Note: this is an informal review.
This album is incredible man. Every single track perfectly balances rap, rock and country in a way we’ve never seen before and his songwriting is as strong as ever. I also like that he’s doing his own hooks here – as awesome as Trial By Fire’s guest hooks are, there’s just something about Yela’s hooks that elevate everything for me. The way he bounces between rapping and singing is magical. Here’s my thoughts on each track.
Really nice intro that perfectly sets the tone of the album – the story she tells, the way she tells it; it perfectly sets up the world he goes on to portray throughout the project.
Unnatural Born Killer
Unfortunately, this is the only track on the album I’m not as hot on. The beat is fantastic and his verses are really nice (his energy and charisma >>>), but it’s just not the type of track I’m into personally.
Like some other people, I didn’t love this track initially but I think it’s awesome now. Like American You, it puts me in a good mood every time I put it on. Klever’s beat was especially a surprise here; I remember hearing one of his beats on Instagram a few years ago and it was hot trash, so to see him go from that to this is the true top 10 anime redemption arc here.
Box Chevy 7
That fucking hook. One of the smoothest I’ve heard in a while. A great bounce back for the series. What stands out to me about this song is the “spacey” vibe it has; this feels like a mix between Love Story and Trunk Muzik Returns and it makes for such a creative, unique sound. I’d actually love if his next album elaborated on this direction because an album of content like this would be insane.
Here I Am
The perfect example of that rap/rock/country fusion mastery. He bounces between all three here effortlessly while still maintaining a cohesive sound; this track should be a trainwreck, yet he absolutely nails it. I especially love that rock outro, we haven’t heard full on rock Yela for a while so I loved that the first time I heard it. I agree the “I’mma fuck him up yo” bit is a little jarring but I still like it. I remember finding the third verse of Change jarring when I first heard it but it’s one of my favourite parts of the song now.
Like Opie, this is a track that really grows on you. It stood out as a weak link for me on the first listen but, while I still prefer a lot of the other tracks more, I love it now. Yela’s flow is impeccable and the DJ scratches are as hype as they always are. Don’t have much else to say other than it’s a nice track to vibe to.
This track begins my favourite 4 song stretch of the album and one of my favourite 4 song stretches of Yela’s career period. This song embodies everything I love about Yela. The immersive and captivating storytelling. The incredible hook I can’t get out of my head. All the little touches that add a ton of depth and replay value. His penmanship is consistently excellent and this is a prime example. I also love the callback to the Money freestyle (the start of the first verse has a part similar to the “twenty one grand? What twenty one grand?” part of that).
Put me in the weirdo group that loves this version. I understand why many don’t like this, as it lacks that enchanting vibe the original has and the mixing (imo) is kind of off in the verses, but I’m still a big fan of this version. What I especially find brilliant about this is that it doesn’t nullify the original (or feel redundant). Both versions have completely different vibes and, consequently, I can see myself returning to both of them just as much. While I prefer the HOTEL version, there’s no definitive version as far as I’m concerned.
If he doesn’t release a music video for this where, whenever the chorus plays, he’s singing in a desert with his top ripped open and abs showing, I’m no longer a Yela fan.
Either way, this is another standout for me. The hook is mesmerising and the writing has a lot of depth. Turning the demo version from a typical “fuck this bitch” song to an introspective onslaught was a genius decision that adds so many layers to unpack. That second verse especially blows me away – such a vivid picture about the relationship and himself is depicted and his delivery brings the image to life even further. The pain in his voice when he says “damn” isn’t something you can just fabricate, that’s straight from a life of anguish and his way of reflecting that is so powerful.
You and Me
My favourite track on the album, holy fuck where do I begin? This is a perfect embodiment of the outlaw vibe he’s been shooting for since Love Story. The world his words build. The emotions he portrays through his crooning and intonation. The story he delivers. This song blows me away on all fronts and it’s a reminder why Yela’s music will always mean so much to me. What an absolute masterpiece.
Message from DJ Paul
The world his words build. The emotions he portrays through his… wait a minute. This is ok I guess, it’s a well done skit that adds to the narrative of the album but, like Struggle Speaks, I just don’t feel it’s needed and I’m probably gonna skip it nine times out of ten. Sorry Paul.
Cool track. It doesn’t blow me away like other songs honestly but it’s a solid listen. The takeaway for me is that DJ Paul actually has a good verse so, uh, congrats.
Keep on Rollin’
This evoked a similar “eh, sure” reaction as Country Rich on first listen, but the more I listen to it the more I love it. It’s the perfect chill track. The hook is smooth (and really fun to sing along to) and the guest verses are shockingly enjoyable. What I especially like is Yela’s tone in his verse – his verses are usually so high energy, so to hear him with a much more mellow delivery feels surprisingly fresh. This was the sleeper hit of the project for me without a doubt.
This track screams “badass outlaw” motherfucker. Like You and Me, it feels like a culmination of the aesthetic he’s been building since Love Story and it makes for such an addicting listening experience motherfucker. I also love the samples and outro, they juxtapose the in-your-face style of the verses in a way that makes them hit even harder, and all the little touches in them make the song feel so rich (a common theme of the album in fact – an insane level of and attention to detail) motherfucker. I agree the “motherfucker”s are overboard though, motherfucker.
Overall, Ghetto Cowboy is a fantastic album that further cements Yela as one of my favourite artists. It’s the realisation of a vision he’s been shooting for his entire career, and as such it’s a project I’m gonna be returning to for a long time. Right now I still prefer Love Story, Trial By Fire and Trunk Muzik Returns, but Ghetto Cowboy is undoubtedly a top 5 Yela release for me and it makes me so excited that he’s still putting out content of this calibre this late in his career. He’s completely mastered this style and it makes me really hyped for where he’s gonna go next.
As I noted earlier, I’d love for the next album to explore the intergalactic redneck sound that made brief appearances on tracks like Box Chevy 7. Regardless of what style he goes for, this album gives me full confidence it’s gonna be amazing.