Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic somewhere in Michigan amid a 60-date nationwide tour, Benjamin Miller (better-known as Wrekonize) is feeling philosophical. The rapper is one-sixth of Miami's underground hip-hop group ¡Mayday!, and his band is days away from the September 18 release date of its new album, Future Vintage. "It's a crossroads for us," the rapper says. "This album sums up everywhere we've been and is a link between everything we've done and where we're trying to go."
Formed in Miami in 2003, ¡Mayday! started as a two-man crew consisting of founding members Bernz and Plex Luthor. After signing to SouthBeat Records, they invited label-mate Wrekonize to join them and eventually expanded to six members. "They were going five years before I joined. I knew them from the scene and was a fan before I joined. When they needed another vocalist, it was a no-brainer to get together."
Miller was born in London and moved with his musician parents to North Miami Beach when he was 3 years old. He has also lived in Hollywood and Little Haiti and now calls Doral home. He believes every area of South Florida has had an influence on the group's music, with members spread from downtown Miami to Pinecrest to Homestead. "All of us grew up in musical families, but in Miami, there's music everywhere," he says.
Despite the inspiration, ¡Mayday!'s hometown also brought challenges. "Miami isn't a live-music city. It's a DJ town," Miller says. "You really have to cut your teeth and get really good to get any attention."
In 2011, ¡Mayday! signed with Tech N9ne's label, Strange Music, and with each ensuing album release, the hip-hop crew has climbed higher on the album charts.
The group's latest record has disparate influences, with touches of '70s soul and Stankonia-era Outkast. "We get that [Outkast] comparison a lot," Miller says proudly. "We also get the Roots 'cause we're a live hip-hop band."
A majority of the lyrics on Future Vintage were co-written by Wrekonize and Bernz. "We start with the hooks together, and it usually comes from conversation," Miller explains. "Sometimes Bernz will write ideas alone, or I'll go in a corner and come up with a verse by myself. But mostly it's together, and we've been writing long enough that it's almost subconscious."
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¡Mayday! enlisted the help of friends on Future Vintage, with more than a quarter of the album's 19 tracks having guest spots. "We had a lot of featured artists in the beginning [of our career]. Later albums, we kind of got away from that. This one we came up with a wish list of collaborators." They called for contributions from many of their Strange Music cohorts, such as Ces Cru and Stevie Stone. They were particularly excited to work with Nigerian Afrobeat legend Femi Kuti for "Something in the Air."
Now, two weeks into a two-month tour that began in Lake Worth and will snake through nearly every corner of the country, ¡Mayday! has persevered through traffic hell and a broken-down bus. But the guys are pleased with the audiences' response thus far. "The East Coast generally isn't our strongest market, but it's been a nice surprise, the crowds we've been getting. It's a high-energy show, and people don't expect our level of energy. They have to gather themselves together at the end and ask, 'What happened?'"
They're eagerly awaiting the final tour date, October 24, because of its location: Blackbird Ordinary. "A lot of times we end in Kansas City — where our label is — or some random city. This time, it's going to be nice to end it at home in Miami."