Rappers talk about hustling and the proverbial grind ad nauseum. But what exactly does that mean? To hear what are presumably, middle class individuals bitch and moan about the so-called hardships of writing rhymes and rocking crowds when the national unemployment rate stands at 7.6%, kind of screams, “Third World Problem” doesn’t it?
For years, Tech N9ne, Travis O’Guin and the rest of Strange Music have avoided that trap by preaching the gospel of hard work, smart investments and genuine connections with fans. There’s no mystery and no talk of how hard they have it, just regular appearances on Nielsen SoundScan charts, tour dates in pretty much any city you can name and some critical acclaim to boot.
“We’re tryna capture our human condition,” Bernbiz explained, when reflecting on the group’s latest album, Believers. “We’re just as worried as everybody else about our drinking water. We’re just as worried as everybody if we’re gonna have sex with a girl. They are the same fucking thing, and the same emotion goes into it. We’re not the type of dudes to be in a box, man.”
In the spirit of the everyman ethos he mentioned, shortly after providing the above quote, Bernz, Wrekonize and Gianni Cash of ¡MAYDAY! could be found offloading their own equipment up a few flights of stairs for a live show in LA’s Silverlake neighborhood. No roadies? No problem. Fans reward the 12 to 16 hour days they put in recording as part of a communal exchange. And before one of the many tour performances they refer to as “summer vacation,” the group welcomed HipHopDX onto their tour bus to explain how all of the above was captured on both ¡MAYDAY!’s Believers and Wrekonize’s solo outing, The War Within. Two projects from members of the same collective within the same three-week span? No problem.
Wrekonize & Bernbiz Compare Recording Versus Touring
HipHopDX: What’s it like writing on tour?
Bernbiz: It’s kinda hard to write on tour. For me, personally, my notes section is off the charts when I’m tour. I’d rather prep for songs I wanna write when I get home. This is our time to live with people; It’s time to feed the beast. The cool shit about tour is that we get to hear stories and interact with people. When we’re making albums, we’re in a fucking cave. We’re in a studio all the time. Wrek was doing his freestyle series a whole month leading up to his album, so he’s been recording, and we do have a mic. We’ll get stuff done. If there’s a feature that needs to pop up, we’re the type of people who record in hotel rooms and make beats. The beats is one thing I gotta say—Gianni Cash, Oobergeek, everybody—‘cause the road really lends itself to making beats. You don’t have to think too much and just vibe, where as when you’re writing, it’s all about this shit and you have to be alone and introverted. You don’t want nobody lookin at you do shit like, “Don’t look at me mothafucka, I’m writing!”[Laughs] That’s the kind of shit about writing...when it’s beats, you can put some shit on hot on the speakers and be like, “I made this shit…” Twenty hours of the day Oobergeek has his headphones on. This motherfucker don’t even look at us during the day. He just got his headphones on all day. That’s tour life, bro. In a nutshell or in a bus shell.
DX: You guys mentioned being in the studio for both the ¡MAYDAY! album and Wreck’s solo project. Now that you’re on the road, how does it feel?
Wrekonize: So good.
Bernbiz: It’s like a vacation.
Wrekonize: There have been moments between albums, and he’s been working with me heavy on my album too. He’s been in the trenches with me, so we’re both looking at each other like, “Man,” Tour...it’s stressful. The last tour we were on—because it was so long...a record breaking tour—it was like, “When we get out on this next tour it’s gonna feel so good.” It’s kinda like vacation in a sense, because we stressed out on making these albums so hard that to get out now, just promote them, meet people and do less stressful activities was so cool.
Bernbiz: Being on tour means you are paid to have fun and entertain. If you’re having fun, the crowd feeds off on that and they’re having fun too. That’s what we’re here to do. The day that we left on tour officially marks that you are done with recording. That’s another good thing…it’s almost like the last day of school type of shit. Like summer’s here...yeah!
DX: The material from Take Me To Your Leader has people are already lined up outside for tonight’s show. What was the thought or feeling going from that into these two new, separate projects?
Bernbiz: We wanted a little bit of keeping some of the same in terms of the way we approach the music production, but we also wanted to expand our wings in terms of subject matter. We wanted to make sure we had the thread going with Take Me To Your Leader, because we feel like we still have a lot more shit to say musically and vocally. With Wrek, it’s one of those long time coming kind of things, ‘cause the pressure was there so that his release stood up to the ¡Mayday! albums and also showcased all his aspects that aren’t ¡MAYDAY!...
