Yelawolf has seen firsthand how an album might not always go your way. His Shady Records debut, Radioactive, suffered underwhelming sales due to commercial demands, and now, he is looking to move on with music that is an ode to his own Southern movement. As he claims again and again: Yela is back on his Catfish Billy shit.

In preparation for the release of his free album, Trunk Muzik Returns, Yelawolf will be hitting the Club de Ville stage at SXSW for a special release party on Thursday night. It’s a testament to how far he’s come; it seemed like just yesterday he was impressing industry insiders that got him his Shady deal.

We got on the phone with Wolf to speak on his performance at SXSW, working with his longtime collaborator, WillPower, on Trunk Muzik Returns, why he didn’t like Radioactive, and even revealed the concept behind his new album, Love Story.—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)

XXL: A couple of years ago, you were at South By and a bunch of industry people were there to see you. What do you think is the biggest difference now?
Yelawolf: I think what the biggest difference is what I singlehandedly turned SXSW into. You know? And that’s fuckin’ just a bunch of rappers trying to get deals. There was a lot of people out there last time. Not to take anything from the people, but there were a lot of MCs, a lot of hip-hop out there when I was out there, too. But the difference is now they actually see that it can work.

How do you bring your energy into your live shows?
I mean, it just gets fun, you know. The music’s exciting. The crowd’s into it. They give me a lot of energy. I just give it back 10-fold. If they give me just a little bit, you know, and then it helps me out a lot. I just go off. I think it’s a combination [of me and my fans] because I’m only human. So, if I’m on tour having a rough day or some shit and I go hit the stage, sometimes with the first couple of songs I’m not good. But when I see the crowd going nuts and it just kind of hits that switch you know? It just depends, man. I love performing. I love getting out there. It’s kind of like why I make music. It’s that part of it.

What do you prefer more? Small or big crowds?
I definitely prefer intimate crowds. I mean, those are always the best shows, like, a small venue. Packed to the gills. Hot, sweaty. Those are always the fun shows. I would love to play 20,000 people–that would be great. But it’s like, I enjoy the intimate shows. I did around 10,000 people at Bonnaroo. That was pretty unreal, to be honest. That many people jumping up and down at the same time. It was something special.

Your latest track, “Gangster,” off Trunk Muzik Returns features A$AP Rocky. How was it working with him this time around?
It’s dope. I’ve just been kind of sitting on that record and wondering who could be good on it. Then when he came to mind I just thought he would kill it. He’s perfect. So, A$AP is cool man, he’s super easy to jam with. That whole crew is cool to me, I like the way they get down. The music. Their energy. Just their vibe. We ran into each other on my last tour and we were in the same city and I came to his show and jumped out on stage and kicked it. After they were done with their set, they came to my show and they kicked it with me.  And they were jumping in the mosh pit and shit, it was dope. It’s definitely respect, man. You know they killed it.

What about Big Henry?
Big Henry is a hometown homie of mine who just got back on the scene. He was a part of our earlier crew, like, way back. He had hit me up. He always had a crazy voice and he hit me up a couple of months ago. He was like, “Man, I really want to do this shit.” Well, come up, let me here what you got. He kept, hustling, hustling, hustling. I was like, “Alright, man. If this is something you really want to do, see what you can do with this.” He killed it man, I was so proud of him. So, Big Henry, he’s working on a tape right now and he’s just another hometown head from Gadsden. He’s one of the realest people you'll ever meet. He’s been through a lot. He’s been through a whole lot. He’s been shot, in jail; his whole story is pretty crazy. But yeah, he killed that shit and he means every word—trust me.

You worked with WillPower on Trunk Muzik Returns. This is a person you worked with for about 10 years now. How did that relationship start?
I met Will in New York actually, years ago. And then, we just linked up and shit and we were making music immediately. We just had a kindred spirit. We came together and we made the original Trunk Muzik. But the original Trunk Muzik that Will and I did it still had some A&R. You know, songs that were picked by other people. But Trunk Muzik Returns is just him and I, unleashed. They don’t really know. It was just me and him, that’s it, on the whole entire thing.

