Few rappers can say they have been in the game for over a decade and consistently shown their progression as artists. Tech N9ne is on his 13th studio album, where he’s managed to raise the stakes once again. Bringing established names along with newcomers has always been his thing, but the KCMO native stands out for delivering lyricism, covering a wide swath of topics and blending genres to make a sound that stands out on its own. With names like The Doors and Kendrick Lamar paying their respects on Something Else, Tech’s signature intensity is on course for mainstream embracement. Here, he teeters between his darkest emotional songs and surefire hits that are clear signs of him transcending underground hip-hop.

Tech isn’t as powerful and outspoken as before. He’s more reflective on this release, delving into personal subjects, relationships and connecting with stories that hit close to home. On one hand, Tech’s always been leftfield, and that’s evident in “B.I.T.C.H.” with T-Pain. The acronym stands for “Breaking Into Colored Houses,” a conceptual song that targets the misconception of a particular group that is only in tune to the Strange Music movement. Literally, he’s coming through your television screens and “puttin’ all the face paint I can put on” to prove his point. But, on the other hand, Tech can manipulate the right artists to create raw posse cuts that hold up next to major-label concoctions. The funky Drumma Boy-produced “See Me” features B.o.B and Wiz Khalifa. Not only does the track have an assist from one of the biggest rappers out today, it shows Tech’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Tech’s focus comes through clearest on this album when categorizes the songs as fire, water and earth—he calls out the section specifically at key moments—a theme that represents him rising from the ashes. Certain tracks fit this mold perfectly, such as “I’m Not A Saint,” a confessional song filled with his feelings about what wasn’t right in his past, and “That’s My Kid,” a beautifully written song about his mistakes as a father featuring Big K.R.I.T., Cee Lo Green and Kutt Calhoun. To top it off, “Strange 2013” is a strong remake that executes his rock influences without any force. Day-one fans will appreciate Tech aligning himself with The Doors—his own label is named after two of their classics after all.

It is well known that Tech’s songwriting is the best attribute in his artistic arsenal. However, there are instances where it’s lacking. On tracks like “Love 2 Dislike Me” and “Dwamn,” he can’t seem to focus on which direction to take the song. The former is an attempt to weave heavy metal and hip-hop, and the latter is a shot at a club anthem. While seeing Tech experimenting and thinking outside of the box is commendable, these tracks would be better if they contained sharper rhymes that fall into their niches. These are minor shortcomings, though, as his supreme confidence is what really dominates the album.

Though Tech proves he’s a master of the flow and storytelling (“My Haiku—Burn The World,” “Fragile,” “Priorities”), his approach to what he dubs as “beautiful music” has yet to reach the level of pop culture icon. Something Else—his most cohesive balance of indie and mainstream—will be remembered as an album that brought him closer to acceptance. Whether Tech wants the bigger fame or not is unclear, but it’s safe to say the growth he displays here is one step nearer. He’s strange, he’s provocative, but the lesser shock value on this album marks it as his true debut to a larger audience.—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)

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