Wrekonize: To not take away from ¡MAYDAY!, but ¡MAYDAY! already has a crazy work schedule. We’re talking about all these projects we wanna do—solo projects for him, solo for me, instrumental projects. Trying to find the slots for that is tough, ‘cause ¡MAYDAY! moves so much that when do we do any of that? We had to arm wrestle a little bit, but we ended up finding a slot, and it ended up being kind of close together. But hopefully the cross promo helps.
DX: What was that like...the arm wrestling?
Bernbiz: It’s just kind of like, “Hey, when are we gonna do this? We gotta put out two albums!” The basic logistics of... we really got a lot of music to do and very short amount of time basically. Whereas for [Wrekonize], for your first album you really want time. You have to adjust what the fuck you’re doing and how you wanna showcase yourself. We really had to work and go to the studio everyday pulling 12 to 16 hour days in there. We’re happy to be done and excited to show the world all the shit we’ve been doing.
Bernbiz Says, “¡Mayday!’s an idea.”
DX: You guys have described the recording process as an early and late shift with different members. How much does that process differ when you’re working on two albums?
Bernbiz: It’s basically the same process.
Wrekonize: We opened it up a little bit more for an all day and all night kinda vibe. [Bernbiz] started working all day and all night, and I was trying to get there as much as I could too. I feel like we dropped the shifts a little bit, ‘cause we started working closely with Gianni on production and all coming together to make the ¡MAYDAY! album happen. So the shifts kinda died out a little bit. Everybody was there.
Bernbiz: What’s great about us is that everybody is multi-talented and brings their own things to the table. People go do homework on shit then bring it. Then we all work on that beat right there and make it different. ¡MAYDAY!’s an idea. It’s not about who does that and who does this; it’s just a vehicle to get our ideas out and our dreams out by any means necessary.
DX: What do you want fans and listeners to take away when they think of ¡MAYDAY!?
Wrekonize: I think it’s about energy. Pure energy. People go to our shows, and a lot of times can’t really describe what it is they love about the show. They always mention that the energy is crazy. It’s nothing that they’ve ever felt before. No matter which one of us is on stage or what project it is, that ¡MAYDAY! idea is there, which is just angst of energy that wants to move and make shit happen. That’s the vibe we always felt on stage. Our music has that angst to it. I feel like that’s why I like ¡MAYDAY! as an idea and not just these dudes on stage.
Wrekonize On Balancing Solo Work With ¡Mayday! Projects
DX: What do you think, Wrek, is difference between ¡MAYDAY! and Wrek project?
Wrekonize: I think it’s a certain part of production that we normally wouldn’t go in ¡MAYDAY! land. Then also, where certain concepts of mine that were more personal. When we’re doing ¡MAYDAY! stuff, we’re on a global scale. This is kinda writing in a diary for a solo project…the things I wanna talk about in my personal life that’s more specific to me. When we go ¡MAYDAY!, we go across the world, but [on my solo album] it’s really about more personable concepts.
DX: Do you feel it twice right now?
Wrekonize: I feel so comfortable in ¡MAYDAY! that I’m not super nervous about the ¡MAYDAY! album. I feel like it’s so good. I feel so comfortable in my own shoes a part of ¡MAYDAY!, ‘cause I stepped away from solo stuff for a while. To me, Believers is a solid ass album. We put out an album out already a year ago that has the same foundations in it, and now it’s bigger and more mature.
Bernbiz: It’s like we learned how to drive the car.
Wrekonize: We built off the foundation of what people already love. I feel like we’re taking it a step higher, where as for a solo project, it’s very new and crafted in a different kind of way. I’ve been wanting to put out a solo album since I’ve been working with them like eight years ago, before I was even in ¡MAYDAY!. The angst of that coming out and the reception of it is, I’m excited and also super terrified. It’s just a very strange feeling after all these years of build up.
Bernbiz: Your album has a lot of different notes and colors in it. And at first, when you’re making it, it’s almost scary ‘cause wow there’s a lot of colors. But now it’s gonna be interesting in seeing how when people hear it...it makes total sense. It’s gonna be cool to see that. People are gonna have a broad spectrum of likes ‘cause you touch on so many different styles on it.
Wrekonize: It’s a kind of album you put on a desk and someone in the industry is like, “Where do I go with this album?”
Bernbiz: Is it club hits? I hear club hits on here, but then I hear old school kinda boom boppy stuff, then I hear...
