Wrekonize: "The War Within"
A Track-by-track Fan Review by Chris Miller
About the author:
I could throw this at the end but I'll use this as a "why am I qualified to do a review" introduction. So, why AM I qualified to do a Wrekonize album review? I'm definitely no hip-hop expert but first and foremost, I'm a fan. I'm a music fan. I'm a Strange Music fan. I'm a ¡MAYDAY music fan. I'm a Wrekonize music fan. So that about sums it up, qualifications for doing a fan review: Fan. Check. Next, I can type, that always helps, so I'll continue.
Like a lot of Strange Music fans I have varied musical tastes, other hip-hop I've enjoyed this year would be Czarface, Indicud and Ghost's "Twelve Reasons to Die". Albums I'm currently listening to include new Queens of the Stone Age, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Fallout Boy. As far as Strange Music, I've been a Tech N9ne fan since around 2001 and have bought every album since then. I started really following Strange Music online a few years ago when they started adding all of these exciting new artists and really started exploding with talent. Like a lot of Tech fans I first heard ¡MAYDAY! on "The Noose" and there was something about the two guest vocalists that made me want to look them up and dig deeper into this group called ¡MAYDAY!
That lead me to "Stuck On An Island" and "Technology" and then I started finding free tracks on maydayonline.com, not just the "Lords of the Fly" Mixtape, but a whole host of free tracks, frees and remixes, songs to tide me over while waiting for "Take Me To Your Leader" to drop. I first saw ¡MAYDAY! Live last summer on the "Independent Powerhouse Tour" and then again last week for the "Summer of Strange", where I was able to pick up a fresh copy of "The War Within" and get it signed in person by Wrekonize himself. Tuesday morning I put the album on repeat and didn't hit "stop" until 7:30pm when we left to go grab some dinner. I've been analyzing "The War Within" ever since so all fan boy issues aside, lets get started. "Welcome to The War Within, it started back in '83"
Pre-Order Bonus Track (Download Only)
00. Black Magic City feat. Ras Kass
01. Intro: Dr. (Psy) Chosis (prod. by Wrekonize)02. We Got Soul (prod. by Seven)03. Paper Trails feat. Bernz (prod. by Plex Luthor & Gianni Ca$h)04. Typical (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick)05. Freak feat. Tech N9ne (prod. by Sarom & Streetrunner)06. Can't Be Alone (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick)07. Floating Away (prod. by WillPower)08. Adrenaline feat. Crooked I (prod. by Seven)09. Haunted feat. Bernz (prod. by Drop Dead Beats)10. Anxiety Attacks (prod by. DJ Sharpsound)11. Galil (prod. by Plex Luthor & Gianni Ca$h)12. Modern Man (prod. by Infamous)13. Neon Skies (prod. by Seven)14. Church Road feat. Posdnuos (prod. by Miami Beat Wave)15. Easy Money feat. Bun B (prod. by Willpower)16. Better Things (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick)17. Rise feat. Liz Suwandi (prod. by Drop Dead Beats)
Deluxe Edition (iTunes & X-Box Music/Zune Download)
18. Smile Tonight feat. Bernz (prod. by Countyboyz)19. Puppet Masters (prod by. Seven)20. In The Morning (prod. by WillPower)
00. Black Magic City feat. Ras Kass (Pre-Order Bonus Track)
The pre-order track is so damn good that it's a shame it's not readily available to the public. This is a great track from beginning to end and helped tide me over while waiting for the album release. Ras Kass fits perfectly as a compliment to Wrek, joining the list of rappers with a deep baritone and intelligent delivery that have collaborated with Wrek to produce greatness. I'm not sure who produced the track but this is basically a rock song, rock drums, guitar, great driving bass line, real bass, not the fake thumping kind, but genuine rock bass guitar pumping out a steady groove while Wrek spits fire and asks "Do you believe in sex, drugs, rock & roll? All in my black magic city". I do Wrek, I believe.
