Strange Music is nearing the end of its record breaking Hostile Takeover Tour. For 96-dates, Stevie Stone, Prozak, ¡MAYDAY!, Krizz Kaliko, and Tech N9ne – along with Machine Gun Kelly – will have rocked venues of all sizes nationwide. From the lights and smoke engulfing the stage, to the music, and the mosh pit that rarely subsides – there’s a three-ring circus quality to the concert. It’s the best kind of spectacle that’s immediately more impressive when considering the entire production is replicated nearly 100 times in just over 100 days. Even the minutia must grow less minute as this grueling endeavor rolls forward. Regardless of whatever physical and mental toll is taken on the performing acts, judging from the rambunctious audience in Highline Ballroom, in the end, their fans are the real winners.
HipHopDX was on hand for the New York City leg of Strange Music’s Hostile Takeover. Following the performance, DX spoke with ¡MAYDAY!’s Wrekonize about how he recovers during the label’s record-breaking tour, the group’s critically-acclaimed release, Take Me To Your Leader, and the former battle champion’s thoughts on Canibus versus Dizaster.
HipHopDX: So this is day 79 of the “Hostile Takeover” tour, right?
Wrekonize: This is the 79th show of 96.
DX: How has it been so far? This is [¡MAYDAY!’s] second tour with Strange Music.
Wrekonize: The last tour was 68 [dates], so we’ve already crossed into a new realm. I was doing good until a week and a half ago. We got an email from Strange [Music] with our return flight home. The thought of flying home kind of fucked me up. But, up until then I was good. For the last couple of week’s I’ve still been good, even though I know I’m flying home on a certain day. We’re good, man. We just had great show in New York, so we don’t have shit to be worried about now.
DX: Your voice sounds a little strained right now.
Wrekonize: Yeah, man. My shit’s strained after every show.
DX: How do you recover when you’re on the road?
Wrekonize: There’s certain nights where I’ll go out and party with Tech [N9ne’s] set and I’ll be rhyming his lyrics and going in on some fan shit. That’s when I come out sounding like this. On certain nights I don’t do that because it’s so many nights in a row. I’ll just take it easy. I’ll just have some tea, go to bed early, watch some flicks or whatever in my bunk and I’m good the next day. With this one, I had family in town and we had a good place to watch Tech’s set from up top. I go in and I come out sounding like this. We’re doing [Sway In The Morning] tomorrow on Shade 45. Hopefully I’ll get some rest tonight.
DX: I had the chance to speak with Bernz not too long ago and he broke something down that I never really considered. Being based in Miami is a very different experience from most other cities. It takes a lot of money to travel to other major cities and spread your name.
Wrekonize: It’s totally different. It takes eight hours just to get out of the state. And when you get out of the state it’s still tricky because the places that are right on top of us aren’t really that poppin‘ for our kind of shit. It’s tough, man. It’s tricky for us, and on top of that, growing up in Miami is similar to growing up in New York in the fact that everyone is an artist. Everyone kind of has their own shit going on. It’s hard to gather enough fans in one place that you can get a good party going or a good show going. We’ve had trouble getting there. We’ve gotten to that point now in Miami where we have it where there’s enough people coming out that actually fuck with our shit. When you do shows in Miami, you just can’t get enough fans in one spot.
DX: I think you have an interesting story on your own, but also in relation to ¡MAYDAY! You’re the second emcee [to join the group]. Plex [Luthor] and Bernz started the group, so there was already a foundation. How was the transition going from battling to ¡MAYDAY!? Miami is a really Dance music city.
