Wrekonize: The War Within (Review)

After the release of ¡Mayday!’s debut Strange Music album “Take Me To Your Leader!” I became a massive fan of the rap group. The six-piece are so talented, I’d go as far to say they are the most talented Hip Hop collective since The Roots, if not even better. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that ¡Mayday! are releasing a follow-up named “Believers” next month, but first one-half of the MC duo of the group, Wrekonize, is releasing his debut solo album under Strange Music entitled “The War Within” on the 25th of June.  

The album opens up with a track titled “Intro (Dr. Chosis)” which features a therapist delivering a hypnotic therapy session to Wrekonize. The London-born emcee shows a subtle intelligence as Dr. Chosis introduces himself, insisting we call him “Psy”. Unfortunately, this therapy session is not brought to you by a the crazy Korean who gave us Gangnam Style, although the accent given to the character isn’t too far off. No matter how many times Dr. Psychosis repeats the words “relax”, his voice leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Not only because it is more than a fair share of creepy, but also because I was worried that Wrekonize was furthering Strange Music’s comparison’s with fellow independent label Odd Future by delivering an album all to similar to Tyler the Creator’s trilogy. Luckily, as the album progresses, Wrekonize manages to keep the album sounding fresh with the therapist only being used when needed and never is there the slightest hint of schizophrenia which Tyler himself already overused. 

Leading on is “We Got Soul“, a single from the album. The blend from the intro to track two is seamless, as the chorus is from “We Got Soul” is repeated in the background in the introduction indicating a lot of planning was put into this album and it’s structure. Rather than a load of tracks recorded thrown together and labelled as an album. This track is Wrek’s own introduction to the album as he spits “Welcome to / This Is – the war within” twice in the track. The two verses of “We Got Soul” open up with Wrek – born Benjamin Miller – describing dreams, one of his mother “screaming find them kids” and the other of his father “screaming hide yo’ ribs”. There is a lot of conflict described in the song with references to Wrek’s mother dancing (“the exotic kind” not a “conga line”), being bullied as a child and his father being teased by kids for “being kind of crack race”. The conflict is eased however in the second verse as Wrekonize takes humorous shots at the illuminati and those who believe in secret societies by playfully admitting “fuck it kid you got me”. This track is multi-faceted, and one many fans of different genres and sub-genres can love equally, a style ¡Mayday! excel in. 
Wrekonize links up with his co-¡Mayday! emcee Bernz for the third track from “The War Within” which is produced by their ¡Mayday! cohorts Plex Luthor and Gianni Ca$h, making this track essentially a ¡Mayday! song. Between multi-syllabic rhymes and witty wordplay, the pair produce thought-provoking verses about the internet on “Paper Trail” and social networks in particular. The chorus claims “its hard to tell the friends from followers” but apparently you shouldn’t “let that bother you”. Wrek sets the bar in the first verse which he spits “They call them them your friends, I call them the connections, cause once the cables cut, they’re no longer there for your protection” – reinforcing his introductory adlib of “these social networks are really not that sociable”. “They aren’t apart of my clique just cause they a click away” is the highlighting line from Bernz in which his flow is more worthy of mention than his lyricism particularly within the opening bars. When Wrekonize returns to the booth he outshines Bernz however by flowing fluently between standard and double time whilst spitting lyrics which will have fellow rappers “hiding behind a firewall” as he criticises the parents of the ‘facebook generation’ with “Your momma is proud cos ooo you got followers now” in place of a traditional punchline. This song is just a sample of how great these two lyricists can be, “Take Me To Your Leader!”‘s “Due In June” and “June” are must-listen classics and “Paper Trail” looks set to follow suit. 

The instrumental of “Typical” lays a relaxing foundation for Wrek to deliver the most smooth song I have heard from him or his Hip Hop collective. I envisage this being heralded as a smokers anthem at the next “4/20” due to the instrumentation and Wrek’s atypical near-monotonous tone. On-the-other-hand the instrumental is also reminiscent of 80’s pop music. The consistent reference to “booze and marijuana” backs up my smokers anthem prediction however giving a closer listen to the lyricism Wrek delivers offers a new possible theme. Apparently Wrekonize could be offering a new twist on the trend of ‘representing your state’ in Hip Hop which differs from the N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton”, Snoop’s collaboration with Katy Perry for “California Gurls” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind”. Whether Wrekonize is comparing Florida to “a big dream”, living in “paradise” and the clichéd “heaven on earth” is debatable however as the state has not yet legalised marijuana. Not that I think illegal marijuana use is impossible, just the way it is often mentioned leads me to believe this might be a city which has been dreamt by Wrekonize. Where ever Wrekonize is describing with vivid depictions of “women walk the night, 10’s and 9’s”  sure sounds like some where I’d like to go where ever it might be. Dr. Chosis returns to my creep my ears out to act as an interlude between “Typical” and “Freak” as he explains it is easy for the subconscious to focus on beauty first, but then foreshadows that “lust, rejection and alienation” will follow.

