Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Alabama rapper Yelawolf certainly share some passions: hip-hop; tattoos; fast, aggressive music; and fashion -- Yelawolf runs his own line, Country Fresh, through Barker's Famous Stars and Straps brand. Until recently, the artists also shared an executive in Paul Rosenberg. (Yelawolf is signed to Rosenberg and Eminem's Shady Records, and Barker was long repped by Rosenberg.) So sharing an EP shouldn't come as a surprise.
On Nov. 13, the duo will release "Psycho White," a collection ranging from reggae-rap to mosh-pit hip-hop to near-dubstep, all in just five songs. The project will arrive through Barker's LaSalle Records/Killer Distribution. While the music often blasts with teeth-rattling intensity, it couldn't have been a more casual affair. And Yelawolf and Barker intend to keep it that way.
While Barker has a punk-rock background, as a kid he played along to "Whodini, Beastie Boys, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh albums, while also playing along to Master of Puppets," he says. With enough Blink-born notoriety under his belt (the band has sold 13.6 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan), he began producing hip-hop tracks for artists like T.I. and Paul Wall.
Three years ago, Barker's manager turned him onto Yelawolf's "Trunk Muzik." "He said, 'Check this kid out. He looks like you but he's a rapper,'" Barker recalls. "I thought he was fucking ridiculous." A week later, the two met at Rob Drydek's Fantasy Factory in Los Angeles. Talking shop, Yelawolf whistled an eerie melody that stuck in Barker's head. He laid a snare beat underneath it that day, and the duo's first track was in progress.
The pair became fast friends and began cutting tracks whenever they found themselves in the same city, hesitant to aim for any set musical direction. On Lil Wayne's 2009 I Am Music tour, Yelawolf caught up with Barker, one of the tour's openers. "He said he wanted a real high-energy track. It was 4 a.m., and everyone was getting sloppy in the hotel lobby," Barker says. "I had a portable studio. I went to my room and right there recorded the drums to ['Psycho White's' first single] 'Push 'Em.'"
The impromptu sessions, Yelawolf says, were never forced. "Even if he and I had never heard each other's music before, we just knew," he says. "We had a kindred vision." Yelawolf appeared on Barker's 2011 solo album, "Give the Drummer Some" (Interscope), that featured star MCs, and Barker offered Yelawolf a crack at his own T-shirt line, fusing what the Alabama-born rapper calls "my country-ass shit with his West Coast punk-rock shit." Through it all, the tracks that wound up on "Psycho White" weren't forgotten.
Yelawolf's major-label debut, "Radioactive" (Ghet-O-Vision/Shady/Interscope), thrust him into the spotlight in 2011 but left him unfulfilled. (It peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 164,000 copies.) "The creative wings of that record were clipped so early," he says. "That'll be the first and last time people hear me under the constraints of other people's ideas." But his frustration refueled his passion for "Psycho White."
Earlier this year, the duo set to work finishing the EP, to be released timed to Yelawolf's winter Country Fresh line. The five tracks hint at a creative brotherhood -- Barker's programmed beats and live drumming evenly chug alongside Yelawolf's flow, as heard on propulsive single "Whistle Dixie." The musical understanding between the two is hard to match, and impossible to fake.
Though the pair will play a few California shows, and likely some Vans Warped dates in 2013, there aren't any major tour plans in the works. To Barker, who says he's recording a Christmas EP with Blink-182, "Psycho White" looks to be another fun project in a career full of them.
For Yelawolf, the EP signals something more. "This was my first step into true, pure artistic freedom," he says. "And it feels great."