapton can sing about cocaine and there’s no harm, then [he] can write about guns and rap about girls and sing about money and cars.” This isn’t a record about girls or gangster cars, though. It’s about growing up “white trash,” hustling his way to the top, and never forgetting the struggle. “Sometimes the truth is dark, but the darkness sparks the truest art,” he rhymes on “Radio.” Offering such pithy wisdom is smart; imbedding it in a record stacked with single-ready tracks is clever and unexpectedly meaningful for listeners who take the time listen for more than explosive word flow — not shabby for a slim newcomer (but, surely in part thanks to the slim, Shady veteran helping guide the ship).