Though never the most popular or critically renowned of MCs, Tech N9ne nonetheless deserves some plaudits.
While many ostentatiously “innovative” rappers have forged careers that, for all their hype, still depended upon major label largess, Tech N9ne has carved his own stubborn path through the industry.
Tech N9ne, born Aaron Dontez Yates, began his career in the early ‘90s. A son of the Midwest hip hop scene of Kansas City, he managed to build a solid reputation in the years leading up to the turn of the millennium. He released a couple of respectable but widely ignored albums and showed up in guest slots along with the likes of Eminem, the RZA and Xzibit.
While his first three studio albums landed without much fanfare, his third outing, Absolute Power, wound up claiming a decent chart position, owing mostly to the MC’s ballsy insistence on offering the LP as a free download (this was 2002, mind you).
By the mid-aughts, Tech was racking up album sales in the millions, despite his insistence on remaining outside of the major label system and the critical mainstream.
What’s so impressive about Tech N9ne’s career is that he has managed to gain solid commercial footing without the help of either the major label marketing apparatus or the adoration of critics. During the past few years he has collaborated with mainstream superstars like Lil Wayne and maintained a healthy presence in such counter-cultural orgies as the Gathering of the Jugallos, managing all the while to avoid belonging to either of the aforementioned cultural “scenes.”
To be fair, Tech’s public image does list towards ICP’s odd-smelling kingdom, but the MC can at the same time talk credibly about collaborating with Jay-Z, a feat that will remain forever outside of Violent J’s grasp.
The music that has allowed for Tech N9ne’s rise is a similarly protean affair. Though he falls clearly under the rubric of gangster rap (and sometimes horrorcore), Tech N9ne has dabbled in techno, rock and funk, with generally respectable results.
This week marked the release of his E.B.A.H. EP, a record meant to sate fans until the appearance of American Psycho, an album that Tech put together with his rock side project, K.A.B.O.S.H.
There aren’t many rappers who could effectively pull off this kind of stylistic shuffle. That Tech N9ne can do so is a testament to his remarkable ability to take control of his own fate, a skill that, for my money, is at least as impressive as his work as an MC.