Verdict: Five Snake and Bats (4.5/5) Awesome. Don't argue. It's my review. I could have given it a 5/5
01. Intro: Dr. (Psy) Chosis (prod. by Wrekonize)
The intro is the type of "track" that a lot of people will end up skipping or removing and I'm not going to rate it as it's just a quick mood-setter for the album. I will say that I'm not as compelled to skip it simply b/c my name is "Mr. Miller", as is the "character" (aka Wrekonize) in the story and the hypnosis bit is a nice way to bring you into the album and focus you on the music. I guess if I was rating the skit I'd give it (3.5/5)
02. We Got Soul (prod. by Seven)
"We got soul, and we're ready for war. What you think all of this weaponry's for? We got soul, and we're ready for war. I had a taste of victory before, I'm ready for more." And so begins "The War Within", with an angry, yet focused rant covering everything from Wrek's parents, to his battle-rap days, to his current mission to let the world know that he's serious and means business and with on point production from Seven, the message is heard loud and clear., Wrek came to win.
Verdict: Five Snake and Bats (5/5) What can I say? This track is fire. Watch the video.
03. Paper Trails feat. Bernz (prod. by Plex Luthor & Gianni Ca$h)
"If you're losing friends don't let that bother ya.cuz it's hard to tell the friends from followers." Paper Trails is the first of the "trippy" songs, as well as one of the down-tempo tracks on the album. With Bernz, Plexo and Gianni, it may as well be a ¡MAYDAY! track and that's basically what you hear, something that could have fit perfectly into "Thrift-Store Halos" but at the same time, fits perfectly here as well. Wrek starts off the sad tale with his take on our current wired state and laments the effects of social networks on our fragile minds. Bernz then offers his take, "they ain't a part of my clique just b/c they a click away" and after another hook Wrek could have called it good and hung it up for the day but instead at the 2:49 mark, with 2:10 to go, Wrek kicks it up another notch and explodes with another minute of pure fire before letting the guitar take us out with an eerie pulse in the background.
Verdict: Four and Half Snake and Bats (4.5/5) A song that started with such simple ambitions turns into a masterpiece. I'd give it 5/5 but they can't all be 5's.
04. Typical (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick) Before I even talk about Wrek on this track we need to talk about the music b/c that's where it all starts.the piano, the horns, the atmosphere.this is what summer sounds like. Of course it could just be elevator music if you didn't do anything with it and Wrek doesn't just do something with it, he weaves in and out of tempo while leading you on a tour of Miami, from the beach to the night-life, never missing a beat while painting a perfect mental image of the song. I know I've already handed out a few 5's but to me this song is as perfect as it gets. There's nothing "Typical" about it at all.other than it's a "typical" summer radio hit and somebody needs to get their hands on this. As soon as Wrek gets back to Miami he needs to get the crew and head out and record a video for this track.an MTV video, the song basically writes the video for you, it's like the intro to Miami Vice, beach, asses in thongs walking by, dudes on skate-boards, roller-blading bitches with dogs on leashes, show the strip, some trees, then strip at night, bright lights, cars, Strange crew driving up and down the strip in a convertible while Wrek raps, lol, "typical" gangsta rap video will do just fine for this one. Anyway. I love this song, nuff said.
Verdict: Five Snake and Bats (5/5) Perfect. Nothing "typical" about this one.
05. Freak feat. Tech N9ne (prod. by Sarom & Streetrunner)
We've had this track for awhile and I know an early complaint was it's too short and needs a third verse so let's just judge it on what it is, not what it isn't. Freak is short but sweet, it's a "sex track" but not in the typical Strange Music sense which is why even those who are tired of "strip-club anthems" don't dislike this song. Another positive is that while it's undeniably about sex, the hook is actually vague enough that it can apply to any freak, sexual or not. In the same way that Kaliko's "Freaks" relates to a lot of fans there's an extra element to "Freak" that isn't as obvious unless you look only at the hook by itself. "Everywhere that we go, you're never fitting in with all the regular folks. You're a freak." Also, both Wrek and Tech kill it in their verses and that little high-pitched "boooooooooooooo" sound just hooks me so for me I'm fine with the album version being what it is, a short little dance song with some good flows in between the more cerebral art pieces. With that being said, "Freak" is an obvious REMIX candidate and could easily be looped into a longer dance track just by taking the end of Tech's verse at the changeup and looping that back at the end after another hook.but I digress.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Short but sweet, good club banger.