[The tape] is genuine. It’s very me. It’s very consistent and it’s super progressive. You know, with the beats and the way the music is put together. I think it’s some futuristic country shit.

I remember you made Radioactive in, like, two weeks. What have you started to see since giving this project more time?
I mean, Radioactive was put together in a room with one, two, three, four people that I had never made music with before. It’s got a lot of collective energy. It’s a different project altogether with different ideas thrown in the mix from other people. There was a lot of outside influence on Radioactive. But Trunk Muzik Returns is just me, uncut, and that’s the way everything will be from here on out. Love Story too. The only people allowed in the studio from here on out are artists.

Did you think you lost freedom while recording Radioactive?
I’ll tell you straight up, I personally hate Radioactive. The album almost ruined everything for me. The people, like some fuckin’ shit was going down behind the scenes that almost ruined shit. The music is cool, but some of the music I really was against putting on the album, but I was sold on it. But some shit was going down during that album that almost took me out the game man. But, fuck that. Radioactive was yesterday, man. I’m like Jay-Z, man, “You like my old shit? Then buy my old album.” I’m on to the next man, for real.

On your other mixtape, Heart of Dixie, you were addressing the frustrations of Radioactive. What is the story you are telling on Trunk Muzik Returns?
I recorded Heart of Dixie at the back of my bus by myself. I just needed it. I needed an outlet. I needed to do something. I felt like I needed it, period. I needed to get some shit off my chest. I mean, with Trunk Muzik Returns, it’s just so much focus. Like sitting down with WillPower and making music is another level than someone sending me .mp3s and recording a two-track on the back of the bus. I’m actually producing this music. It’s great. [It’s thought] through. Arrangements. [I’m just] trying to make some noise and become a mainstay. I want people to know I am not going nowhere. You are gonna have to deal with my music. Really, [I’m just] trying to make everyone step it up.

Do you kind of feel that you were cold, but are warming up now?
I don’t think I was ever getting cold. I think I was being, maybe, on to the next one. I was on tour. I did 280 shows last year. There was nothing cold about me. As far as media goes, it’s always like that. They always are talking about somebody else. Fans are all I care about—to be honest. If they stop coming to the shows, then I will get worried. I could give a fuck about someone thinking I am hot or not.

What are your opinions on co-signs? Do you think it helped you or hurt your career?
It definitely helped me. I can’t imagine how it would ever hurt me. I don’t know, man. Everybody has got their road. Everybody’s got a different path. That was my road. That was my path. That was my way. It was dope to have that relationship [with Eminem]. Not many people can say that. They have a good relationship with an artist that’s above him. No matter who it is.

It’s not even on some “I’m better than you” type of relationship either. You guys really clicked well–like, your life stories are almost matching.
It’s fucked up. We got a lot of really fucked up similarities. [There are] really strange, life similarities. Just coming up. Outside of music, just regular shit. It’s fucked up. It is what it is. This is my world. This is my lane. I am here to stay homie. Marshall and I are putting out another album this year called Love Story. That’s my next distributed album.

Why did you name your album Love Story?
I guess you have to wait until the music. I’m writing all the reasons why it is called Love Story in the music. Passion, man. There’s a lot of truth to be told. Most of my albums have a concept. They all have some kind of theme, some kind of feeling. I really take pride in that. For the most part. Radioactive was all over the place because fucking everybody that was involved with it. Other than that, my albums are pretty consistent, vibe-wise.

This time, it is you and Em.
It will be WillPower and I producing the album. Yeah, I’ll go to Detroit and sit with Marshall and will finish it and that will be it.

You have a lot of things going for you, from your Country Fresh clothing line to new music. What keeps you motivated?
I hate white rappers. All except for one. That’s all good. I love what I do. And I don’t hate white rappers, I am just fucking around. I don’t really know how to exist without this shit. That’s the truth. If I stopped man, I don’t know what I’d do with myself. What the hell am I supposed to do? This is my life. What keeps me going is that it is just my job to make music, man. I love making new shit. I always make new music. I’ll grow old with this shit.

Previously: Yelawolf, Radioactive Review
Previously: Yelawolf, Heart of Dixie Review

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