Strange Music
Strange Music

If there is any rapper in the modern era that can truly wear the “underground king” crown it's Tech N9ne; a rapper who so blatantly fits the UGK description. The man who refers to himself as Tecca Nina has quietly made it to the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list every year since 2012, all while remaining a totally independent entity.

He has built an empire with his Strange Music label, which has developed its own cult following and continues to sweep the nation with more than 100 shows a year. Not to mention Tech has 16 solo albums with more than half of them moving well over 100,000 units each -- not bad for an indie rapper from Kansas City who wears face paint and aspires to be his own planet. In his attempts to become this larger than life independent music mogul, Tech has released his 17th album, The Storm, a 32-track rap saga that features his outlandish musical palate with some heavy messages woven throughout.

Staring down the barrel of a tracklist this heavy is intimidating for even the most die-hard Tech fans because, let’s be honest, 32 songs is a lot for anyone to digest. The good news is that the standard version has 17 songs that are a little easier to follow -- especially since Tech breaks it down into three separate portions all of which reflect the various sides of his personality, which in a sense provides three miniature albums wrapped into one.

First is Kingdom, which kicks off the album with a half dozen high octane songs that pump a medley of rap, rock and rage straight into the listener’s pulsating psyche. Whether it’s putting fire on everything with “Sriracha” or denouncing literally all naysayers on “Erybody But Me” and “Get Off Me.” Each song brings a suitable amount of bravado and confidence that is ultimately deserved. There are definitely moments when Tech seems to be rhyming quickly just for the sake of rhyming quickly; it’s a skill he is incredibly gifted with and should definitely feel comfortable flexing.

Clown Town is the second act in The Storm’s master plan where Tech’s strangely vulnerable side comes out to play. Tech has always excelled at expressing himself from a more human perspective and there is no exception here. Kate Ross sets the gloomy tone with an age-old themed chorus that depicts the forbidden desire of adultery engagements. Then Tech takes the song to an even deeper level by comparing his relationship with music to an affair with a woman, intertwining the parallels with lines like, “You are the king, but don't know how to treat a queen/I hear the words you speak about her when you dream/Thought that we were a team, how could you let her intervene."

Up until this point in the album, Tech is trucking along in a formidable hip-hop fashion. Producer Seven’s beats are solid and the rapping ability is hard to deny. It really isn’t until “Starting to Turn” where the album quite literally starts to turn. Employing Korn band member Jonathan Davis for the terrorizing vocal assist, Tech scream raps over a hardcore death metal inspired beat that would be more enjoyed inside of a thrasher mosh pit than on a rap album. It’s understood that Tech is a big advocator of the rap-rock relationship but this kind of track may be too radical for a casual hip-hop fan to enjoy. Luckily, “No Gun Control” and “What If It Was Me” save the day with some well-articulated dispositions on the gun violence epidemic currently pile-driving the nation.

These tracks and others like them are appropriately placed on the G. Zone portion of the album, which tells parts of Tech’s troubled gangster story with some final introspections. On “The Needle,” he speaks on his continued lack of owed credit for being equal parts original and talented: “I once said in a cypher of famous friends back in 2011/'Who do I catch?/Outside of technicians' tunneled Tech vision/At a point in time when dope is the new wack.” His most self-aware line however coming in the form of “On the outskirts of our army, we scare people/But it's not for evil, up with hawks and eagles/But I'm lost and feeble wondering if this restarts the needle.” In short this is Tech’s way of acknowledging his weirdness and understanding why he still remains an underground phenomenon instead of a mainstream one.

The Storm confirms Tech’s ability to push the boundaries of what rap can sound like and how it can look. The album, whether taking in 17 tracks or all 32, may give new listeners a reason to hop on board for the wild journey ahead but at the same time, Tech N9ne ensures his core fans are in it for the long haul.

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