06. Can't Be Alone (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick)
"Can't Be Alone" is a throwback to Wrek's "A Soiree For Skeptics"sound to me in that it has this "lounge-singer" vibe and maybe my dream is different than Wrek's dream but it is funny he wakes up at the end of this track wondering if it was a dream but I can't help but picture a smoky jazz club with Wrek in a suit and tie wearing a fedora standing on stage with a little jazz band, small drum kit, stand up bass, hollow-body guitar, maybe two horns, anyway, as a drummer I love these drum-driven tracks and the drums take the lead on this song with a nice melodic assist from the guitar as Wrek laments "I can't be alone, am I alone? Leave me alone, don't leave me alone." This goes on for two verses and two choruses as scripted and just when you think you've heard the first "decent" track that didn't throw something special your way, Wrek asks if you're still there and brings the drums back for a strong finish as he grabs the mic, tosses his hat, and goes to town on the stage before waking up and wondering out loud "that couldn't have been a dream"..or at least that's what I see/hear, maybe your vision is different.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) A good, solid track is saved from "normalcy" with a strong outro.
07. Floating Away (prod. by WillPower)
The next of the "trippy" or "spacey" tracks just happens to be another Bernz track although he's not listed as a "feature" since he just helps on the "hook" it's still a vintage "Wrek and Bernz" track and just to throw in some more quotation marks, it reminds me a little of "Tom Hanks" in feel/mood/tempo but also reminds of "Green Funyuns" b/c it's a drug-tale.his "Fear and Loathing in Miami" story part 2. Another tale to get all the kiddies running to "Google" what the hell Wrek is talking about, with references to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cheech Marin and Anthony Hopkins, it's enough to make a teenager say "wha?" but that's why we love Wrek, if you think Wrek's too wordy, he's just too motherfucking advanced. Also, for the record, "Green Funyuns" is built on a song called "Green Onions". "Pain" is built on a "Who" track. "Gorilla Stranglehold" is "Rage Against The Machine". Wrek knows Rock & Roll so don't be surprised when he surprises you. Smoke one, sit back, close your eyes, and "float.float.float.get high."
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Mellow groove with funky bass rumble.
08. Adrenaline feat. Crooked I (prod. by Seven)
The second Seven track and distinct Strange Music Banger, "Adrenaline" comes hard from the get go with rapid-fire flows and machine-gun drums before coming down for a nice little interlude as the adrenaline builds back up for a 2nd attack. Wrek again comes hard with a fast-paced assault before bringing it back down into "the bloodstream" before Crooked I interrupts the serenity with a flow that seems slightly out of his reach and never quite fits into the song, even ending a few beats early and leaving an otherwise great track on a slightly "crooked" note. Don't get me wrong, I like Crooked I, I love Slaughterhouse but I just don't like this verse on this track and I think the song would have been better without it, but that's just me. Personally I would much rather have Rittz in that verse (does the verse sound like Crooked I doing Rittz, or does Rittz's flow sound like Crooked I sometimes? Which is it?) or even JL Bhood so to me "Adrenaline" is just screaming for a REMIX.
Verdict: Four and a half Snake and Bats (4.5/5) Almost perfect. Almost.
09. Haunted feat. Bernz (prod. by Drop Dead Beats)
"Haunted" is the first track that doesn't just blow me away in some way or another but that doesn't mean it's not a good song, it just can't be compared to the greatness that has come before it and so it looks "typical" by comparison. This would be the 2nd "lounge-act" song on the album, another piano track that harkens back to "Soiree." but this one features Bernz trading verses and beatboxes with Wrek while the piano dances around the duo. It has an infectious beat and a catchy hook but just doesn't stand out with so many great tracks to choose from.
Verdict: Three and a Half Snake and Bats (3.5/5) Good but not great.
10. Anxiety Attacks (prod by. DJ Sharpsound)
"Anxiety Attacks" is another track we've had access to for awhile with the sampler and video so some people may have gotten over this one by now but I still love this song, this is what "The War Within" is all about, confronting your inner demons, dealing with shit, real shit. "I'm trying to find the little kid in me, I know where he's hiding, I'm trying not to let him grow. They've got me becoming my own enemy, I just wanted you to know, can't you see this anxiety is killing me." This is a Rock & Roll Ballad, the artist opening up his heart and soul not knowing if the fans will connect and its obvious it connects.