Wrekonize: Motown type shit. The three singles I released for it “Anxiety Attacks,” “Freak,” and now “We Got Soul” are three totally different kinds of records. Everyone’s coming back saying they like the variety. The notes are so different. We’re thinking, “Damn you haven’t heard the half yet; there’s 17 tracks on the album.“
DX: You brought up “We Got Soul.” If I’m not mistaken, there’s a line about your mother being an exotic dancer, right?
Wrekonize: Yeah. I had to call her to check if it was OK. I’m real close to my mom, and she was a single mom when my parents split up. She was dancing back in the day, and I knew what it was… I remember when I got a little older, we had this conversation about it, but I never talked about it in a rhyme or mentioned it. I’ve always been open about it with friends, ‘cause I’m not ashamed of it at all, but I never put it down. That was the opening of the album, and I was talking about both my parents. That was something as a kid I felt like, “Damn, my mom’s doin it for real.” She was doing whatever she had to do to feed us. I did call her, and I said, “Hey, mom. If I said this…” And she said, “I love it.” My mom’s British, so she don’t care. She said, “Fuck yeah, go for it.” It’s a candid line, and I know people like to know the history behind the artist. So for me, that was that.
DX: You guys have girlfriends? What do they say when you’re on tour?
Bernbiz: This is our job, man. If you’re with somebody that loves you and really wants to build with you, then this is what it is. Our job is to bring happiness to people.
Wrekonize: You gotta have a ride or die companion for them to be cool with you doing what you do. There’s a weird stigma about musicians with what happens at shows. There’s alcohol and drinking and all that. It has the same vibe as being a crab fisherman on some “Deadliest Catch” type of shit. These guys go for three months at a time; they go out to make their living and then come home and chill for a couple months or whatever. This is that vibe, and luckily for us, we’re in the age where you can FaceTime your girl and call her. There’s all these ways to make contact and bridge the gap. You definitely have to have a certain kind of woman to be out on the road. If you could sustain a relationship through the “Hostile Takeover Tour” you could pretty much survive anything.
Bernbiz: A lot of the times it doesn’t work. Some motharfuckas go through girlfriends like crazy in this business, and some people are able to find a way to do it.
DX: Why did you choose the title Believers?
Bernbiz: We felt like we wanted to talk about the people who are true ¡MAYDAY! fans and address them. This album was talking to them in a way. Metaphorically, we feel like the universe gives you what you want, and we feel like we’re blessed by the universe, ‘cause we’re strong enough to ask and do what we need to do to make things happen. We feel like the universe works for you. Not to be corny, but you gotta believe it to see it. That’s why the cover is this little kid with a slingshot that just took down a helicopter, you know? It’s about seeing is believing. That’s what ¡MAYDAY! is. When you see us, you believe us. We turn people on all the time.
DX: For fans of Take Me To Your Leader, there was a lot of conversations in and around that album. From war, to social commentary, unborn children...
Bernbiz: And “Hardcore Bitches!”
DX: Yes, “Hardcore Bitches” with Murs...
Bernbiz: We think the human condition is fucking complicated. I don’t give a fuck what anybody tells me… revolutionaries gotta get ass too. We live in a gray world. I’m not tryna portray some shit we’re not. We’re humans, and this is it. We’re tryna capture our human condition. We’re just as worried as everybody else about our drinking water. We’re just as worried as everybody if we’re gonna have sex with a girl. They are the same fucking thing, and the same emotion goes into it. We’re not the type of dudes to be in a box, man.
Wrek & Bernz Detail Their Collective Growth On “Believers”
DX: What kind of conversations did you have with Believers?
Bernbiz: Conversations with ourselves in terms with where we’re headed.
Wrekonize: We have a song called “Marathon Man” inspired by the Boston bombing. Instead of a preachy gotta-save-the-world record, we wanted to talk about it because it was crazy event so we wanted to do a story on it when you’re in the race. Imagine a story of you in the race and there’s a bomb. You still runnin’, ‘cause you wanna win that race. You don’t wanna let that event stop you from doing what you wanna do in your life.
Bernbiz: We’re all in that race, and we still tryin’ to eat and make it through this day.
Wrekonize: Plus every album ¡MAYDAY! makes, we gotta do a song on social commentary in terms of social networking and our connections online, ‘cause it’s so a part of our daily lives on phones or iPads or whatever. We’re always trying to find another way to talk about that. We have another one of those on the album that came out really good called “Unplug.”
Bernbiz: Which is a party record too. We don’t wanna be preachy and hit people across the head with our shit.
DX: Are you worried fans might be confused with a ¡MAYDAY! record and a Wrekonize record coming out at the same time?