Lust is exactly what follows on with the Tech N9ne featured “Freak“; best described as porn in music form. It isn’t just the mention of a plethora of bondage paraphernalia which leads me to compare the song to porn however. From both the artists double time flow to the captivating chorus and the electro-prominent production the whole song is worthy of the term ‘eargasm’. Wrek’s talent is on full show for the world to see as he goes toe-to-toe with the founder of the Strange Music label he is signed to who is acknowledged as an underground God and master of the double-time flow. I’m not sure if I could go as far to say that Tech N9ne was upstaged at his own style, but it is definitely up for debate. Lasting as little as two minutes and forty nine seconds, there could be a valid criticism that the song isn’t long enough. Had a third verse been contributed by either Wrekonize or N9ne or even another Strange Music artist then this song could have been a masterpiece. It’s good as it is, and perhaps its best not to fix something which isn’t broken, but it could have been even better. 

Track six’s “Can’t Be Alone” showcases Wrekonize’s vocal abilities as a superbly skilful singer. The first two verses and hooks are sang by the ¡Mayday! emcee with tremendous talent laden with a plethora of insecure lyricism acknowledging alcoholism (“I always knew JD would be my friend”) in another stab at the social network-addicted world we live in today. This is less intelligent with wordplay and metaphors than “Paper Trail” but makes up for that deficit with a fair share of emotion provoking pathos. The intelligence of “Can’t Be Alone” comes within is subtlety. At first listen, the track sounds like Wrek is pleading with a lover not to leave him. However the track is indeed an attack on a world which will watch Wrek bleed but should take a break from the sharing on social networks. The downfall of the track, unusual for such a talented emcee, is in the third verse in which the singing takes a back seat for some rapping. Although the opening two words “check status” set up the verse to be another double entendre ridden showcase from one of the greatest lyricists alive, it ends up a disastrous disappointment. From the flow to the delivery, the verse wouldn’t be so bad on its own but the juxtaposition with the preceding parts of the song is awkward and unsettling. Worth a listen, but probably worth skipping once the bridge comes in. 

“Everything’s floating away, floating away, floating away” in the seventh track as Wrek delivers the most obscure Hip Hop song of recent memory. The frequent references to colours, rock bands and a trippy instrumental courtesy of Will Power’s production leads to one conclusion. A ‘weed anthem’. Whilst everything turns to “Easter colours” and Wrek becomes “out of sync with Pink Floyd” I find myself agreeing with Dr Chosis’ comments at the end of the track; “I don’t know what’s happening in there”. Although it fits in with the concept of the album, “Floating Away” does not fit in with the themes which have propped up in the preceding songs of “The War Within”. It feels out of place, perhaps purposefully so, and not a track I would buy as a single or recommend to anyone. No doubt some fans will love this, but it isn’t to my personal taste and for once I was overjoyed to hear Dr Chosis’ voice to end the track. 

After a shot of “Adrenaline“, Wrekonize teams up with Slaughterhouse emcee Crooked I on a track I anticipated most from the project. Any up-and-coming artist looking to master the double-time flow with a complex rhyme scheme and mind-blowing lyrics should study these two. Unfortunately however, after Dr Chosis’ adrenaline it appears within the rush Wrek and Crook could only manage two of those and forgot about the latter for this track. The two spit so fast upon the instrumental produced by Seven that I could barely keep up reading the lyrics on http://www.rapgenius.com and I could criticise that due to the overly fast delivery, it is harder to enjoy the track. Perhaps the two thought that if they rapped quick enough that their fans wouldn’t bother to take note of their under-par lyricism… Either way this track is a disappointment, but still worth a listen. The hook is a saving grace. 

