If Yelawolf is a redneck – and his lyrics suggest that, if he’s not one himself, he’s got sufficient first-hand knowledge of the culture – he’s his own kind. He’s a white guy (reportedly part Cherokee, actually) whose CD artwork prominently features a confederate flag and a mounted deer buck’s head; his raps take in Wal-mart, Skynyrd, meth labs, mud tires, pretty country girls in pickup trucks, burning trailer parks, hog slaughtering, places where “the sticks meet the bricks,” and living on the cheap in general. But unlike seeming hick-hop antecedents like Bubba Sparxxx and Kid Rock, there is nothing particularly country in his sound, at least beyond his northern Alabama drawl. And his look? Well, early Wednesday evening at the Fader Fort, Yelawolf was mainly proud of his “fresh new kicks”: neon orange Converse All-Stars on which somebody had penned clearly penned “South By Southwest” on the outer soles. And though this wasn’t technically a SXSW gig – the Fort, a huge ad-hoc outside tent-party venue, sponsored by Fiat and curated by Fader magazine, with wristbands coveted by festival-going thousands, now merely runs parallel to the official festivities – Yelawolf was gearing up for a couple actual SWSW sets later in the week. Besides the shoes, he looked like one scraggly dude: undersized red ski cap, eventually removed to reveal pitch-black stringy sweat-soaked hair that at times went severely off-balance; white wifebeater, eventually removed to reveal tattoos all the way up to his neck with a prominent “Heart of Dixie” on his stomach; jeans slipped down enough so you could see his red plaid grunge-flannel undies. He’s an Eddie Vedder fan too, according to “That’s What We On Now.”
He didn’t do that song at the Fader – also surprisingly skipped “Marijuana,” his most heavy-metal track and a likely crowd-pleaser given its subject matter. But otherwise, he covered a good chunk of the backwoods post-crunk on Trunk Muzik 0.60, the late 2010 expanded mixtape that makes for a quite useful major-label debut album. And he did it in amusingly hyperactive manner, switching into rapid-fire motor-mouth tongue-twisting mode every couple songs, stomping loud to make his new Chucks boom (“I feel good about myself!”), dedicating “Good to Go” to “all you crackers out there,” balancing on a fan barrier then diving in to crowd-surf on his back, freestyling a bit over big old-school Rick Rubin-style rock-the-bells beats from his Jewfroed/”Faith”-shirted DJ, initiating a “Do that shit Yela” call-and-response that no doubt unintentionally channeled Vanilla Ice, grinning real big when delivering the song where he begs to drive some Beverly Hills girl’s dad’s Lamborghini, only really slowing down for his spurned emo-rap class-anxiety ballad “Love Is Not Enough.” (“This bitch left me for some Abercrombie-wearing motherfucker.”) Funniest moment was probably when he couldn’t find his Budweiser (they were free to audience members too, but the line was long) – “Somebody keeps taking my fucking beer!” And when he found it, he chugged it all down in one big gulp.