Rap music as a genre, has been under fire for most of the time it has existed. With it’s use of metaphors, analogies, and word play over top of produced beats, the genre rarely in my opinion gets the credit it deserves as a form of expression and story telling. Rap music exists in our pop culture today and cannot be ignored. The purpose of this post is to analyze an artifact that delivers a concise and relatable message to it’s listeners.
Michael Wayne Atha, better known now for his stage name Yelawolf is an American rapper from Gadsden, Alabama. You may know him through his association with Eminem, since he is now signed with Shady Records. Growing up, Atha moved around several times with his single mother who ended up dating several men that had various influences on his life. After attending several schools, rap music, and the hip – hop lifestyle gave Atha a sense of belonging. Atha eventually graduated from a community college and moved to California to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder. Injuries made this dream short lived and pretty soon Yelawolf moved into the music scene and his career was born.
This track entitled “The Last Song” is the last song on Yelawolf’s debut album Radioactive. This will become important later in the analysis. First off in desribing the lyrics, Yelawolf uses both Comic and Tragic lyrics. Since the song in particular is about growing up not really having a whole lot, Yelawolf emphasizes the importance of beating the odd when he says ” So I don’t give a fuck if you ever lay eyes on top of my new shoes homey. I just wanted you to know I didn’t need a dollar from you I got ’em myself.” Here Atha is focusing on his childhood and how he was teased for not having enough money to buy shoes. He later goes on to talk about buying shoes at a Goodwill store. Later in the same verse Yelawolf says ” So I turned into an asshole young and dumb smokin’ weed. Vandalizin’, robbing houses, stealing cars that was me. But everything I did I had to see, feel the pain, had to grieve. To become who I am and I’m proud of the man I came to be.” This is a direct attempt to beat the odds that are clearly stacked against Atha in this song. The only way he feels he can safe himself from his situation is by “capitalizing on oppurtunities to beat the odds” (Sellnow, 119).
Atha also uses many phrases that I would consider Tragic lyrics. Here the protagonist (Yelawolf) is forced to accept certain truths about his fate. Since this song in particular talks about Atha’s childhood without having a Dad, right away he is subjected to living a lifestyle he did not choose or probably want. In regards to not having a father he says ” See I’ve been lost ever since I could walk. Lookin’ for my daddy and anyone of momma’s boyfriends who would talk. Or listen to me when I spoke instead of lookin’ at me like a joke. Or leavin’ me behind leavin’ me to cry when you treated my momma like a ho. But I learned quick that my daddy was never gonna come around”. Atha is forced to live without a father, which causes him to have a void he feels he needs to fill by establishing a relationship with one of his mom’s boyfriends. Unfortunately these men are in no way good suitors or father figures so again Atha is left to live his own fate. Later he states ” No new kicks, first day of school I’m Goodwill bound” meaning that his fate of living in poverty limits him from having things he needs to survive. Atha never asked for this he is just stuck with it.
Yelawolf uses both Poetic Illusion and Dramatic Illusion in this song. He uses stories from his past, as well as looking towards the future. Many of Atha’s stories, like feeling lost without his Dad, buying shoes from Goodwill, vandalizin’, drug use, and robbery are all examples of Poetic Illusion. Secondly he also looks into the future during the chorus when he sings ” Daddy can you see me? I’m putting on a show. In the magazines hear me on the radio. So what do you think huh?”. Here Atha is looking into the future wondering if his father will ever be proud to here his son’s accomplishments. The second example comes when Yelawolf talks about his father being drunk on the floor keeping company with the picture of his son on the shelf.
Many of us have been affected with divorce either directly or indirectly. That is why this song in particular speaks to those who have been victims of divorce and feeling the effects of being brought up by a single mother. When Yelawolf says ” See I’ve been lost ever since I could walk. Lookin’ for my daddy and anyone of momma’s boyfriends who would talk” he is speaking about the affect it had on him during his childhood, mainly feeling lost. Although it may come accross as anger, Atha forgives his father at the end of the second verse by saying ” So if you see him now momma don’t give him the cold shoulder just give him my message, Just tell him”.
Although you may not feel this is a rap song, you would probably be misinterpreting the beat itself. However this beat and many like it set the tone for countless rap songs, which can be indentified by hip-hop heads everywhere. The target audience I would argue are pre teens and teens who have been affected by this common issue.
Rhythmic Structure: slow, consistent tempo (Relsease)
Harmonic Structure: constant/mellow (Relesease)
Melodic Structure: conjunct/smooth (Relsease)
Phrasing: Legato/smooth (Relsease)
Instrumentation: few (Relsease)
As I stated earlier, this is the last song on Yelawolf’s album, and most of the virtual time elements are all intense on every other track except this one. It may be because this is the closing song on the album, which might set the tone for the theme of forgiveness or closing.
In my opinion the beat and it’s release patterns set the tone for the emotion of this song. Atha uses mostly anger and frustration but also hope and forgiveness. In some aspects the song may be incongruent in the way Yelawolf delivers his lyrics but in terms of emotion the music and lyrics fit perfectly. From the release patterns, to the comic/tragic lyrics, and the poetic/dramatic illusions, the song is congruent.
The target audience as I stated earlier would be pre teens and teenagers who have been affected by divorce or have been brought up by a single parent. Yelawolf clearly states that no matter what your life situation you can always make the best of it as he has. Even though his methods were not always ethical (stealing, drug use, vandalism etc.) he made the best of his situation, offering hope to those listeners with similar troubles. This song is a perfect example of an effective in-group anthem as it uses the hip-hop genre to convey messages to a target audience that make up the majority of the listeners of rap music.