Drop Dead Beats lay a fantastic foundation for the second Wrekonize-Bernz collaboration of the album which turns “The War Within” back onto the path it was prior to the preceding tracks. “Haunted“‘s upbeat tempo is much needed and welcomed with open arms. It is popular belief that Bernz is largely overshadowed by Wrek, but in “Haunted” it is the featured artist’s verses which stand out. Wrek’s are decent, but Bernz offers a breath of fresh air which in addition to the captivating chorus and poppy production lifts the entire album from its impending doom within three and a half minutes. Arguably the most mainstream production on the album leads “Haunted” to be the track I would recommend to casual music fans in order to attract them to ¡Mayday! and Wrekonize himself. Lyrically the track isn’t on the same level as “Paper Trail” or “Can’t Be Alone” but for the type of song “Haunted” is, that can be forgiven. An unskippable, feel-good masterpiece, sure to be endlessly replayed on my iTunes all summer. It’s such a shame that Dr. Chosis had to come in at the outro to give his expert opinion on this “text book deflection” although as a sucker for introspective records I can’t complain at Chosis’ insistence to focus attention on Wrekonize himself

The melancholic instrumental introducing “Anxiety Attacks” hooked me in within seconds. Each line of the first verse had me falling deeper and deeper in love with the song and then the hook came in and tore me apart. “I’m tryna find the little kid in me” is delivered with such conviction from Wrekonize that even the most cold-hearted person would find it hard to not sympathise with the emcee. A brief reference to social networks begins to over-play the theme but that isn’t enough to ruin a masterpiece. Although the track was released as a single almost two month ago, it never loses its effect. I know not all Hip Hop fans like, or even respect the emotional sub-genre but for those that do, this is a must listen. Even those that don’t, could be converted by the sheer genius writing skills of Wrekonize coupled with DJ Sharpsound’s superb beat. “Anxiety Attacks” would be a stand out song on any album it was placed in, but it epitomises “The War Within” and is perfect (A word I use sporadically) for the project. 

Arguably the most subtle self-hype songs of the last ten years, “Galil” sees Wrek assert his dominance as the “maddest of hatters” as he is “upping the calibre”. It’s hard to argue against him too. The ¡Mayday! emcee moves from insecure admittance of the fact when he moves on “the world sings new songs” to becoming a “cool collect character” after becoming “tired of playing the nice guy” like “Michael Cera”. Wrek’s lyrical ability coupled with convincing delivery allows for the story being constructed to appear possible and believable. Hopefully “Galil” is not an innuendo for Wrekonize penis, because if so that would make the song poor and lose credibility in my eyes. If however the track is Wrekonize asserting himself as powerful above other rappers then I most certainly approve of the way in which he did so. Most self-hype tracks are completely devoid of emotion, instead laden with substance-less, generic quotables. Wrek sets himself apart from other emcee’s by being different in his approach, and this adds to his dominance. I’m sure there will be many who feel “Galil”. 

“I can’t sleep good, eat good, speak good, tell me now what’s a modern man to do?” Well it would appear Wrekonize unintentionally answered his own question. Apparently this modern man who can’t speak good, can rap great and write better upon an brilliant beat to deliver a great track which is as accessible to a mainstream audience as it is credible to Wrek’s core Hip-Hop fan base. I have suspicions that for the same reason however “Modern Man” will divide opinions. Some, like myself, will love its ability to attract two audience, where as others may prefer it to be targeted towards one solitary demographic. Wrek’s attack on “the place where they may get facelifts instead of trying to get a bit of entertainment” feels like a direct dystopian contrast with “Typical”. Apparently this “strange man’s not a god damn idol”, but if the juxtaposition of “Typical” and “Modern Man” is purposely done, then Wrek deserves to be idolised. 

Seven returns to the production boards to deliver a stand out instrumental of the album which features similarities to Kanye West’s “Theraflu/Too Cold/Cold”. “Neon Skies” however, is the opposite, it is pure, hot, fire. The “That’s my fucking jam” ad-lib will without doubt be quoted endlessly by Strange Music fans this summer especially if this track gets the radio play it deserves. The one possible criticism I could make on “Neon Skies” is the fact it is yet another song which features a reference to Jack Daniels. I get that Wrekonize probably suffered from alcoholism in the past, and due to the introspective nature of the album, Wrek is naturally going to mention it. Is it necessary to mention it in just about every song on the album though? I think not. This is one of those songs which will be remixed to the death, by ¡Mayday!, Strange Music and probably any internet emcee who listens to the song. I’d love to hear Gabriel Alexander on this beat on his upcoming mixtape, this would suit him to a tee. 

