At first glance – or in this case, first listen – Tech N9ne and his music seem like the ultimate exercise in performance art. It all hints of a world where nothing is what it seems – — smoke and mirrors. But if you have the guts to dive into the rabbit hole that is Tech N9ne, you’ll find some genuine and honest art that bends reality as it bounces between the very real emotions of a man living his life and the utterly bizarre world occupied by the mind of the same man. “I write what I want and I write what I feel. I know that the fans want me to be myself. I know that for a fact and I want to please them,” says Tech N9ne, possibly the world’s biggest independent rapper, from New York where he’s exhausted running press for his new album, Something Else.
Something Else is a deeply personal and often surreal album, working as a sonic overview of the many facets of the man born Aaron Yates. Inspiration for the album literally struck the Earth around Tech N9ne and jolted him onto the road that eventually led to Something Else. “It’s a story inspired by something that scared the shit out of me: when that meteorite hit over Russia. I always thought that’s how we’re going to all go: asteroids getting through the atmosphere. I saw that, I thought, ‘Holy fuck, we’re dead. We couldn’t see it because the sun was blocking it. Oh my god!’ This is all I needed to know.”
Put together more methodically, with a narrative weaving through the album, Something Else is a bold step in a genre that’s increasingly geared towards singles. Tech explains the fascinating structure of his latest creation. “Through the course of the album when the asteroid first lands, there’s fire. The fire songs are the darker songs, more angry and confused. As the album progresses you have the water level, which is more calm. The water level is really short, the calm. I guess I’m never calm. Then it goes to Earth, which I made my heavenly level. It has songs like “That’s My Kid” and “Burn the World,” — burn the world in a good way. When you hear the song, it’s not like ‘burn the world and blow it up!’ It’s not that. If you get a lighter in everyone’s hand, the world will be brighter, the sky will be fire. Brighten up the dark spaces where people do bad things, and maybe bad things won’t happen.”
It’s a milestone record for Tech N9ne, as he managed to fill some long-standing dreams like collaborating with some of his musical heroes. “Ever since I heard that song ‘Sugar’ on MTV years ago, I was a System of a Down fan. … I tried to get him back in the Anghellic days, but we couldn’t get to him,” recalls Tech, speaking of System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian., but this time was different. “I didn’t know until he sent [the sample music] back and I was told, ‘You got Serj. He wants to talk to you.’ I was in the studio and he called me, man. I was so nervous because I think he’s such an artist and I’ve been a fan of his music since day one. He said ‘Tech, I never heard of you before this. But it was so good, I went and got all your music and now you make me run faster on the treadmill.’” The result of all this shared inspiration is the crushing album opener “Straight Out Of The Gate.”
There was a single moment that crystallized it all for Tech, that made him know he was doing something incredibly special and unique. Tech managed to get the Doors, his biggest musical inspiration, together in a room for a track. “How did that happen?! What’s going on in my life that I deserve all these blessings? I think it’s because I gave so much and it’s coming back to me tenfold. Being able to work with Ray Manzereck before he passed and Robbie Krieger and John Dunsmore and have Jim Morrison on the chorus…they’re the people that inspired me to do Strange Music. That’s only in fairytales, dude,” Tech says with the appropriate amount of awe. “They [The Doors] were in the studio with me, looking through the window at me as I was recording it[Strange 2013], giving me the thumbs up. They said, ‘You were in Jim’s spot.’ I was like, ‘Oh man! I’m right here, for real?!’ I got to share that with the fans and put it on my album. Damn.”
Sometimes inspirations come from negative places as well, and those are the ones that draw some of the most profound moments out of Tech N9ne. While most of the things written and said about him are positive, every once in a while a critic knows how to hit the right nerve. “This guy said, ‘Though his style may be redundant and gimmicky, his show is tight.’ Fuck you! How can you even say ‘redundant’ to Tech N9ne who prides himself on having every flow different? ‘Gimmicky.’ Okay, you don’t get the face paint, but it was painted by my dead homebody, Brian Dennis, in ’94, so it’s offensive and those two things were enough to set me off,” recalls Tech of the inspiration behind “Fragile,” one of the albums most captivating moments. “And thank God he said it because it inspired that beautiful song.”
The face paint, while a tribute to both his Kansas City roots and his traditional African heritage, has warped peoples’ perception of Tech for years. “People don’t listen if they see something they don’t like. It was just me expressing my spirituality. I look more like my ancestors, but no one over here is used to that shit. But I don’t give a fuck. If you don’t like it, I don’t give a fuck, that’s me.”
It’s contributed to the problems Tech has had breaking into his own community, as until recently he was shunned by a large portion of the black community. “They thought I was a devil worshipper after Anghellic in 2001. They saw the artwork, me as an angel falling into the world of temptation; they saw me accept drugs, liquor and naked women from the demon and if you accept all those things, the result is the beast. They saw the devil suit like, ‘Ah , hell no!’” laughs Tech. “Slowly but surely, my people have been coming back, and I won’t give up on my people.” It’s the anchor that makes “B.I.T.C.H.” (Breaking In To Coloured Homes) such a juggernaut of a song—another powerful highlight on Something Else.
I’m relatively new to the world of Tech N9ne and Strange Music, but I can attest to you, dear reader, that there are few artists as consistently inconsistent and as willing to push their own boundaries. You may not be into everything you hear, but Something Else will have something that you’re bound to like. And failing that, you will feel while listening to this album. Art made with such honest emotion is hard to ignore.
Tech N9ne w/ Krizz Kaliko Aug.29, Sugar Nightclub,
Tickets $25, VIP packages available at therealtechn9ne.com for $99
Visit martlet.ca/contest to enter to win a pair of tickets!