When he broke into the Southern rap scene in the late '90s, Tennessee rapper Haystak combined his big persona with self-reflective sincerity. Unlike many of his Southern peers, Haystak didn't embrace materialism and greed; he rapped about his life as so-called "white trash," exploring the social dimensions of being white and underprivileged in the South. Following the success of contemporaries Eminem and Bubba Sparxxx, Haystak found it easier to earn respect in an industry that had long frowned upon white rappers, particularly those from the countryside. Born Jason Winfree in Lebanon, a town outside of Nashville, to teenage parents and raised by his grandparents, Haystak grew up among impoverished surroundings. He turned to crime as he came of age, ultimately getting busted for bringing Valium and cocaine to school at age 15. After serving a two-year sentence, Haystak turned to rap music as his salvation, but few gave the mammoth country boy a chance to succeed. In the late '90s, he defied the odds by aligning himself with a local rap label, Street Flavor, and producers Kevin Grisham and Sonny Paradise. The partnership resulted in Mak Million, Haystak's 1998 debut album, followed two years later by Car Fulla White Boys. By this point, Haystak had garnered a substantial regional following, and underground hardcore rap publication Murder Dog especially championed the blossoming rapper. The ensuing buzz attracted Koch Records, who signed Haystak and re-released Car Fulla White Boys in late summer 2000. Two years later, Koch released Haystak's third album, The Natural. At the end of the aughts, Haystak's releases slowly began climbing the Billboard charts, with 2009's Came a Long Way, 2010's Hard 2 Love, and 2012's collaboration with Jelly Roll, Strictly Business, all breaking into the R&B/Hip-Hop Top 100. The sequel to that latter album -- Business as Usual -- peaked at number 11 on the Heatseekers chart when it was released in 2013. By 2016, Haystak's gravelly toughness gave way to more reflection, leading the rapper toward Everlast and late-era Kid Rock territory on his 22nd album Still Standing. ~ Jason Birchmeier
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