If your reading this it's too late I'm going to assume you love hip-hop. If you really love hip-hop, I'm going to assume you need more than what you'll hear on the radio or at the club. If that's the case, you must love indie hip-hop, and if you love independent hip-hop, logic would suggest you are a fan of Tech N9ne and his Strange Music cohorts. If that's the case you are as excited as I am.
Why? Because Tech N9ne's new album, Special Effects, has dropped.
Normally, when a new, exciting album drops we've been known to do a "1 Listen Review," but this album is 24 tracks long. Call me a whiny blogger (and you wouldn't be wrong) but I don't think people realize how exhausting those "1 Listen Review"s can be. Yelawolf's album was 18 tracks and by the end I was so drenched in sweat it was affecting how I was hearing the album. (Hey, you try typing without a break for over an hour.) If I tried to do a "1 Listen Review" of Special Effects I would die, but more importantly I don't think I could capture the brain-melting potency of the album with human words. Still, waiting a month or two to really digest the project before I write about it doesn't feel right either. Tecca Nina is an excited, ball-to-the-wall artist, I know a lot of people are listening to the album and want to walk about it, so let's meet in the middle.
I spent the last day scrambling my brain with the album equivalent of bath salts that is Special Effects. I'm going to need a lot more listens to come up with some coherent analysis, but off the top, here are some of my biggest takeaways so far.
Krizz Kaliko is Strange Music's Offensive Line
In football nobody is more unappreciated than the offensive line. Quarterbacks and receivers get the endorsements and the jersey sales, but it's the guys in the trenches who make the team go. Krizz Kaliko is Strange Music's offensive line. He has been there since day one, but he doesn't receive nearly enough credit. I saw him live a year or so ago and my respect for him grew ten-fold. I knew he could rap, but I simply had no idea he was that good of a singer; he's the complete package. On this album, everything he touches turns to gold. The album moves a mile a minute and changes pace, tone, atmosphere and energy at the drop of hat. The one constant is that it's often Krizz Kaliko that makes the transitions seamless. He adds so much to the cascading, epic feel of the album. I know it's Tech N9ne's album, but Krizz shines just as much as Aaron.
The Guest Spots Are Surprising Yet Amazing!
B.o.B? 2 Chainz??! YO GOTTI?! I have to admit, I was skeptical; I am still a backpacker after all. I look to Tech N9ne to get away from those guys. What the hell are they doing on this album? When I finally listened though, I was amazed at how well they fit into the scheme. That might be the best 2 Chainz verse ever and Yo Gotti didn't make my ears bleed. Speaking of ears bleeding, Slipknot. This may be an unpopular opinion - Strange and the hardcore rock set have always been Strange bedfellows - but never in a million years would I willingly listen to a Slipknot song. Sorry. I respect them and how passionate their fan base is, but, as a hip-hop blogger and fanatic, it's so far outside of my comfort zone; what would I do with a Slipknot? I was blown away at how well they fit together. To continue with the football metaphors, Tech is like Peyton Manning, he makes everyone else around him better. How many artists from any genre could boast features from Yo Gotti and Slipknot and still create a cohesive, logical sound? Hip-hop and rock tracks like these are usually on opposite ends of the spectrum, but Tech is able to change his sound to make both seem natural. Even if you don't like Yo Gotti or Slipknot, you have to respect Tech's versatility. Also, I'm so super in love with Kate Rose. That's my favorite feature on the whole shebangabang.
Tracks 16-24 Could Be an Album In and of Itself:
I mentioned it above, but, holy hell...24 songs?! That's a long album. I was looking for a few track sequences to really grab me, a three or four track "groove" that would stand out when the dust settled. Well, that groove lasted nine songs. When "Give It All" came on, I really felt that groove. My heart started to beat faster, my head was nodding more emphatically than ever before, I got goosebumps and I felt that rush. If you've felt it you know just what I'm talking about. Normally, it wears off after a few tracks - that's how you identify the groove - but it didn't subside until the album ended with a robot Tech N9ne telling me "Thank you for listening to Special Effects." In that small, nine track sequence, I got everything I needed and everyhting I love from Tech. There was the high-octane, face-melting stuff, but the slower, more atmospheric and poignant tunes like "A Certain Comfort" and "Worldly Angel" really stood out. The way he paces the varying styles in the album's end section was great; this brief cluster of tracks is exactly why I love Tech N9ne. It's an album in it's own right and yet there are still like 40 other songs to enjoy.
Holy Shit This is Tech's 15th album?!
As I was scrolling Twitter trying not to die from swaying too hard to the hook on "No K" I came across this. Sweet. Baby. Jesus. Fifteen albums?! FIFTEEN?! Really though? That made me feel all the feels. First, I felt old as shit. I still remember buying Absolute Power because of the cover, popping it in my car's CD player and almost literally shitting my pants. From that day forward "I'm a Playa" is on all my workout playlists. Fifteen albums is a remarkable achievement. Kendrick only has two (or three, or four, depending on how you think about Section80 and OD). Kanye? Eight. Jay Z has fifteen too, but he has dropped off significantly in terms of quality. With Tech, years (and albums) later, and he still gives me that same feeling I got on Absolute Power; "Aw Yeah" anyone? That kind of consistency is unheard of and yet he continues to grow and take risks. Shit, he even has more albums than his most notable guest, Eminem, who is one of the other best rapper ever candidates. I didn't really appreciate it until now, but Tech has been a mainstay. Fifteen albums is a remarkable milestone. How has he been able to do it? Peep my next takeaway...
Does Any Artist In The Game Have A More Identifiable/Original Sound Than Tech?
I kind of touched on this above, but Tech is amazing at genre bending. His ability to incorporate so many different styles - Rap, Rock, Pop, R&B - is remarkable. No other artist has been able to do it as often and as successfully as Tech N9ne and the result is the powerhouse that is Strange Music. As a writer, I have to find a voice for myself. My goal is to make sure a person reading knows it's me before they get to my byline. It's difficult for me, and even harder for rappers. If you don't have a unique hook, a personality, a product that fans can only get from you and you alone, you will not survive in this industry. As someone looking to craft a voice, I resepct the fuck out of Tech N9ne. His voice, his "sound" comes from being able to hop all over the map, to create all types of songs and still sound at home. It's astounding really. From the very first second of an Tech song you know who it is, you know what to expect, and yet you can still be surprised. That's what makes an artist great. That sound is why Strange Music is such a force today. You may not love every song, I think a lot of my fellow backpackers will struggle with parts of this album, but you have to respect the fact that Tech N9ne gives you something you can't get anywhere else. In this day and age, that's very hard. Tech N9ne is living proof that in the end, music really does win out.
So there you have it. A few listens later, those are my biggest takeaways. Is this the "best" album of the year or my personal favorite? Who knows? Time will tell, but my gut says no. As much respect, admiration, and love I have for Tech, I am much more of a softer, jazzier kind of guy. Songs like "A Certain Comfort" will definitely be on my year end lists, but sometimes my soft, baby brain can't handle all the "Wither"-like intensity. Still, while I can't tell you it's my favorite album of the year, I can tell you that I had a blast listening, and I could easily see this becoming a lot of people's favorite album of the year.
Even though this isn't technically a "1 Listen Review," we'll follow up with a "real" review later on per tradition and some more content around this album; does a Tech N9ne interview interest anyone? But for now, I just wanted to give you all a place to talk about the album and of course, as we are known to do share good music. I'm excited and you should be too.
Now excuse me while I go punch forty seven kittens to the tune of "RoadKill."
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth]