As 2013 continues to unfold, the pressure mounts for the Strange Music roster with project after project proving to be a hit with listeners all across the web. Somewhere between Tech N9ne’s long-awaited Something Else and Rittz’s critically-acclaimed The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant, comes Wrekonize with his first official Strange Music release, The War Within.
One-half of ¡MAYDAY!’s emcee tag team, Wrekonize has seen his ups and downs with a career that has included MTV battle rap fame as well as co-signs from The Rock. After six years, Wrekonize earns a spot on the Strange Music line-up as a solo act and finally sees the release of The War Within.
While out on the Summer of Strange Tour 2013, Wrekonize spoke at length about the album’s recording and exhausting writing process.
The two-part interview kicks off below with Wrek’s breakdown of how The War Within took shape.
I read that this was a very personal project for you and that you’ve used this as sort of a platform to get things off your chest in a lot of ways. How did this affect your writing process and what did that mean to you?
Yeah, it’s just that I’ve set up to do an album for so long and A Soiree For Skeptics is like the closest that I came to it, but even then I put that album together with a lot of records that had already existed. It wasn’t like I sat down and said, “I’m going to write an album.” I already had a bunch of material kind of collected and then I strung it together with a couple of new joints and then crafted an album out of it. This being my first officially distributed release that’ll be in the stores – that makes it like, “These are all these things that I’ve been sitting on for a long time.” Things like family, stuff about the battles, stuff over the past ten years – just concepts and things that I’ve always wanted to put out on a project of mine. I felt that this would be the chance to really set it up as that first look.
A lot of people will save their ideas and concepts for their first album.
Definitely. 100 percent. There’s some concepts on here that I’ve been sitting on for awhile that I was like, “I’d love to do that for a project” or whenever when the time is right and they came out on this album. I’m really happy about it.
Did you feel antsy to get some of these concepts out?
Sometimes. It can be like that. You want to get it out sometimes and share those ideas and then there’s a million artists doing things, so if you think you have an original idea, sitting on it is kind of hard because you know there’s only so many keys on the piano and somebody’s going to hit that same key at some point or another. Some of the concepts that I’ve sat on when I felt that the time wasn’t right ended up coming out so good later that now I’m starting to feel more comfortable about being patient. I had the concept for “Due In June” like 5 to 6 years before we even did Take Me To Your Leader. It never materialized into what I wanted to do and I didn’t have the chops at the time to pull it off or the production. Sitting on that concept and waiting and then pulling it out in the ¡MAYDAY! process ended up being such a good look for that concept and that song, so now I’m pretty comfortable with waiting.
You did The War Within and Believers together right? Did they overlap?
Yeah man, it was ridiculous – very stressful. At first I thought they were going to be a little bit further apart than they were and then the dates got actually set. It was June 4th and then July 16th. Then my album ended up getting pushed back which pushed them even closer – so yeah, it was definitely a different kind of experience and like a new challenge doing those at the same time. I didn’t think it was going to be as taxing on my soul as it ended up being.
I would think it would be difficult for you to keep the two worlds apart. Did you ever think you should’ve used a verse from one project on the other one instead?
There was a few moments where I was feeling very drawn out and having a bit of writer’s block and just felt slow to the punch like, “I’ll write that verse tomorrow” because I was feeling so burnt. I was also coming off of Smash and Grab in December and Rooftops in January so all the writing for those and the conceptualizing of those was definitely tapping the well. That’s why I’m so happy to be on the road now. There was definitely a few moments where I was banging my head against the wall.
How much input did the rest of the guys have on your project? Did you guys bounce ideas off of each other?
Normally in the past I’ve been very militant about my solo shit and I go off into my own little corner. I don’t like to show people shit until it’s over, but I feel such a camaraderie with ¡MAYDAY! that with this album I was trying not to do that, especially with Bernz. He was heavily involved in a lot of the conceptualizing and the conversations about beat selections and he went with me to Atlanta to work with WillPower. He was there helping out with hooks. I heavily involved Bernz in the process. Plex and Gio did a couple of beats on there.
