The title of Tech N9ne’s new album, Something Else, could serve as a great catchphrase to explain the rapper to someone who’s only vaguely familiar with his music. Tech has sold more than 1 million albums over his career, but there are plenty of people who fall into that category. Operating in the fringes of the mainstream (on purpose, it seems), the Kansas City native is the Jay-Z of independent hip-hop, yet his face paint and high-energy shows suggest eccentricity. That couldn’t be more misleading as Aaron Yates, 42, is a savvy businessman who co-founded his own label, Strange Music, has signed multiple artists and, according to Forbes, made $6 million last year. Touring continuously in markets where most rappers never set foot, Tech satiates a cult-like fan base of loyal “technicians” who gobble up everything Strange Music, from albums to merchandise and face paint.
Tech’s latest project, Something Else, is a well-crafted record that largely succeeds in showcasing his mastery of different tempos. Tech is one of few artists who can pull off genre-bending collaborations with the likes of The Doors (really), Serj Tankian of System of A Down and T-Pain. At 24 tracks, however, the album is bit bloated and overwhelming. More is not always better. In Tech’s case, high productivity and complete creative control are to blame as much as lack of major-label A&Rs who would have cut the album in half. According to album credits, Something Else is actually three parts – Fire, Water and Earth – with Tech likening himself to a force of nature.
Following a brief intro skit featuring a Kansas City TV news anchor describing a mysterious phenomenon – Tech himself, of course – Something Else announces the Strange Music leader’s arrival with the jarring “Straight Out the Gate.” The rock guitar riffs spiral behind Tech’s aggressive double-time rhymes alongside rhymes from Strange Music label mate Krizz Kaliko. With the aforementioned Tankian’s opera-like vocals, the Michael “Seven” Summers-produced anthem serves as a no-holds-barred intro to Tech’s world. Seven provides on most of the LP.
“B.I.T.C.H.” features a very familiar Auto-Tuned T-Pain chorus and traces of snap music while one of the standouts on the album – and one of hip-hop’s best songs this year – is concept track “Fragile.” With Kendrick Lamar, Strange Music’s rock/rap band ¡mayday! and singer Kendall Morgan riding shotgun and passenger, the song takes music journalists to task for ignoring artists’ humanity. Right after showing this thoughtful side, Tech exchanges fierce bars with Game and femcee Angel Davenport on the “Priorities.”
The audio and lyrical onslaught continues throughout the rest of Something Else. “So Dope (They Wanna)” is a high-energy posse cut with Wrekonize, Twisted Insane and a scene-stealing verse from Atlantic Records femcee Snow Tha Product. The Drumma Boy-produced mid-tempo “See Me” features a hook from B.o.B and Wiz Khalifa. It’s standard hip-hop fare until “Strange 2013” featuring The Doors comes on and sends chills down the spine as a “Strange Days” sample is juxtaposed against Tech’s rhyme acrobatics. Dr. Dre’s right-hand-man Fred Wreck co-produced the song, and it shows in the intricate drum programming and arrangement.
Something Else is exhaustive, and at times, a listener will feel like s/he is standing behind a jet engine. Obviously Tech N9ne doesn’t have anything to prove this far into his career, so for him to thrust himself as hard as he does is a testament to his passion. It would be unfair to not take that into account when digesting the album, but it does mean that high metabolism and thick skin are absolutely necessary to absorb Tech’s latest.