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Even so, Yela has walked a long line to release his major label debut. Both signed to and released from Columbia Records in 2007, Catfish Billy (just one of his many monikers) spent the next few years releasing mixtapes like 2008’s Ball of Flames: The Ballad of Slick Rick E. Bobby and Stereo. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he cracked the blogosphere with Trunk Muzik, a revved-up ode to ‘Bama living that positioned him as one of hip-hop’s most promising up-and-comers.




Following the retail release of Trunk Muzik 0-60 the same year, Yela made his grand announcement that he signed with Eminem’s Shady Records to release his debut, a shoo-in for exposure to a bigger audience. “When an artist as credible and sensible and critically acclaimed as Marshall puts a stamp on something, then people are going to pay attention,” says Yela, who holds court alongside supergroup Slaughterhouse as one of the newest signees to Shady. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to be the greatest, you know? It just means that, ‘Hey, I fuck with this. I really like this shit, so check him out. I’m putting Shady behind this. I believe in it.’ That’s such a huge statement.”




Part of the allure is Yela’s image. A skateboarding, Johnnie Walker-guzzling country kid, the 31-year-old is a walking canvas, with each tattoo attached to a different meaning. Ever since he got “native” inscribed on his shoulder, he’s looked at situations and objects in his life as influence for the works that occupy body space, including an American flag, a catfish and two fighting rooster heads on his shoulders.




According to ‘Wolf, the most personal tat on his body was inspired by some time spent catching codfish on a factory trawler in a pre-rap attempt to put his life in order. The piece, branded across his chest, reads “Glory Over Pain” along with an eagle, storm clouds and another message that says “Riders of the Storm” – a nod to weeks spent on the rough seas.




“I went out in Seattle and got on a boat and went out for a season. I survived it, and it was gnarly,” he recalls. “You’re out there in the middle of the ocean in a little boat – well, little compared to the ocean. Surviving the storms and working 20-hour days, seven days a week. It was a crazy time in my life. It pretty much changed me.”




With his name inked down his arms in Old English (“Super hood, at first,” he notes of his first few pieces), Yela realized that he wanted to get only meaningful tattoos after getting one that pays tribute to his father’s old Chevrolet car (a recurring theme in his career), situated on his ribcage. “After that, everything became culturally relative to who I am and my story. So every tattoo after that means something, whether it’s really deep or whether it’s really simple,” he says. “It’s still very personal to me and it’s not just some coy fish tattoo, you know?”




Though Yela isn’t averse to getting new ink while on the road, he’s loyal to a few artists. He names Jeremy Crawford of Rainbow City, Alabama’s Old School Ink as one of his go-to tattooists, as well as Antonio “Ynot” Robinson of Inkorporated Tattoo in Marietta, Georgia. He doesn’t mind stepping into unfamiliar locations every now and again, as he’s always traveling, but knows where to draw the line.




“One thing that I look for in tattoo artists is vibe,” explains Yela, who hopes to one day get inked by Mister Cartoon. “If there’s no vibe, I would never let a tattoo artist do artwork on me. It’s a real fuckin’ personal thing. I got to wear that shit for the rest of my life. I would never let an asshole do work on me.”

About Steven Horowitz

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