For me the one thing that keeps it from being perfect is the verse "another flashback to feelin up girls on the bus and hoping they don't back away." and I'm not going to go into a lecture or anything b/c this is "Anxiety Attacks" and we intelligent minds can assume Wrek feels bad about this behavior in the way that it's delivered, he doesn't sound proud, but at the same time, in this "rape culture" we live in where women are treated with such hate and rap music in general objectifies women as eye candy or denigrates them as bitches and hoes, it's still slightly disappointing to hear that verse, but it could be a conversation starter like "Due in June" so take it as you will, I guess I did go into a lecture but I'm married and have a teenage daughter and my wife has complained of being touched on the bus so it's a subject that hits close to home but otherwise this is a special song, a truly great song, a cry for help heard around the world.
Verdict: Four and a half Snake and Bats (4.5/5) I'm the type of person this song speaks to, therefore it is great.
11. Galil (prod. by Plex Luthor & Gianni Ca$h)
Named after an Israeli assault rifle, "Galil" was a quick fan favorite, a moody, dark story of (imo, your interpretation may vary) a man on the edge looking to reign down his anger upon his enemies. "check my calendar and you'll see I'm Excalibur, swat down all challengers I'm up the ladder the maddest of all hatters it's real.feel my Galil."
With ¡MAYDAY! production this could be considered our 2nd ¡MAYDAY! track and could be compared to "Death March" or "Sweat Shop" in mood, a haunting guitar track with a good drum back-beat, this is Rock & Roll.
Verdict: Five Snake and Bats (5/5) Feel my Galil
12. Modern Man (prod. by Infamous)
"Modern Man" is a good song with a catchy beat and a good flow but it doesn't stand up to the Seven beats imo and the one thing about Wrek doing all of these frees is that some of us that have heard him more than others may not be as impressed with something as somebody else b/c we've basically already heard this song before with a different name (and on the sampler), pick one of his big frees from last year and you'll find a song on here that's sonically similar, (same applies to "Neon Skies") and that's not a bad thing, he's trying to recapture "Look At Me Now" or "Mayday and Chardonnay" b/c those were great songs but he couldn't make money on those, this is the big album, those tracks were just practice for this album so on one hand, I've kind of heard this flow but on the other hand, "Modern Man" is a good song, so...
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) I can't fault it for being "Free Part X", its catchy and cerebral, even if just yesterday I referred to it as "the weakest track" on the album.
13. Neon Skies (prod. by Seven)
Strange Music Banger #3, "Neon Skies" is an instant ic with trademark Wrek flow as he hooks us in and tricks us into looking forward to hearing that girl say "that's my fucking jam". The Seven beat is catchy but Wrek knows how to slow it down and explore his space so it's not just wall to wall computer blips and machine-gun drums. The video was a little whack the first time I watched it but I'm becoming numb to the booty shaking.that can't be a good thing.
Verdict: Four and a half Snake and Bats (4.5/5) Black Shades, Neon Skies.
14. Church Road feat. Posdnuos (prod. by Miami Beat Wave)
"Church Road" is kind of a bittersweet reminder that the album is coming to a close, every time I hear it I remember we're approaching the end and I need to enjoy this. The song has a happy feel but talks about real problems and issues, "This is just a message for the ones who crave greater and stay up to way later trying to figure it all"."this is grown folks stress, new cities new problems" the subject matter isn't happy but the song keeps a positive feeling and therefore offers hope.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Can't find too much to complain about, Miami Beat Wave vibe is just too cool to resist.
15. Easy Money feat. Bun B (prod. by Willpower)
This is the first track that has a "gangsta" feel to me, it sounds like it would be at home on "The Life And Times." with Rittz, a REMIX maybe? This is the current fave of a friend of mine, I definitely like the laid back gangsta feel & the smooth hook, and Bun B compliments Wrek perfectly in the same way Ras Kass does, great mellow track for rolling one up.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Stoney.
16. Better Things (prod. by K-Salaam & Beatnick)
"Better Things" is buried at the end b/c its not the best song on the album but Wrek didn't want to cut it so here it is, right before the finale. This is the 2nd track from these producers and it has that "old-school Wrek" feel at the beginning but switches it up with the gangsta overdub which makes it a little interesting, especially on a good surround system, the song has good ambiance, good layered sounds, but it still fails to fully impress and despite it's promise of better things, it simply is what it is, a decent song at the end of a great album.
Verdict: Three and a half Snake and Bats (3.5/5) Fails to live up to promise.