Wrekonize alligns himself amongst legendary De La Soul emcee Posdnous for the third track of “The War Within”, “Church Road“. The song masks the social commentary and thought provoking, and blasphemous, lyrics with an upbeat Miami Beat Wave instrumental which doesn’t sound to dissimilar to Kanye West’s “Good Life”. The back-to-back beat similarities are where the Kanye-Wrekonize comparisons end however, as their takes on religion are very much different. While Yeezy is claiming to be a God, Wrek and Posdnous questions the existence of a higher power. The ¡Mayday! emcee goes as far as to liken having religious beliefs to slave labor; Posdnous highlights that terrorists do so in the name of God, but if they were truly religious they would pray. The lyrics will have fans of different faiths arguing for an eternity but I think the “who killed argument” is barely a competition. Respect where its due for De La Soul’s Posdnous, but in this particular case, his slower flow and deeper tone sounds out of place on the album despite the quality of his lyricism, Wrekonize’s delivered his better. 

According to Wrekonize and Bun B “there is no such thing as easy money”, but “Easy Money” is very easy to listen to. The two emcees reflect on how despite what outsiders and fans may think, their lives are not easy just because they’re famous. While Wrek mentions still having to pay taxes and the fact his money comes and goes “quicker than the air that gets up into your lungs”, Bun B lets metaphors and wordplay take a back seat in order to tell a story of how money and fame changes the people around you rather than the popular belief it changes the person who gets money. This is a great listen, either to provoke thoughts and change perceptions on fame or just to chill back and enjoy the vibes produced by Will Power. 

Penultimate track “Better Things” is probably my favourite song of the album, although my favourite keeps switching between about seventy percent of the album. The song has no downfall. From the production to the unexpected chorus to Wrekonize filling us on his back story in the battle rap scene. Even Dr Chosis’ re-emergence is accepted after the masterpiece preceding it. Wrek’s first verse is my favourite part of the song, the lyrics, delivery, rhyme scheme, flow, everything is perfect in the first verse. This song alone is worthy of a 5/5 rating. A genuinely great showcase of rapping. Recommended for everyone. Although I concede, non-Hip-Hop fans will probably not love the track, I’d like to think even they could respect how talented Wrekonize comes off in this song. Absolute awesomeness. 

 The closing track of “The War Within” left me with goosebumps and in a state of awe, dumbfounded for seconds after the “Strange! Music.” ending ad-lib of the album. A song dedicated for “the ones that got it real bad” is even more emotion provoking than “Anxiety Attacks” and packed with a plethora of pathos, pulling at heart strings and tear ducts more than any non-introspective song I have ever heard. Wrek adopts a flow which is reminiscent of Yelawolf’s “Radioactive” closer “The Last Song” and with it manages to eclipse it as my favourite album closer that I can think of from the top of my head. Wrek and the featured Liz Suwandi offer a ray of hope for people in truly touching fashion. Wrekonize is giving Joe Budden’s Mood Muzik Entertainment group a run for their money as the better emo-rap emcee, even Trev Rich should be wary of Wrek taking his throne. “Rise” is a wonderful way to close an album. 

In conclusion, “The War Within” delivered some of my favourite songs of 2013 so far, and a couple I’ll be adding to my summer playlist, along with a few to contensd for my favourite song ever. In this album, Wrekonize delivered an array of tracks which differed but never felt too much out of place. A few of the features didn’t work, but they definitely made the album more intriguing than if it were only Strange Music artists collaborating with Wrek. The length of this album will make it hard for the average listener to stay focused for the entire tracklist but the concept may be enough to entice some Hip-Hop fans to maintain attention throughout. Wrekonize has given Wale a run for his money for best album to be released on the 25th of June, and might even be worthy of a spot in the top five albums of the year. A few tracks weren’t for me, but I couldn’t call them fillers because I have no doubt you’ll find another review calling them stand out songs. If I were to recommend one album for my usual readers of this blog to listen to from June, it would be “The War Within”. 


Stand Out Song(s) – Paper Trails / Anxiety Attacks / Better Things / Rise

Album Rating – 4.5/5


Buy “The War Within” from www.strangemusicinc.net now!

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