Yelawolf Addresses Cherokee Heritage


Rapper Yelawolf, a darling of the hip hop world since Eminem signed him to his Shady Records label over a year ago, grew up Michael Wayne Atha in Gadsden, Alabama. But his stage name was inspired by his father, who is reportedly Cherokee. “Yela represents light, the sun, power, fire, hunger and Wolf represents my ability to survive… my fierceness,” the young rapper has said. Obviously, Yela feels a tie to that part of his background, but how substantial a tie hasn’t always been clear. In a recent interview (see video below), Yelawolf addressed his feelings about his Native background. Here’s the relevant passage:

“It’s not like I grew up in a culture of Native Americans that took on urban cultures. I was just—the Native American, that was personal to me. I didn’t make that so much a part of my music, as you can tell. I mean, I really have yet to even record a record that is Native American musically influenced. Only because I don’t feel like I fully have the right to exploit it, because I don’t know enough about it. I just know that it’s in me, and my father is [Cherokee], and I’m just learning as I get older more about myself in relation to Cherokee people. But I’ve always been … just white. That’s it, you know? That’s just really how it is—most people are not full-blooded anything anymore.”

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redhaircrow's picture
Submitted by redhaircrow on
It's unfortunate, not only in Alabama, but other places as well, that if you are mixed white and Indian, then you can claim Indian and use it and have more people accept you. While if you are black and Indian, they are more likely to refute you or you are not accepted. He says "most are not full-blood anymore" but I know a lot who are, or as much as any person could be if you still choose to remark that 32rd part of French on the maternal side. It depends on the area you're from. But in any case, when this person uses the word "exploit" in their interview, "Only because I don’t feel like I fully have the right to exploit it, because I don’t know enough about it…" I find that a questionable term in the first place, but then I work in advertising and PR with my indie publishing company. You avoid terms like that because they have negative overtones. They can trigger, but I would guess he didn't try to mean it in a bad way. He says he isn't exploiting it but in his choice of name and what he says it signified seems to be exactly that. Just the same, it is the option of anyone, especially a musician, to choose the name they feel applicable or that represents him. Having grown up in Alabama myself, there is and has always been a lot of "crossing the tracks", where there are people who have two sets of kids: the white ones and the others.

quinzy's picture
Submitted by quinzy on
The concept of "full blood" is a white concept. I would have been a full blood but I donated a few pints at the hospital last week. As my friends on the rez frequently say, whites are such idiots.