17. Rise feat. Liz Suwandi (prod. by Drop Dead Beats) "Rise" has been referred to as "next level" and I must agree, whatever that means. Along with "Typical", this is the track that the world needs to hear and a video needs to be made, Liz Suwandi singing her way into people's dreams as they rise and take to the streets, Wrek with a marching band following him down the street, people flocking from their homes as they rise to face the day. Anyway, your vision may vary but the hope and inspiration is all that matters.
Verdict: Five Snake and Bats (5/5) "Next Level"
But wait.we're not done yet.we have three more bonus tracks. Do you need the bonus tracks to enjoy "The War Within" fully? No.but they definitely add to the story and round out the album.and they prevent the album from being over.so go out and find them one way or another, if you don't have iTunes but have an X-Box Gold Subscription, you should be able to purchase them from Microsoft for $1 each using X-Box Music, I still have a Zune Music Pass and downloaded them on my computer but it should work on your console if you (likely) don't have the Zune software.
Deluxe Edition (iTunes & X-Box Music/Zune Download)
18. Smile Tonight feat. Bernz (prod. by Countyboyz)
From Strange Music Blog: Wrek and Bernz trade bars in this spacey track that indulges in almost indifferent skepticism and focuses on embracing the present moment. "If there's no God in the sky, if there's no afterlife, it's alright, let's just do what makes us smile tonight."
"Spacey" is a good description of the beat and I think Wrek is almost pushing his verse a little too much and could have slowed down a little instead of using his trademark flow on this one. He gets a little dirty in the middle but otherwise this is a pretty clean "sex track" by modern standards which is what makes it a good song worth listening too in my opinion. I actually like Bernz on this track more, Wrek's hook is great but Bernz' verse just fit's the mood of the song so much better.
Verdict: Three and a half Snake and Bats (3.5/5) Good song, not great, worth a listen.
19. Puppet Masters (prod by. Seven)
From Strange Music Blog: "A truly sinister call-out of the powers that be, this track puts the focus on the all-seeing eye and basically gives it the finger."
This is a great track, great Seven beat, great Wrek flow, fits into the theme well actually in its attempt to create a mood of uneasiness, fear and anxiety, but it's still missing one thing, a strong hook. It has a good "bridge" leading into it but this is one of those tracks that has a long hook.a really long hook, a hook that is more like 3 verses broken up into different parts. There are some very strong parts, but the song is almost a little TOO paranoid and disjointed for its own good and is held back from being truly great by not being able to fully settle on one idea and despite great verses, the "bows and arrows" reference in the middle jumps out every time on the hook.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Trademark Strange Music beat.
20. In The Morning (prod. by WillPower) From Strange Music Blog: "An upbeat, piano driven track that un-apologetically addresses the strain that life on the road puts on outside relationships."
That about sums up the theme, "I know I promised you I'd stay but I'll be gone in the morning, I'll be gone" so nothing special here as far as content goes. We've heard this tale before, but it's still delivered well.and it's a catchy beat that has a Stuck On An Island-era ¡MAYDAY! sound that makes you want to get up and dance. Or not, your choice, but either way it's undeniably catchy and even throws in some old Wrek beatbox sound effects for good measure, a fitting end to a great listen, truly a great album all the way through, from one song to the next, from beginning to end.
Verdict: Four Snake and Bats (4/5) Can't complain, Bonus.
FINAL VERDICT: Four and half Snake and Bats (4.5/5 - 85/100)
Even after all the generous scores I gave out, if you add it all up it's still "only" an 85 out of 100 or 85% depending on how you wanna look at it. If I were to rate it on a scale of 100 I'd say it's a 90, but it would take 5 more rating points to get to a 90 so it's really all a matter of how you wanna look at it and my opinion can fluctuate by a half a point here and there at times.bottom line is the album is great, it's a Strange Music ic and we can only hope that as many people as possible have the privilege of hearing it.
Thanks Wrek, we know you've waited a long time for this album, we appreciate all the hard work.
Other Strange Music 2013 releases:
BLH: Mannibalector - Unrated
Kutt Calhoun: Black Gold - 3.5/5 (65*/100)
Ces Cru: Constant Energy Struggles - 4/5 (85*/100)
Rittz: The Life And Times. - 4.5/5 (90*/100)
Wrekonize: The War Within - 4.5/5 (90*/100)
*opinion-based final score, not actual point total.