Wrekonize: It’s the House [music] capital of the world. It was kind of natural because we were signed to the same label so we were working in the same studio. When they dropped their first single – which was with Cee-Lo, “Groundhog Day” – I was already in the studio with them. We were already cool. I was already watching what they were doing. I was like, “Damn, I kind of want to make what they want to do.” It was because I was in love with Plex [Luthor’s] beats and I liked the shit he wanted to make. Where Bernz was taking them, I was already like, “Yes. I like that.” I wasn’t working with an in-house producer. They were putting me with all kinds of producers. I went to meet with [DJ Premier]. I just gave them my wish list of producers and they took me all over the place. But I saw what Bern and Plex were doing in-house with just one producer and that kind of intrigued me. Like, “Damn, they’re staying in one room and coming out with the shit I want to make.” By the time they asked me [about joining the ¡MAYDAY!], we had been kicking it for so long that it kind of felt like I was already in the group. We had been doing shows together already. We had already been doing open mics. We were billing it separately. It’s ¡MAYDAY! and it’s Wrekonize at an open mic and freestyling or whatever – wilding out. So when they asked me, it was like, “Fuck yeah. I’m already in the group anyways.” It was cool. When they were recording that first album, I was already like, “This is the music I want to make. I’m down.”
DX: You’ve mentioned that you’ve always harmonized; you’ve always sung, but coming up through the rap ranks really turned you off to [singing more often].
Wrekonize: My parents are into music. Both my parents were in a band growing up. I was already into music of all kinds of genres. I wasn’t just into Hip Hop. When I got into Hip Hop, it kind of closed my eyes a little bit. And how that growing up in high school, listening to other shit other than Hip Hop wasn’t really cool. You couldn’t listen to Pink Floyd. You couldn’t listen to Peter Gabriel. You couldn’t listen to Classic Rock. You could listen to certain things, but a lot of shit didn’t get bumped up when you were a kid. That shut me down a little. Like, “Nah, I’ll leave singing alone for a little while.” I always kind of had it in the back of my head but it was “Nah, I just wanna rhyme. I want to be dope. I want to be like these dope emcees.” That kind of closed me off a little bit. Then I started to build it up after being so comfortable with rhyming for three or four years. And then, with the help of Plex and Bernz being like, “Yo, we want you to sing live. Let’s do this song live with you singing.” They had to push me into it a little bit to really feel comfortable like I am now.
DX: You’re singing all over Take Me To Your Leader.
Wrekonize: Now it’s to the point where it’s natural. Where it already feels like a weapon. It already feels like the first thing I reach for. I love to rhyme. There are some songs where they’re like, “Sing a verse on this.” And I’m like, “Damn, I really wanna rhyme.” My natural instinct is to rhyme. But now I’m getting more comfortable with not rhyming on every track.
DX: You came up through arguably the last truly competitive side of Hip Hop. As a battle tested emcee, are you still competitive? Do you still inherently try to be the best on a song?
Wrekonize: All the time. Bernz is the one exclusion because we’re so close now and in a group, so I don’t always think of that. But when I go to record a verse, no matter where that verse ends up, I want it to be one of the best on that track. So if they take my vocals and they put it somewhere else and they put five rappers on it, I want that verse I recorded to compete with all five rappers. I’m hella competitive. I want people to hear that song and then quote my name after like, “Yo, he bodied it.” I’m hella competitive. Every verse I write, I think about that shit. It’s not like I’m competing with specific people, but I’m definitely thinking I can’t come half-assed because I don’t want people quoting someone else over me. I’m always thinking that.
DX: What’s your favorite Bernz verse on Take Me To Your Leader?
Wrekonize: “Death March” is one of my favorites of his. I like his “Everything’s Everything” verse as well. Those are my favorite two verses. “Death March” he came with it hard as fuck. On some swag shit, “Everything’s Everything.” I think he’s got some dope lines in that verse.
DX: I have to ask about this. It’s a big story this month. King Of The Dot…
Wrekonize: Canibus and fucking Dizaster! I just watched [the battle] like two nights ago.
DX: What were your thoughts on it?
Wrekonize: Dizaster is a fucking animal! Pharoahe Monch is an emcee that makes me want to write rhymes. Dizaster is an emcee that makes me want to battle. He makes me want to battle even though the style of battling that they do now is not really my steez. It’s not really what I came up in. A lot of written rhymes, even though [Dizaster] freestyles. But a lot of written shit and no beat is totally not my steez. But when I watch Dizaster, it makes me want to battle. That’s how I know he’s so disgusting.
