On first listen, I did not know what to think. I like Mike Wallz; he is a cool dude to say the least. I first met him at Altoona when he played a small gig where my friend Chris Woods opened for two-thirds of Primary Element, a group Wallz is in. As Mike Wallz told me, they are just “cool kids doing cool things.” After sitting down and interviewing him at Arts Fest, I could not agree more. Primary was just a group making music that they would want to listen to, not some average, regular college rap. As a group, their sound on Superheroes and Zombies completely surpasses any other rapper of the same status.
As a former football player, Wallz was able to muster more hype and able to push his name. Although due to injury he did not play this season, he still leads a very active and busy life. He runs The Lion 90.7 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights while staying active with his personal music career. This summer he enlightened me on the fact that he and the twins (the other two members of PE) were going to focus on some individual projects. Being who he is, Wallz was able to open for Big Sean during Hoops Madness as well.
One would think with all of this going on in his life he would be an egotistical jackass right? Well, anyone thinking that could not be more wrong. While he may be a large personality on campus, he is also one of the nicest and most fun-loving guys around. Here is a kid who will have his own radio show, give haircuts, rap larger venues, and still have the decency to strike up a conversation with you. No matter how many times he gets ripped apart by other people he will just brush it off. As I said before I think Mike is a cool dude, so naturally I wanted to like the album.
It took a few listens and discussions with my roommate to come up with a final consensus. My roommate said it perfectly: “It’s really not that bad,” he went on to say that “I was surprised that there are 4 tracks on the album which I will actually listen to again and again.” I thought this is a perfect explanation for his work. Wallz has talent, and the traditional music skills he learned gives him an edge competition wise. The Free Life is an album seven months in the making, and in terms of production it shows.
“The Spirit (Intro)” starts off sounding like a haunting Drake beat. but Wallz is quick to disenchant this thought by lyrically slicing through the downtrodden beat by mixing his personal flow (which is present on his other works) and combining a 90’s feel over the new “spa rap” sound. Then on “Chosen Generation,” he almost completely mimics the sound of “New Day” from Watch The Throne, even quoting “No one man should have all that power,” the ever famous Kanye Line (although that is from MBDTF and not WTT, he is still tipping his hat towards his idols). “Magnum Opus” emanates tones of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean with a creeping hook from fellow PE member Stephen Spottswood: combined with the beat, this song is just as daunting, if not more, than “The Spirit (Intro).” The same song (as seen with “(Intro)”) allows for Mike Wallz to quickly distinguish himself as a different persona while still using some of the same aggression Kendrick puts into his dialogue.
While a lot of the sounds are similar to other popular hip-hop artists, he does bring back that Primary Element sound that hooked me in the first place. “L4 (Live, Life, love, Live it),” “Ivy League,” and “Preach” bring that sense of 90’s hip-hop nostalgia mixed with the new millennium feel which touches with the group’s original roots. He knows that and addresses the people in his life that are important for all the things he has gained and learned from them. Reusing this sound can be seen as an homage of sorts to the people who have gotten him to where he is.
The area where the album struggles though, is lyrics. I feel as if this is the one thing holding Wallz back. Each song has a personal meaning and message to it as heard with “Pretty Green Eyes,” “Free life,” and “Ivy League.” While this works on tracks like “Ivy League” and “Magnum Opus,” he comes off as almost confused lyrically with completely forming his ideas into words. “Free Life,” a song that I would expect to have the most hype/plays behind it, falls off. The track which features recent Bubba Sparxx collaborator Crystal Seth and Dave Joyce is weak to say the least. “YOLO, I’m living the game just like I stole it/I swear that life’s a gamble, playing it like Texas Hold ’em” is a completely out of place line that is followed shortly after by the chorus of “Well I paid all my dues (yayayayaaaa)/Sold a million shoes (yayayayaaaa).” That is only half the chorus, and I thought to myself, a person who is always overly excited for title tracks, “What the hell am I listening to?” Here’s a song with what should be a solid message but is completely forced down the listener’s throat; almost coming off as hipster-ish because he is trying too hard.
This is the same case with “Pretty Green Eyes,” a song about how heartbreak from his ex is still affecting him years later and interfering with his personal life. This is a song that could really let the listener sympathize with and relate to him a on a real level; it instead, creates a barrier with forced rhymes and lyrics. It does not feel sincere like (and I hate to compare people to the 3 time softest rapper alive) Drake does on some of his most heartfelt songs on Take Care. Creating a relationship with an audience is what will carry an artist far.
When it comes down to it though, The Free Life is a surprisingly good album for the level that Wallz is at right now, and it definitely makes him standout in the crowd. I truly hope he can make something out of this career and work on any flaws he sees in the future.
The Free Life (on a weighted scale): 8/10
Key Tracks: “Chosen Generation,” “Magnum Opus,” “L4 (Live, Life, Love, Live it),” “Ivy League,” “Preach”
Special thanks to Fran Martino for the input…even if you do like Drake.