Click this link to listen to Absolute Power on Spotify!
Finding good music is easy nowadays. (Here it comes) Kids these days have it pretty easy. Every social media platform is a means of sharing music. When I was a kid, I had to work pretty hard to amass the CD collection I have. It took years to find talented people with whom I related, then it took even more to find their music in stores. Ahh, the chase...
Covering the history of that artist can be difficult, at times. Where do you start? First album? Last album? Most popular song? Features? In this series of essays, I will chronicle large chunks of time and information covered during the making of albums by hip-hop artist Tech N9ne.
On September 24th, 2002, Tech N9ne's Strange Music debut album, Absolute Power, was released onto the world, a furious and biting album aimed right for the jugular of every person who had played Tech N9ne for a fool. The first song track on the album is titled "The Industry is Punks", and from the jump, listeners knew this album had the potential to be a force within the industry itself. While it took over a decade before Aaron Dontez Yates aka Tech N9ne became a worldwide phenomenon, his mindset was affixed that he was the best unknown rap artist of his generation.
While I have a personal relationship with the man himself to this day, for several years, I was a fan who had big dreams of one day meeting my favorite rap artist of all-time. I have been greatly blessed to be on the outside of their (Strange Music, Inc.) growth over the years, and the honest truth is I listen to Tech N9ne every day of my life. I've fitted my listening of Tech N9ne's music somewhere comfortably between obsessive and casual, and it has been that way in my life for 18 years. (Pictured: Tech N9ne and I in October 2009)
"I don't need Tech N9ne's music in my ears today, but today'd be a lot cooler if I did." - Matthew McConaughy
Absolute Power found me at a very important time in my life. My father was ill and in the hospital, and I had no outlets in which to express myself. I bought Absolute Power when my father was in rehab in 2003, and I'd sit in the parking lot reciting the lyrics and heavily focusing on the pain Tech seemed to so effortlessly express for himself. It was a cathartic time, one that is still difficult to process nearly 15 years later. I didn't have girlfriends, and "She Devil" was a song I couldn't imagine being able to live. "Constantly Dirty" talked about struggling, being broke, and hoping for more. Never in my life had someone else spoke so eloquently on behalf of how I felt. I was hooked back in 1999 when I heard Tech N9ne on Sway & King Tech's "The Anthem" with Kool G. Rap, RZA, Eminem, and others.
But, it was 2003 when "Imma Tell" came on the radio in North Little Rock that set my life in motion. Little did I know one day I'd actually know Tech N9ne, and at the time what I knew was I needed every album he'd ever made. I rushed to Hasting's in Jacksonville, Ar., and surprisingly they had every album he'd made up to 2003. Absolute Power, Celcius, The Calm Before the Storm, The Worst, and AngHellic: Reparation were all on the shelf. I bought AngHellic and Absolute Power due to the iconography on both album covers. One, a frenetically posed Tech N9ne in front of a huge crowd in a theater (Absolute Power), the other (AngHellic), Tech N9ne fully equipped with white wings and red Coolio-style twists, screaming at the top of his lungs. While both images were visually different, they both expressed who Tech N9ne is as a person: an energetic performer, and a soul, twisted and contorted from the pain and anguish he's experienced.
It's wild to think that as early as a decade ago, finding music in stores boiled down to popular mainstream acts and local bands. If you didn't live in Kansas City, Missouri, where Tech N9ne hales from, or within a 150 mile radius, it was a bit difficult to find his albums. I had to special order his albums as late as 2007. The internet, what a wonderful thing. I can have and have in abundance immediately. I digress.
Let's get to the album, now. Tech N9ne had a couple of failed mainstream ventures. He was, at one time, signed to QD3 Entertainment, owned and maintained by Quincy Jones, the 3rd. He was also signed to JCOR Records, a company notorious for shady business dealings and mismanagement and handling of talent. Tech's third album, AngHellic, had originally been released by JCOR, only for Tech to dispute the promised and contracted promotion he was to receive. He severed his relationship with the company, spending several years throwing shade at the business on following albums, and had at some point during that time of turmoil met a man named Travis O'Guin, a successful furniture store owner in the Kansas City area. They struck up a friendship and Travis felt he had found someone to promote as a musical act, a business he had vested interest in. AngHellic will be covered in this series, as well, at a later date. Travis and Tech's relationship is still going strong to this day, as both own exactly half of Strange Music, Inc, respectively.
