Let’s cut straight to the chase: Tuesday at the El Rey, Yelawolf put on one of the best shows, hip hop or otherwise, that I have ever witnessed. He is the most dynamic and charismatic rapper working today, and if there is any justice in this world, he is about to be a major superstar. Which in a way would be kind of sad, because it means that he probably won’t be playing venues where he can jump into the crowd from a fifteen foot high stage-side truss. Of course, this was just one electrifying moment from a night full of them; enumerating the complete list would take many thousands of words.
Before we dive into that (pun!), I would be remiss if I did not point out the greatness of Rittz, who has been Yelawolf’s partner in crime and opening act for quite awhile. (I choose to ignore DJ Craze’s serviceable but seemingly endless deejay set.) It isn’t hard to see why Rittz and Yelawolf go together like peanut butter and chocolate. They are cut from the same cloth: weird-looking white dudes from the South with sick double-time flows and a penchant for beats by DJ Burn One.
Rittz announced his arrival with the recorded sounds of a thunderstorm, which open the title track of his mixtape White Jesus. If you didn’t know who Rittz was, as it seemed most of the crowd did not, it would be easy to take a skeptical view of the pudgy, behatted, ginger-fro’d dude who strolled onstage like he owned the place. But as soon as he opened his mouth and started to spit, any doubters were soon won over. Rittz rolled through most of the best cuts off the album, pausing only tell the crowd to put their middle fingers in the air for “Pie,” and to high five everyone standing near the stage before demolishing “High Five.” It is unfortunate that Rittz’s motormouth flow sometimes obscures his lyrics, because he has some killer lines, with the funniest coming on “Fulla S***,” a (hopefully fictional) account of the various lies that he’s told to women.
About half an hour after Rittz wrapped up his tight set, it was Catfish Billy time, and the near-capacity crowd went pretty much apeshit as Yelawolf, coming out wearing a ski mask, launched into “Daddy’s Lambo.” One of the best things about watching Yela perform live is his sheer joy at simply being onstage. Whenever he wasn’t rapping, he was smiling the smile of a man who has had to come a long way to finally make it. For those who don’t know, Yelawolf recorded an entire album for Columbia Records, and then got dropped by label co-president Rick Rubin, who probably wishes he could take that one back.
Since releasing his phenomenal mixtape Trunk Muzik last year, Yelawolf has absolutely blown up, doing features with everyone from Big Boi (“You Ain’t No DJ,” which he performed) to Cyhi da Prynce (“Gangsta of Love,” which he sadly did not) to Tech N9ne (“Worldwide Choppers”). Interscope put out a new version of the mixtape containing six new tracks, most of which Yelawolf performed on Tuesday night. He even broke out some of the deeper cuts from the original release, with special mention going to “Love Is Not Enough,” which he rapped (in between swigs of Jack Daniels) to a girl pulled onstage who knew every word to the song, which made the whole thing surreally awesome. Yelawolf strayed even further from the better-known parts of his catalog with a medley of his influences and inspirations, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Simple Man,” and the obviously well-received “Boyz in da Hood.”
After a night of moshing, stagediving, and general rowdiness, Yelawolf returned to the stage for his encore, decked out in an astronaut jumpsuit and bird mask, flanked by a giant “Dia de los Muertos” dancing skeleton and a Bigfoot wearing an American flag bandana as a face mask. (Believe it.) Oh, also the wheels of steel were being manned by Dick Cheney. As Yelawolf ripped into “Good to Go,” it was easy to imagine the simultaneous thought of every last person in the audience: “F*** YEAH!”