Tech N9ne Keeps Getting Better on ‘Special Effects’
The frontal lobes of the human brain are directly connected to an individual’s primary emotion, conscious thought, social conduct and sense of empathy. It’s with definite purpose that in the first 10 seconds of the introductory track (“The Procedure”) to Tech N9ne’s 15th studio album, Special Effects, that the listener finds themselves in an operating room with surgeons on the brink of incision into one of the most complex and extraordinary minds in all of rap music. An appropriate foreshadow into the range of sentiments to follow in the subsequent 78 minutes, Special Effects, as with all Tech projects over the past 20 years, is a bold invitation into the perplexing mental capacity of the 43-year-old Kansas City-based MC and co-founder of Strange Music.
Structured as a concept album, Tech uses the 24 tracks and as a scheme to introduce each day of the week through different moods and transitions, with the inspiration for this project more poignant than ever. In June of 2014, nearly a month after unveiling his previous album, Strangeulation, Tech’s mother passed away due to an ongoing battle with lupus. Openly inspired by the circumstance, the already spirited MC sees his sentimental impressions bleed more densely than ever throughout Special Effects, with inklings of the agony present in almost every song. Combined with the sizable chip that Tech has worn on his shoulder since the beginning of his career, Special Effects inevitably finds itself as his most passionate work to date. In the album’s powerful third track, “Lacrimosa” (the Latin word for “weeping”), Tech conveys both his misery and brewing initiative for the project in one simple lyric: “Losing mama really did it, demons really gonna get it.”
While the affectionate themes wholly resonate as Special Effects unfolds, if there’s one thing aside from his lyrical skill that has separated Tech N9ne from his peers over time it's his experimentation with different genres as a base for diverse subject matter. While it’s the same approach that has deterred some potential listeners in the past, at this point, Tech’s genre-crossing (hardcore rap, alternative rock, metal, electronic, gospel, etc.) has become more of a distinctive and welcomed trait instead of bizarre or disjointed. With a colossal 20 features from the likes of Eminem, Lil Wayne, E-40, T.I., Hopsin, 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti and Corey Taylor of Slipknot, to name a few, the album is as diverse as possible.
An undaunted but vulnerable Tech N9ne tackles a wide array of topics, from the above-mentioned demons he’s coming to terms with due to his mother’s death (“Worldly Angel”), social issues such as Ferguson, Benghazi, Libya and general police brutality (“Aw Yeah,” “Shroud”) and having his life threatened over his wealth (“On The Bible”) to the distinctions and trials between underground and mainstream rap (“Yates,” “Dyin Flyin”) and unfaithful women (“Psycho Bitch III,” “No K”). Whether he's tossing in a lively party record (“Hood Go Crazy”), flexing his lyrical muscle (“Speedom,” “Bass Ackwards,” “Give It All,” “Roadkill” ) or assessing his Strange Music empire (“Burn It Down”), Special Effects captures a fearless Tech N9ne at the most confident point in his career.
If the landscape of rap music was a metaphorical island, Tech N9ne’s career would be in uncharted terrain, an obscure yet fascinating volcano constantly on the verge of eruption. What Special Effects will ultimately accomplish for Tech, finally, is the grand reveal of that eruption to the mainstream. Steadily nearing the fine line between underground and mainstream for years now, Tech’s 15th studio album finds itself as the apex of where the two classifications meet and invite both the well-acquainted enthusiast and the curious onlooker. At the conclusion of “Burn It Down,” Tech announces, “If you stay righteous, you’ll receive all your blessings.” Tech may finally be in line for his own. —Michael Blair