You’ve heard the phrase “hard work pays off” quite a few times, I’m sure. While it’s rooted in truth, what they don’t tell you is that sometimes the hard work takes an excruciatingly long time to pay off. Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne has been releasing music through his own label, Strange Music, since 1999 and is still considered underground. This is in spite of the fact that he’s sold over a million albums and has been heard in video games (he’s even been an unlockable character in one) and television shows. With his thirteenth full-length album, ‘Something Else,’ Tech N9ne just might have some crossover success in his future.
The fact that this guy has been underground for so long makes little sense; he’s one of the most highly-skilled rappers to pick up a microphone. “Straight Out the Gate” features a dark and powerful beat that Tech flows a whirlwind of lyrics over, as is his usual style. He proclaims himself a technician and it’s basically impossible to argue with him. I could quote lyrics, but it would do the man little justice; go listen for yourself. System of a Down’s Serj Tankian blesses this song’s hook with his usual majestic vocals and the heavy guitar riff towards the end just amplifies the energy on display.
The album’s first promotional single, “B.I.T.C.H.” (an acronym for Breaking In To Colored Houses), features T-Pain on the hook, but this is still hardcore Hip-Hop. A minor-key piano loop, strings and choir sample create a dark atmosphere over booming 808s as Tech rhymes about being the “first rapper to cross over to black folks”. It’s apparent at this point that Tech is quite confident that he’s made an excellent album and doesn’t care what the music media might think about it. This is too dark and aggressive for radio, but don’t be surprised to hear this song booming from someone’s car at a red light.
This album is split into three sections; Fire, Water and Earth. The first few songs are unquestionably aggressive in either sound or lyrical content; usually both. “Love 2 Dislike Me” features a chugging guitar riff that Tech raps over in high speed and a chorus that sounds like it would be right at home on Rock radio. The album takes a somewhat melancholy turn starting with “Fortune Force Field”, a song that reflects on Tech’s 20 plus years in music and previous shady record deals. The “Fire” section concludes with “Priorities,” a brief yet vivid and intense portrait of street life featuring Angel Davenport and Game. The three emcees trade verses with speed and precision over a beat made of running footsteps, a beating heart, sirens and a dramatic string section. Yes, it is as cool as it sounds.
The “Water” section is comprised of three club-bangers, starting with “Dwamn,” a song likely to be an underground smash, with plenty of lines about drinking heavily and chasing women. “So Dope (They Wanna)” takes this theme to the next step. Where is that, you ask? Well, what do you think “they wanna” do exactly? This section wraps up with “See Me”, a fitting closer to this hard-partying block of songs and another likely candidate to bring some mainstream success for Tech N9ne; especially since it features B.O.B. and Wiz Khalifa.
When “Something Else” was first announced, Tech N9ne (real name, Aaron Yates) was quoted as saying “it’s a very human album,” referring to it’s contradictions and the personal nature of some of the songs. The “Earth” section is where we find Yates getting the most personal he ever has on an album. “That’s My Kid” is a heartfelt song on the level of 2Pac’s “Dear Mama,” with Cee-Lo Green, Big K.R.I.T. and Kutt Calhoun delivering a message of love to their children, both born and unborn. This is another one that could spread like wildfire through the mainstream; let’s face it, people love a tear-jerker. “Meant To Happen” is an autobiographical tale that addresses his Mother’s epilepsy; his brush with death at the age of 21 and closes with Yates addressing and coming to terms with his inner darkness.
The album’s closer, “Strange 2013,” features a Jim Morrison sample and performances by the remaining members of The Doors, the inspiration behind the name of the Strange Music label. Recorded before the passing of Ray Manzarek, Tech N9ne takes a moment before the song starts to show respect to the fallen musician before laying into the organ-infused beat with a sense of triumph, once again reflecting on his career. This time around he’s looking to the future with a sense of accomplishment and the intention of pushing his music and his label further into the limelight. With an album this solid from front to back, if Tech N9ne doesn’t wind up on more fans’ “Top 5 Favorite Rapper” lists, something is just not right in the world of music.