Tech would go on to rerelease AngHellic under the Strange Music umbrella, retitled AngHellic:Reparation with a modified tracklist. Tech had a falling out with his regular producer Don Juan, and Absolute Power (as a concept) is a big middle finger toward Juan, who had been spreading rumors about Tech and colluding with Vell Bakardy, also an emcee in the Kansas City area, regarding Tech's level of talent. Basically, Juan thought highly of his production contributions and began talking down on Tech N9ne's talents. Much of this album focuses Tech's horns right on Bakardy and Juan as the targets of Tech's aggression. The track "Yada, Yada, Yada" is often considered the nail-in-the-coffin of Don Juan's career, though his production level began to erode after he and Tech N9ne split.
It could've possibly been a muse/artist effect with Juan who was Tech N9ne's close-friend-turned-enemy, and had lost much of the sound that led to he and Tech's early hits like "Einstein Tech N9ne", "Tormented", "Mitch Bade", "Now It's On", and "Planet Rock 2K". Vell Bakardy sporadically releases albums, though to how much fanfare, I am unsure. Tech's label currently consists of 14 acts, and many of them are from Kansas City and St. Louis areas. Much of the promotion coming from KC itself is from his label. There is no argument that Strange Music is the largest music company to have had phenomenal success in Kansas and Missouri, outside of production house Chapman Recording, which has recorded with Tech, watch company Rolex and the TV show American Dad, among others.
The music industry itself came under fire on Absolute Power, as mentioned above, ruling out any possibility that Tech would join another mainstream label any time in the future. To this day, he has only created albums on Strange Music, though his distribution deals have varied from M.S.C. Entertainment to Fontana Records. It's important to note that all the promises Tech made about steering away from the industry in 2002, he has stuck to so far in 2017. The leading hook for me to find this album was a commercial that aired on MTV featuring Tech N9ne saying that "the industry is punks" with a movement titled "Fuck The Industry", acronymed "FTI", in 2001. (The commercial is embedded under this paragraph. - J) Absolute Power was given away for free for years, and has to this day sold nearly 360,000 copies. His mainstream success has come from superb songs like "Fragile" featuring Kendrick Lamar, Kendall Morgan, and label mates ¡MAYDAY!, as well as "Hood Go Crazy" featuring B.O.B. on the chorus and a catchy verse from 2 Chainz.
While Tech has had the successes he so viciously craves throughout Absolute Power, it was a difficult road for him. He struggled with drug usage and nearly lost his life. He recalls a night of overuse on the song "T9X" (The Tech N9ne Experience), where he takes everything from ecstasy to rohypnol, nearly dying in the process. He deals heavily with what he believes to be schizophrenia in the song "Trapped in A Psycho's Body". As his career progressed, he took the notion of split personalities and turned it into a theme: The King, The Clown, & The G. The heaviest influence this split had was on his album Everready: The Religion (2006). It took a few years for Tech N9ne to quantify what he believed was making him crazy and to turn it into a cathartic expression of art.
Tech N9ne's fondness for women is well-presented throughout his entire catalog, some 17+ albums chronicling the best and worst of both Tech N9ne's love life, and his effect on women due to what he describes often as lustful desire and basic infidelity. I can imagine being a man of artistic fame would put him in the eyeline of several types of people, and Tech has made a career of talking out his issues on wax. Songs "Bianca's & Beatrice's" and "She Devil" featuring Detroit's D12 (minus Eminem) both chronicle Tech N9ne's love of women and stories about his experiences.
My favorite aspect of Tech N9ne's style is his fantasy storytelling. He is famous for songs that turn on the implied intent of the song's message, or outright lie to the audience about what's actually going on. On Absolute Power, "Worst Enemy" and "Slither" are both intended to tell a specific message, one of a friend done wrong by a loved one, and the latter regards a night at a strip club where Tech pursues a stripper who seems to have an ethereal hold on his desire. What the two songs are actually about are phenomenally different than expected by the end of each track, and they are without a doubt some of Tech N9ne's finest, most shocking, and hilarious works to date.
With more than 300 songs available for listening featuring or created by Tech N9ne, he has music and styles for everyone. I find the notion that Tech is "too weird" for hip-hop OG's outright hilarious. He's done music with The Doors, Roger Troutman, Five Finger Death Punch, reggae powerhouse Dirty Heads, Boyz 2 Men, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Eminem, Scarface, E40, and hundreds of tremendously talented artists on a list that reads more like the past of a music composer than a rapper from Kansas City, Missouri. Tech N9ne is as talented as Les Claypool, Maynard James Keenan, Mike Patton, and others who perform several different genres of music seemingly effortless. He's a pretty fucking nice dude with an otherworldly memory, to boot.
Click this link to check out a playlist I threw together that covers music from all of Tech N9ne's solo albums, as well as a few songs from his Collabo's series of albums on Strange Music. It's all Jesus!