On the surface, Tech N9ne and Nick Hamm may not appear to have much in common. Tech is a one of independent hip-hop's most successful emcees and entrepreneurs, a genre-breaking artist who came from some of Kansas City's darkest streets to co-found his Strange Music label.
For his part, Hamm is a Southern California native and a retired 1st Sgt. in the Marines who was wounded twice in combat and founded the Warrior Built organization, which aims to give other veterans a supportive home through building and racing bikes.
But dig just below the surface and you'll discover a shared spirit that bonds them in a way that is far stronger than any label.
In my interview with Hamm, he explained that when he was wounded he had trouble finding a therapeutic environment that truly fit his personality, and so he simply built one himself:
"I went through a lot of programs, but I was a little wild and crazy, and I knew there were a lot of guys like me, so I started the foundation. More traditional therapy works for a lot of people, but we're not all the same. So we work on choppers and Harleys and have a dirt bike racing team...it's about forming a relationship. There are a lot of combat veterans who are facing PTSD, alcohol and drug abuse, and we're not afraid to get in the weeds with them and help get them moving forward again."
In many ways, that could also describe Tech N9ne's drive to build Strange Music. After an initial run with a major label, it was clear he would never be able to fit neatly inside the music industry's traditional structure. He sensed there were a lot of people just like him, and so he founded Strange not just as a music label but as a home for many, a supportive environment that understood and embraced everyone, especially when the wider world didn't.
And so given that Tech's music can be by turns both aggressive and emotionally vulnerable, it should come as no surprise that Tech has a sizable following in the military, which lead to him playing shows overseas for the troops. As he recounted in our conversation:
"A few years go we were blessed to be able to go on a USO tour to Bahrain and Kuwait. When I visited the camps and saw a lot of wounded soldiers, injured and missing limbs, it just touched me. These people are fighting for us to be able to do what we do here, and they couldn't even go home to their families for Christmas. When I came back I cut off all my hair like the troops, we started wearing the boots they gave us in our stage show, and then we did a song called 'The Noose' with Mayday dedicated to the troops. I always felt like all these young men and women that are fighting for us, if we can give them some light, we need to."
The Warrior Built contest is a natural fit then, the almost inevitable direct meeting of several worlds that were already overlapping. By bringing together Monster Energy, Strange Music and Warrior Built, Hamm's foundation will receive some welcome funding while opening up both an opportunity for Tech to shine some of that light on the troops and give one winner the chance to record and shoot a video for the song "PTSD," huge exposure for any artist.
Crucially, though, the contest isn't open solely to active and veteran military. While supporting the troops is a core component of the contest, its deeper mission is to let anyone living with any form of PTSD, anxiety, depression, or facing any other obstacles, know that they're not alone and their voice is heard.
As Tech N9ne explained, "I grew up in a gang bang neighborhood, and all our young ones are damn near dead and gone. Having to look over your shoulder, waking up in cold sweats - when it came to naming the song 'PTSD' I could tap in because I've been in the midst of a war in my neighborhood for so many years. A lot of people have those same problems, and that's where we connect with the troops and our fans."
Hamm agreed, emphasizing that the effects of PTSD can be felt far outside the military. "It's very real," he said. "You have to have hope, and you have to keep moving forward."
So many people are fighting to heal and overcome very real physical wounds, but while those injuries may often be more visible, some of our hardest challenges lay in healing the wounds within, and it's there that music can be a particularly powerful medicine. Hamm recently opened a music space at Warrior Built to give the veterans a place to "belt out whatever you're feeling," and so much of Tech and Krizz Kaliko's music is about mental health while the Strange Music logo echoes the serpent and the staff, a symbol of medicine.
For more details, including guidelines for entering the Warrior Built contest, click the link below, and be sure to check out the Warrior Built foundation for more ways to help support Hamm's mission to build spirits, souls, and machines.
By Nathan S, former managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.