It’s taken Southern rapper Yelawolf a few years to grow up and realize that sometimes if you slow things down, they come into focus. This roots-rap hybrid might appall rap purists, but it’s a striking improvement over 2011’s messy, compromised “Radioactive.” Only intermittently does Yela’s hyperactive, blustery side take center stage as he integrates more singing, melody, and country influences. He still passes himself off as a simple American everyman (“Change,” “Sky’s the Limit,” both sketchy), but if you scratch his songs’ surfaces, you hear a smart, sensitive outsider searching for some solace. Many of the 18 tracks have an undeniable emotional pull; on the best, “Disappear,” he confronts the scars of abuse, while “Have a Great Flight” is a moving, finely wrought elegy. The lucid lyricism of “Johnny Cash” explores an artist’s vulnerability and defiance. For an avowed loose cannon, Yela maintains an odd tendency for sentimentality (“Tennessee Love”) and mainstream hooks. Mentor Eminem cameos to torch a hole in “Best Friends,” but the disc’s best moments come when the songs smolder. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Disappear”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.