There were definitely a lot of times where I was showing them stuff and bouncing ideas off of ¡MAYDAY! and they were really cool. A lot of people say when someone does something solo it can fuck up the group dynamic, but the way it worked out is that everybody in ¡MAYDAY! was super cool about it and made sure to put my shit on the table for discussion and make sure that I wasn’t alone in the process.
Tell me about the WillPower thing, so you guys went down to Atlanta?
Yeah, we went down there for like a week and initially we were going to work with WillPower and we also ended up working with Burn One as well as a homie of ours, 7King, he’s in a crew called SMKA. He’s also B.o.B.’s guitarist. The cut I did with 7King didn’t end up making the album. The track I did with Burn One was “Black Magic City” which was actually the pre-order track. Then I ended up doing like seven or eight records with WillPower and we ended up slicing that down to one or two records that I wanted for the album. There was a third one that I wanted, but there were sample clearance issues so there ended up just being two records from Will.
When you’re working with a producer like that, how much input does a producer have on which tracks actually get released or not?
It depends. Most of the time it’s really on me or really on us to decide – between the artist and the label. It’s between us and Strange to decide what songs are going on what. WillPower was working on Yela’s next album so he had been really preoccupied so we didn’t have too many conversations about which song was making it or not. He gave me his blessing and said “Hey we did all these records, let me know which ones you want to use and which ones you don’t.” He kind of just let me do my thing.
I read a really interesting blurb and I’m trying to see if I got it right from what I read and it was “Can’t Be Alone” – I think it said that it was somewhat centered around social media. Tell me about this track.
That’s one of my favorite tracks. Not a lot of rapping, just two singing verses. The beat is hella funky to me. I got a one rap verse at the end. It’s a concept that I’ve always ended up revisiting in one way or another. ¡MAYDAY! had a song called “Technology” that was very similar in scope.
I just wanted to write about the feeling when you want to be alone, but all this social media stuff is there and everybody is in your face all the time and kind of getting so used to that, the way we’re attached to our phones and the internet in general that when you do finally turn it off you’re almost scared to be alone, like “Fuck I kind of miss everybody on Facebook telling me what the fuck they’re doing right now.” I kind of wanted to fit that and do some sort of bipolar song where you kind of want to be alone, but at the same time it’s terrifying if you think about being alone now because we’re so engulfed in each other’s faces.
Yeah that’s so crazy. I just totally relate to that. I put the phone down and I face it down and five minutes later I’m reaching for it because I’m like, “What’s going on? What’s happening?”
Totally, one-hundred percent. We’re totally hooked on it. We were watching one of the Heat games the other night in KC and I’m looking around Buffalo Wild Wings and we’re sitting in this restaurant and everybody at our table is on their phone, everybody around us is on their phone, a good 60% of the restaurant at that point in time was just looking down into their phone you know? That’s just kind of the culture we live in and we’re all a part of it now. I’m a fucking victim to it too. I just wanted to explore that a little bit on that record and I really love the way it ended up coming out.
Yeah and I know that’s always been a big thing with you guys. I’ve had conversations with you and Bernz before about social media. Do you think that’s one of those things that’s going to get worse before it gets better?
Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure on that one. The jury’s still out on that one I think. I think it’s definitely going to engulf us more than it already has and I don’t know how it gets better. I don’t know how the technology changes to make it better. I don’t know how to get out of this. In my mind there’s no exit. Do people stop using social networks? Is that what happens? I don’t know man. That one is a head scratcher.
You’re big on movie references and pop culture references in your writing. We’ve talked a lot about that before. How did you tap into that for this? Are we going to hear a bunch of obscure movie references that I’m going to have to go Google?
(Laughs) Damn! I actually don’t think there’s a lot on this album. I kind of dropped a lot of that on those mixtapes. When I’m doing mixtapes and the focus is a little bit looser I like to go crazy on the references. On this album, off the top of my head I think I kind of switched gears a little bit on that to just let it up and be a little more conceptual and didn’t go so much with the references, but I could be wrong though because I might be thinking that and there might be a bunch in there, but from what I remember the vibe of this album is I don’t think I went super ham on the references.
Maybe I’ll hear a couple and have to get back to you on that.