Bernbiz: The real ¡MAYDAY! fans want that from us anyway. I get asked all the time when my solo shit is coming out. [Wrekonize] was always asked about his solo shit. This goes back to ¡MAYDAY! being an idea. ¡MAYDAY!’s like the Wu in that sense. We’re breaking those kinds of traditions about being a group. We are interchanging all the time.
Wrekonize: The fans are so up on what we’re doing and who we are. At this point, touring with Strange twice, I was more worried about our dynamic as a group, especially because I was the first one to do a solo project. That’s kinda like the guinea pig. Everyone’s planning on doing something. I was not scared of the fans at all, I was more afraid that it would affect the group, ‘cause we have a great dynamic. It’s big for everyone in the group to have been able to do that. Even though he was with me working on the album with me, still—there’s moments where with lesser people—it could affect the relationship, because somebody’s gonna do something on the side. That was my biggest concern, and it ended up being fine, ‘cause we worked together on it. It was a great experience, and it came out good. We truly believe it’s only gonna help the group.
DX: One last question. Bernz, youre working on a solo project. How much progress are you making on that front?
Bernbiz: I’ve recorded a few songs. I’m always recording and taking notes, and I’m not rushing it. But I’m hoping to have something out next year. You never know.
DX: So the instrumental album would be Gianni’s and Plex Luthor, or is that the whole crew?
Bernbiz: Yeah, theyve done stuff before with the Take Me To Your Leader instrumentals. We do a lot of production for a lot of people. We have an amazing song on the Tech N9ne album that I can’t give you any details on yet, cause there’s a super duper feature on there thats gonna kill everybody. But we did a really amazing song for Tech N9ne. We’re producing for other people as well and writing for people. You never know if you’re hearing something from the radio and it’s actually from us.
DX: Hows it been with Rittz and the release of Jonny Valiant on Strange?
Bernbiz: It’s dope. It’s just more validation that Strange is growing and validation that he’s fucking an amazing emcee and artist. That’s something we’ve known for a while already, and it was really dope to see that shit be so successful. Everyone’s starting to get their own kingdom of their own and then bring it together. It’s really dope.
Wrek & Bernz Talk Future Solo Works & Battle Rap
DX: This one’s for you Wrek. Daylyt recently got naked on stage during the Don’t Flop battle in the UK. He basically stripped down to a g-string...
Bernbiz: Please tell me he won that battle. Cause if you do all that and lose the battle, oh man...
DX: Is Battle Rap too big now? Are there too many leagues?
Wrekonize: You’re gonna make me sound like an old man with this shit. I don’t like to put boundaries on anything, but there’s moments where it starts to get so far away from the rhyme and actual lyrics of it. They lost me a little bit when they [stopped rhyming over a] beat. When they took the beat away, man… I got into it for the music. Then they took the music. There’s still cadence and all that involved, but then there started to be props and printing stuff off of Facebook...
Bernbiz: It started to be a comedy act.
Wrekonize: It’s getting a little too WWF for my taste, personally. I still enjoy it. It’s cool when the lyrics are put together well, and these guys are rhyming four-minute verses. Sometimes these guys are doing acrobatics and four-minute long verses, and I still love that. But then there are moments where I’m like, “Don’t go too far, now.” It’ll go over the edge.
Bernbiz: The one thing that makes up for the fact that they don’t freestyle anymore is that the fact that these mothafuckas memorize like eight-minute long rhymes, bro. I gotta give ‘em mad props. They be writing these crazy long verses, bro. That’s a skill that’s new.
Wrekonize: I still love where it’s at now, and I enjoy watching it. But when they do stuff like that, the comical side of me wants to be like, “Ah it’s pretty hilarious.” Then there’s a gimmicky side that’s too much. I’m not a gimmicky dude. We drink Jack Daniels, and that’s what we do. So there are moments where they could be pushing it too far. But who the fuck am I to say? I ain’t in that scene anymore, so I can’t really comment on it.
DX: Anything to add?
Wrekonize: We’re coming out with a ¡MAYDAY! app for the iPhone. A ¡MAYDAY! app that a fan in England made for us. It’s a cool app; check it out. It’s got all the info and instrumentals we’ve never released before. Then it’s got all our videos. It’s like a condensed website, but it’s slicker in design for the phone.
Bernbiz: We’re going on tour nonstop until November or December of this year with Tech and then Warped Tour after this. We’re out here man, come check us. Believers July 16. The War Within June 25.