Long before hair dye, face paint, gothic iconography, and claims of independence flooded the culture, a revolution unassumingly brewed in Kansas City during the nineties…
Tech N9ne redefined what a rapper could be. His motormouth wordplay and otherworldly rockstar showmanship boldly broke the hip-hop mold, but his dark, dynamic, and definitive vision quietly set the tone for two decades to follow. Founded in 2000, he architected a culture with his label, Strange Music. Kids moshed at his sold-out shows long before the anarchic rage of Soundcloud rap. He invited future superstars such as Kendrick Lamar, MGK, Jay Rock, and Slaughterhouse on their first proper tours. Outside of the system, he unassumingly ascended to the status of “most successful independent rapper of all-time,” garnering a platinum plaque for “Caribou Lou” and two gold plaques for “Fragile” [feat. Kendrick Lamar, ¡Mayday!, & Kendall Morgan] and “Hood Go Crazy” [feat. B.o.B & 2 Chainz]. All 19 of his albums charted in the top of the Billboard Top Albums Chart, and he made history by achieving “the most top 10 albums on the rap chart ever.” Plus, he scored four debuts in the Top 5 of the Top 200. Not to mention, he generated billions of streams and sold hundreds of thousands of tickets for headline shows. A regular on Forbes’ “Cash Kings” list, he graced the XXL cover and performed on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE! As real recognizes real, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Slipknot, System of a Down, Deftones, and Gary Clark, Jr. all jumped at the chance to collaborate. His empire also expanded to encompass the popular beer Bou Lou—a landmark Kansas City collaboration with renowned Boulevard Brewery—going nationwide in 2019.
Just as his flow never relents, neither does his restless creativity, which brings us to his twenty-first fulllength, N9NA. This time around, he re-ups by returning to his roots and spitting like his life depends upon it—while answering a call from ardent “Technicians” in every corner of the globe.
“I have to reinvent myself all of the time,” he admits. “I haven’t gotten to the level where I always wanted to be. I have four strong years before I turn fifty, and I’m going to give you the best and hardest Tech N9ne shit in this span of time. The fans have been saying they want to hear more of me, so I decided to give them more of me, lyrically and conceptually. They’ve been asking for a record that’s primarily Tech. At the same time, I chose beats that represented today’s frequency with deep bass. Now, I’m rapping like I never aged on N9NA.”
As he toured the world in support of 2018’s Planet, he assembled the bulk of what would become N9NA on the road. Joined by longtime collaborator Krizz Kaliko, he recorded everywhere from Russia to France in between packed gigs.
The experience proved both intimate and eye-opening.
“Being locked in a room alone with Big Krizz Kaliko for the first time in years felt really good,” he says. “When we were in Europe, we were able to bounce ideas off each other like we used to in 2002. That was a beautiful thing, to do this with my brother again. What we also saw in places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Europe was a testament to Strange. I was blown away, and I tried to give the people what they wanted.”
That’s exactly what N9NA does. The airy production on “Lord of Weird” gives way to something of a hiphop state of the union. He namechecks initially controversial trends that originated with him a la “dye my hair in Rojo way back in ‘99” before adding, “But now it’s accepted like they finally infected with formidable Tech shit.” Between double-time verses, he ponders, “I was on the mission black sphere 20 years ago, but now they love it, isn’t that weird?” Elsewhere, the title track “N9NA” leaps off tall buildings from orchestral swells into more verbal fireworks as he delivers “a superhero theme—like Batman.” Then, there’s “F.T.I. 2.0,” which serves as a blockbuster sequel to the 2002 Anghellic anthem, “F.T.I.”—short for “Fuck The industry.”
The album reaches its emotional apex on “EF U (Easier For You)” [feat. Krizz Kaliko & Jelly Roll]. Over clean guitar and a sparse beat punctuated by haunting whistling, Tech sends a message to “the broken ones” faced with suicidal thoughts as he soulfully croons, “You make it hard as fuck for us, but easier for you.”
“I’ve gotten so many phone calls and voicemails from loved ones saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Tech, I love you. Thank you for everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here, man’,” he sighs. “The last thing you want to hear is someone you love wants to die. Then, the burden is on you. This is for the mentally disturbed. Don’t kill yourself or anyone else. Stay with us.”
On the other end of the spectrum, “Like I Ain’t” details his career journey with a combination of wild wit and wisdom. “That’s me popping my collar,” he smiles. “I’m rapping like I haven’t done any of the things I have. I’m bossing up. It’s a way to reintroduce my story and let people know I’ve been here a while— and I’m still here.”
N9NA concludes on a happy, high note as he signs, seals, and sends an apology to those closet to him via “I’m Sorry” [feat. Church Boi]. Enhanced by Motown style crooning from Church Boi, he raps directly to each family member by name.
“In calling the record N9NA, I had to show a personal side,” he goes on. “My kids, brothers, and sisters have every right to be bitter for me not being there sometimes. At 47, I’m realizing there’s more to life than chasing a dollar. Time means more than anything. It took me a while to get that. This is the most pure I can be. It’s my apology.”
Even as he recounts the highs and lows of an unbelievable journey throughout the tracklisting, there’s one thing Tech hasn’t done yet. He shares a dream to take time off and travel the world as an audience member, watching his favorite acts from Slipknot and Kendrick Lamar to Daniel Caesar and Miguel from the crowd. However, there’s one act he wants to witness above all…
“I want to see a Tech N9ne show,” he laughs. “I’m always on the giving end of the stage. I want to be in the mosh pit. I wish I could disguise myself, stand in line, and drink with the fans. Maybe I’ll get a sick ass hologram, tell nobody, and witness my show at some place like Red Rocks!”
In the end, N9NA is Tech N9ne at his boldest, brightest, and best.
“I want fans to know this album is for them, because they asked for it—and I paid attention,” he leaves off. “I’m letting them know where I stand spiritually and mentally. It’s a vintage feel with today’s energy. I think I did a good job of letting you know who I am again. I’m N9NA.” – Rick Florino, March 2019