You might have to let me know because I haven’t listened to the album in weeks so I have to skim through it and know it. I feel though that there’s not as many as usual, just because the record is more conceptually driven.
Yeah. You talked about the production a little bit earlier and I actually saw a list of the producers for the album and usually when I see the list of producers I start to think about the foundation of the album and what the overall vibe for it was. Tell me about that.
Yeah, I think that’s something I carried from years ago too. When I first started to do my first solo album in like ’05 or ’06, I wanted to have what Nas had on Illmatic and I wanted to have what Big Pun had on Capital Punishment. I just loved reading that super dope variety of like top drawer producers that all brought a different kind of vibe to the album. It can be a mission to work with so many different producers and sometimes it makes the overall vibe of the album sound a little bit too sparse and mixed up and different, but I think it came out good. That was something that I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve been trying to do my own album. I knew I wanted to go out and seek out a top drawer line of producers and producers that I work with and respect. I wanted producers that I haven’t worked with yet and to try to get a very grouped sound with a lot of different varieties.
Yeah. It’s weird because the three songs that I’ve heard so far, the three that have been out, they sound different, but they’re also on the same level so it still sounds cohesive.
That was kind of the goal. I knew that there’s some funk shit, there’s some super boom bap, hip hop shit, there’s some 808 southern-driven shit and for a minute there I was a little bit like “How?” The only way to tackle it in my mind was I knew that I liked all these different sounds and the common denominator on all the tracks would be me and the style and the voice. I wanted to tie together all these different kinds of genres and styles with just the voice and the lyrics and the concepts.
Everyone knows that you produce as well and so I was interested in – did you contribute anything to this album?
No, I didn’t. If there’s one regret I have about this album it’s that I didn’t even use my own production. I produced some records on the ¡MAYDAY! album, so with worrying about the beats Bernz and I were producing with Gianni on this ¡MAYDAY! album I think I was really focusing on the production for the ¡MAYDAY! album. It kind of drained my battery on the beats. I was also so obsessed with picking certain producers and going to work with other people to make the sound bigger. I had a few of my own beats selected and I just never ended up writing to them and going in on them, so if there was my one regret it’s just that I never ended up producing for myself on this album, but I’m definitely going to change that for the next project.
Oh dope. What’s crazy about that and something that I’ve always tried to wrap my head around is an emcee who can sit down and do beats as well because it’s kind of like, I see it as two different worlds but at the same time it’s not. It seems crazy to me.
I like it because I feel like, I’ve had this conversation with a few people before and they always say they love to hear emcees who make their own beats and when they ride to their own beats it’s always some kind of intensity there because the emcee made the beat and he knows how he wants to ride it from the rip. When you hear an emcee on a beat that you know they produced there’s always a certain intensity level that’s raised. They just have some sort of intimacy with the beat because they made it. I feel like there’s moments where I’ve done stuff over things I’ve produced and I definitely feel that way.
Yeah, I had this conversation with Rittz too because I didn’t know that he produced and he actually did one of the cuts on his album and I was just like “That’s insane.” I had no idea that he produced as well.
Oh yeah, I didn’t know that he produced! That’s dope, that’s super dope.
He actually did the very last track on his album is what he did.
Oh shit, that’s dope as fuck.
You guys need to produce more. Damn.
That track is nasty. Yeah, I think it’s a very – a lot of artists have that mindstate inside them, it’s just a matter of whether or not they tap into it– just in terms of beatmaking. Bernz produces as well, but he used to be what you would call a beatmaker, he would be banging on the MPC and really programming the beats, but he doesn’t do as much programming anymore now. He still produces and has ideas for the beat and gets things like that going. The mindset is definitely there for people for a lot of artists who know how to produce, they just might not know it, you know?
And I think to a lot of people producing means two completely different things.
For sure. There’s a difference. You step into the hip hop world and there’s people who are like “Oh yeah, I make beats, dude I’m a producer.” Sometimes with a producer, you don’t really have to make the beat, you can just be there to make sure things are being played in the right spot. There’s definitely a grey area there in terms of production because you don’t have to just be on the MPC and programming drums to be a producer.
Stay tuned for Part II of our interview with Wrekonize about The War Within
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