Years ago, Yelawolf just wanted to meet Eminem. “It was on my bucket list — ‘Hey man, I’m gonna sit down with him one day,’ ” he recalls.
The Alabama rapper has achieved that goal — and then some. He’s one of two new signings, along with rap “supergroup” Slaughterhouse, to Eminem’s resurgent Shady Records label, earnestly working on a new album and basking in being part of a camp that’s run by his hero and has launched the likes of 50 Cent, D12, Stat Quo and Obie Trice.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation,” says Yelawolf, 31 (real name Michael Atha). “It just helped guide and direct me as an artist to help me develop and make it bigger. All of what he brings to the table, man, it’s a lot more than I could ever ask for.”
His new Shady labelmates in Slaughterhouse feel much the same way.
“(Eminem) is very excited, and I’m always excited when I see his level of excitement, because he doesn’t get excited about a lot,” says Royce da 5’9”, 33, (real name Ryan Montgomery), Slaughterhouse’s Detroit-based MC. “I love seeing him happy, and this project definitely makes him happy. We’re all excited about the possibilities of where it’s going to go.”
The Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse signings are what Eminem told XXL magazine is “phase two of Shady. It’s the new generation of Shady Records.” And the new era certainly has a formidable pedigree to build on.
Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers III) and his manager, Detroit native Paul Rosenberg, established Shady in 1999, following the release of the rapper’s major label debut “The Slim Shady LP” and initially as a vehicle for his group D12, whose 2001 debut “Devil’s Night” went platinum topped the Billboard charts. The label released the quadruple platinum soundtrack to Eminem’s 2002 film “8 Mile” — which featured the Grammy and Academy Award-winning “Lose Yourself” — and it partnered with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment to sign 50 Cent, unleashing his six-times platinum debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ” in 2003.
Shady also put out a label compilation, the platinum “Eminem Presents: The Re-Up,” in 2006 and has sold about 40 million albums worldwide. But its productivity slowed as he made his highly publicized recovery from substance addictions. Now with his life and career back on track — following the twin multi-platinum, Grammy-winning attack of 2009’s “Relapse” and last year’s “Recovery” — it was time again to “rebuild Shady Records and make that brand as strong as we can,” according to Rosenberg.
“Everybody here, as an MC, is competitive,” Eminem told XXL. “I think Yelawolf being in the family, the Shady family, it’s gonna make him hear what these guys are doin’ and wanna step his own (music) up. When I hear these guys, I wanna step my (music) up. And when they hear each other, I think it’ll probably be a competitive atmosphere, like, makin’ these records.
“And that’s better for hip-hop.”
Slaughterhouse — Royce, Crooked I, Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz — formed in 2008 while recording the song of the same name for Budden’s “Halfway House” album. The quartet released a self-titled debut album in 2009 and an EP earlier this year, and Royce says the group is “about six songs” into its first Shady full-length.
“The first album we were kind of behind the eight ball,” he says. “We had to complete the album in a matter of six days. With this album, there’s no time constraints. We’ve got a good budget. Everybody’s flying (e-mailing) ideas to each other and we’re flying them back and forth between us. I don’t think we’ve carved out a direction yet, but it’s coming along.”
Royce says Eminem — with whom he patched up a very public feud in recent years — is “very involved” in the project, working with Slaughterhouse during early February while everyone was in Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards.
“It’s not as hard as you think it would be” to get the four MCs together says Royce, who will be releasing a solo album, “Success is Certain,” this spring. “Everybody’s pretty busy, but the guys in the group are real good with canceling stuff and putting stuff to the side and making the group first. I think we can all agree this is the most important thing in our career right now.”
Yelawolf, meanwhile, emerged from Alabama in 2007 when he signed a deal with Columbia Records, though he parted ways with that label the same year. He released an independent EP, “Arena Rap,” in 2008 and then put out a mixtape-flavored album, “Trunk Muzik 0-60” last year on Interscope Records. The deal with Shady, meanwhile, came from that long-desired meeting with Eminem, which took place last fall at Eminem’s studio in Ferndale.
“We just got together and chopped it up,” Yelawolf recalls. “I thought it was just a meet-and-greet, but when I got there he was familiar with my music, which I was blown away by.
“I didn’t understand it was going to turn into a (contract) situation at the time. My crew kept it low-key and didn’t tell me till it was official. They didn’t want to let me down in case it didn’t work out.”
Yelawolf says his first Shady project, “Radioactive,” is “done,” recorded mostly in Las Vegas. He describes it as “more organic than ‘Trunk Muzik’ ... It’s more musical and more song-based. Instead of flexing on some MC (stuff), it’s more to the point. It feels more like an album than a mixtape. That was the whole point, to get somewhere like (Shady) that would give us an outlet to make a record like this.”
Eminem, Yelawolf says, has been serving in a consultant/executive producer capacity, and he still has to weigh in with the final word on the project.
“Of course we’re going to get back in the studio and he’s gonna produce some stuff, touch some stuff up,” Yelawolf says. “I don’t want to spill the beans on what we’ve got planned, man, but it’s gonna be dope. I can promise you that.”
If all goes as planned Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse won’t be Shady’s only new releases this year. The label is anticipating a new 50 Cent album, “Black Magic,” as well as a set from Chicago rapper Cashish. And there’s talk of a third album from D12.
Eminem, meanwhile, is just happy to have things up and running in an active way again.
“It’s exciting for hip-hop,” he told XXL, “and with all of these forces coming together and with what everybody’s capable of on the mic, it’s gonna be fun.”
Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf perform Thursday, March 24, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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