Published Dec 02, 2010The clusters of fans and media types crowding Toronto's New Era outlet this afternoon stop and stare as one of modern hip-hop's truly unique acts strolls into the shop, his hair long, his hat backwards and sideways, and his black N.W.A T-shirt doing a piss-poor job of covering up his multitude of tattoos.
Michael Wayne Atha is an unlikely rap star. Of Caucasian and Cherokee descent, Yelawolf grew up in a single-parent nomadic household. Mobile homes, hick towns, Talladega Superspeedway, Conway Twitty ― these aren't supposed to be the ingredients from which MCs are grown. The man is 30 years old without a proper album release, and one major-label deal already fizzled out years ago. His once-promising career as a skateboarder never quite took off. And yet now he's cutting hit records with Outkast, touring with equally hyped Wiz Khalifa, and his wicked rapid-fire flow has the big, bad Interscope machine behind it. So the stare is not one of "You shouldn't be here." Rather, it's a stare of "Wow. You're a big deal, and I would like an autograph, please."
I was here 15 minutes ago, and the store was empty. Now it's full of people who are here just to meet you. You walk in and everyone is staring at you. What do you think of this? Are you used to this type of life yet?
No, I'm not. This is my first in-store thing ever. No record's in store, nothing. I've never done anything like this yet. It's crazy. I don't really know what to do. I'm just kinda moseying around, shake people's hands, say what up, take pictures and shit. It's cool, especially being in Toronto, so far away from home. We were in Ottawa last night. That's how you say it, right? Ottawa? The night before that we were in Montreal. I did Vancouver about six months ago, so this is my second trip to Canada but my first to Toronto. I'm excited, man. I'm excited about [the concert] tonight. Ottawa went crazy last night, so I wanna see what's up with Toronto.
What do you think of this whole fame thing? Because all signs point to you blowing up even further than you have already.
I take it a day at a time, just remain humble. At the end of the day I'm just Michael Wayne Atha from Alabama. I enjoy being out, being able to skate. I don't want to get to the point where I can't walk around and kick it. That's never cool. I don't want to be a prisoner of this shit, man. I just want to be able to enjoy life, do good music, and skate.
So you bring your skateboard on tour with you?
Yeah. I hopped right out of the van when we rolled into Toronto and skated for about three minutes. I don't really have much time to skate anymore, man. It sucks. I gotta do skateboarding like coffee breaks now. I still get it in, though.
Are you skating more cautiously now? Are you throwing yourself down rails?
Before I took music on as a career I used to huck myself down stairs and shit, but I can't risk getting broke off and not being able to rap onstage. So I kinda keep it chill. Low ledges, mellow shit.
What's the worst injury you've had from skateboarding?
I've severely sprained both my ankles over and over again. I broke a collarbone. Wrist fractures, concussions, road rashes, all kinds of shit. The most painful shit is road rashes ― bombing hills and sliding across the pavement on your skin. Ripping tattoos off and shit. That shit hurts.
You actually ripped a tattoo off?
Yeah, this one. [lifts shirt to reveal a tattoo with missing ink] That's deep, dawg, when it rips a tattoo off. It was Thanksgiving, and I decided to bomb a crazy-big hill in Alabama. I just hopped out of the car and said, "Go ahead and drive. I'm bombing this hill!" And I took five big, gnarly pushes down this hill. I was on this Bam Margera cruiser board that Element gave me. The trucks were loose, and I pushed myself right into speed wobbles and ate shit [slaps hands] and slid right across the pavement. Had asphalt all in my hands and shit. It was bad. Couldn't sleep. It was painful as fuck.
When did this happen?
It was '07, because I got this truck tattoo during my first video, "Kickin'." We did that when I did my Columbia deal.
You've collaborated with Big Boi, Bun B, Raekwon and other big names. Is there one collaboration that sticks out?
The one collabo that sticks out is the Big Boi shit ["You Ain't No DJ"], for real. It's produced by Andre 3000 of Outkast. And I grew up totally inspired by them to do my own thing from the South and not be afraid to express myself literally and be absolutely real and to the point about where I was from. Which is small-town white boy from Alabama, working class, just Hustle & Flow shit. And when I did that and finally got on my grind, I caught Big Boi's ear and lucked out and got a record with him, and lucked out again by Andre 3000 producing it. So that's the most exciting record for me at this point. There's many great collabos to come, though.
Did you record with Eminem? I heard a rumour.
No, I haven't done any music with Eminem. But there's a good chance in the near future.
Do you remember your very first rap?
I remember that I wrote it in fifth grade. I wanted to emulate Ice Cube and N.W.A and all the gangster shit that was coming out of the West Coast at the time. Of course you had UGK, MJG & Eightball [from the South] ― everything was gangster shit. I didn't really know any other rap at that time. I remember it being on that tip, but I didn't memorize it. I did get suspended for it, though. I was making copies of it in the office, and Dr. Kersey, who was the principal at Carter-Lawrence Middle School in Nashville, Tennessee, was like, "What is this?" And he started reading all the curse words and he suspended me. My mom got me back in school the next day and cussed him out for suspending me for expressing myself. It was at that point I saw that my mom had my back and it opened up this creative thing in me.