I thought Canibus did okay for the first two rounds. But it definitely felt like his rhyme structure was just hella fucking dated. You could tell by how slow he rhymed, no multis, very simple compared to the rhyme style that’s popular now that Dizaster was totally the hella fucking pinnacle of. In that third round, when [Canibus] reached for the book, it was just embarrassing. And then Dizaster came in and fucking demolished that mutherfucker in the third round! So it was dope. It was a dope battle. It was hella well put together. Then on top of that, they fucking Ustreamed it for Pay-Per-View, which I thought was amazing. And then they filmed it really well. It was put together well. It was just like the new era of battling at its peak because it was just put together so fucking dope.
DX: Battling has evolved quite a bit since your MTV victory in 2003.
Wrekonize: It’ll be 10 years next year. It’s almost a decade.
DX: How does that feel?
Wrekonize: It’s crazy. I was 19 [years old] when I did that shit. We’re in New York now. Just driving through the city brings back memories. Faded up. No facial hair. 19. Didn’t know shit. It was cool, man. I felt like I knew everything there was to know at that point. Ten years later I’ve learned a decade worth of shit that I didn’t know then. It’s cool. It’s dope. I don’t hate on anything that I did or any of the path that I took from now to then. It’s cool. It’s hella surreal. I don’t even remember it happening, but it’s so vivid at the same time.
DX: In that 10 year span, you’ve gone from MTV; to everything you’ve done solo and within the battle circuit; to joining ¡MAYDAY!; to inking with Strange Music and traveling nationally and being in front of the craziest crowds telling people to go mosh. After all of that, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Wrekonize: I guess it’s people’s reaction. I’ve been in the game so long that I’m a little jaded. I’ve always been a little bit of a skeptic. There’s a certain level of fan that I forgot existed. Before we go out of Miami I’m like, “I don’t know if people are really fucking with our shit or feeling our album that much.” And when we get out here and Tech brings us out into the middle of the country and there are people that come out and be like this song or this line – living in Miami, you forget that people are so passionate about music still. People love music in Miami, all kinds of music. But it’s so diverse that you don’t meet people that are crazy fanatical for certain things. It’s just very trendy in Miami. You don’t meet diehard fans. This is our best New York show we’ve ever done. And all over the country we’re meeting people that are quoting lines to us. It’s surprising to me because I know our album did good, but when I meet people literally and shaking their fucking hand and their quoting “The Noose,” that surprises me still. It’s still hella new to me.
DX: Take Me To Your Leader really speaks to a world conflicted between the haves and the have nots. On “T.N.T.” – Tango N Tunisia – for example, you’re giving a lot of respect to [Mohamed Bouazizi] who set himself on fire and started the Arab Spring.
Wrekonize: That story blew my fucking mind. A lot of times, Bern comes up with the ideas. A lot of times when I write with other people or I write with him, I’m down to work, but I don’t really spark a lot ideas. It’s like, “Alright, this is the concept? I fuck with that. What if we do this, that, and the third?” He’s the genesis for a lot of our ideas. Tunisia is one of the ones where I came in and was like, “Dude, just read this fucking article about this guy in Tunisia that literally got his bread and butter snatched out of his hand. He went to fight for it and this woman slapped him in his face and he set himself on fire.” I was literally infatuated with that whole story. I was just like, “Dude, we’ve got to do some shit on the whole Tunisian revolution.” That was the spark for that.
“Everything’s Everything” was written with the whole [Occupy Wall Street] thing was popping off. There were people on Facebook doing like, Occupy songs or something hella gimmicky. You could tell they were riding on the publicity of the Occupy shit. Me and him looked at each other and said we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to be hella Occupied out. He says “Occupy” once in his verse…
DX: “They won’t pay for things they should / So we had to occupy the things that they took.”
Wrekonize: Right! That one line. If you ignore that one line or it slips by you, you don’t know that song is written out of angst for the occupy movement. That was the way we wanted to be. We were feeling what these people are feeling. I don’t know if it’s misplaced. I could tell some people were there out of angst. It was like, “Yo, we need to speak on that movement without putting it on a fucking picket sign.” That was it. There’s moments where we see things that are happening in the world where we want to speak for the disenfranchised. We’re very careful to walk that line and not make it a gimmick. There’s a way to do it that sparks people speaking about the thing without jumping on the bandwagon. That was our goal for the songs on the album: speak on the movement without jumping on the bandwagon.