Some artists get writers block, but for Tech N9ne, the ideas keep flowing.
That's why, more than a decade after he released his first nationally-distributed album, the pioneering Kansas City rapper decided to call his forthcoming studio album Something Else. "After all this music, you have the nerve to say to the world that you have something else other than what we've heard already, that's cocky," Tech N9ne says. "I knew going into this album that it was going to have to be totally something else beatwise, contentwise and featurewise. I went in on a lot of stuff."
Tech N9ne delivers on his goals throughout Something Else, a rousing collection that takes listeners on an epic journey through Fire, Water and Earth sections of the album, a formatting tactic Tech N9ne also employed on his landmark Anghellic album in 2001 and his Everready [The Religion] album in 2006.
"Straight Out The Gate" kicks off the intense Fire section of the album. Featuring System Of A Down's Serj Tankian, the song has political and religious overtones while highlighting both Tankian and Tech N9ne's talents. "Serj, he's a guy that takes chances with music and sounds and fuses them together and that's how I feel about my hip-hop music," Tech N9ne says. "Our being on a song together, that's one of the biggest things that could happen. That's why I put it first on the album."
From there, Tech keeps the intensity level sky-high with "B.I.T.C.H.," an acronym for "Breaking Into Colored Houses," a cut about his interaction with his black fans. "Love 2 Dislike Me" discusses the aftermath of a relationship gone sour, while "Fortune Force Field" explains how certain people are trying to keep Tech N9ne from enjoying all the fruits of his musical labor. Then there's "I'm Not A Saint," Tech N9ne's latest look at his Evil Brain Angel Heart persona.
Tech N9ne embraces such personal, evocative subject matter because it is an innate part of his artistry. "The reason I opened up on this album is because throughout my career, all I've been doing is being inside out, being an open book," he says. "Since the album is called Something Else, I have to let certain things loose that I otherwise wouldn't let loose."
The same logic applies to "Fragile," a fierce collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, !Mayday! and Kendall Morgan. Here, the artists blast uninformed critics who lack the perspective and qualifications to fully and accurately evaluate their craft. Tech N9ne also introduces spirited newcomer Angel Davanport on "Priorities," which also features Game.
As the Water section of the album arrives, the selections become calmer, if only thematically. "Dwamn" introduces the album's first party vibe, while "So Dope (They Wanna)" with Wrekonize, Snow Tha Product and Twisted Insane, is the latest of Tech N9ne's posse cuts highlighting rappers who excel at rapid-fire rapping, or chopping. "See Me," with Wiz Khalifa and B.o.B., showcases Tech N9ne's ability as an independent artist to conceive and execute independent albums with major label artists and with a major label feel. That's also why this song's lyrics focus on people overlooking Tech N9ne's remarkable achievements - that he's sold more than 2 million units independently, developed into to one of music's most dependable touring artists and that he's built Strange Music into one of rap's most successful imprints from his hometown of Kansas City.
As Something Else advances to the Earth section, Tech N9ne focuses on topics he hopes will make the world better. "That's My Kid," with CeeLo Green, Big K.R.I.T. and Kutt Calhoun, for instance, finds Tech N9ne contemplating the recent rash of school shootings and realizing how fortunate he is that his children did not make some of the mistakes that he did as a child. "I was just sitting up one day looking at all these kids that do these heinous things, these horrible things," Tech N9ne says. "I'm lucky that my son didn't latch on to the Blood gang nonsense that I grew up doing. He latched on to music and now he wants to rap. I'm blessed. I have to rejoice."
Tech N9ne also rejoiced on the career-defining song "Strange 2013," his collaboration with The Doors. Tech N9ne named his Strange Music label with partner Travis O'Guin after the icon rock group's songs "Strange Days" and "People Are Strange." As a black fan of rock and rap growing up in Missouri, Tech N9ne grew up thinking he was "strange". Getting to work with the surviving members of The Doors on "Strange 2013," a reworking of "Strange Days," is one of the proudest moments of his groundbreaking career.
"If it wasn't for their fusion of music, I would have never told Travis I wanted to call the joint venture that we have Strange Music," Tech N9ne explains. "That's why 'Strange 2013' meant so much to me. Now, when I listen to it, I smile, like, 'I did that.' They're the ones that inspired me. It's the thing keeping me alive and putting my kids through college, because I was a Doors fan."
Today, millions of people are Tech N9ne fans. He became known as an innovative rapper in the 1990s because of his trendsetting ability to rap at breakneck speed, to rap backwards and, soon thereafter, to also deliver riveting personal songs that examined his own inner demons, as evidenced throughout such memorable cuts as "Tormented" and "Real Killer." In the 2000s, Tech N9ne hit the road relentlessly, becoming one of rap's premier touring acts.
With 2012's "Hostile Takeover 2012 Tour," Tech N9ne holds the title of headlining the longest continuous tour in rap history. Even with all these accolades and the impressive list of artists Tech N9ne features on Something Else, he sounds as fresh and hungry as he did when he first started releasing music commercially more than a decade ago. "I've got a chip on my shoulder," Tech N9ne says. "I've still got a lot to prove. That's why I still rap so hard. I'm always trying to get better and better. I'm not softening it."
That, in and of itself, is Something Else indeed.
KRIZZ KALIKO is the sonic “glue” of Strange Music. “I’m Tech’s right hand man in writing,” he says. “It’s a weird, beautiful chemistry. Tech and Travis [O’Guin] handle the business, and Tech and I are the creative force at Strange Music. The yin and the yang. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Tech and I have the same philosophy about the quality of music. We’ve been working together so long I know where he wants to go.”
Born in Kansas City, MO., KRIZZ KALIKO was raised by a mom who spoon-fed him music. As an opera and gospel singer, as well as being the choir director of their church, his mother sang to him and, fortunately, made him sing with his sisters. He performed in the choir all throughout his early teens and his mom often treated the family to live concerts from artists like the Gap Band and Run-DMC. By the time KRIZZ KALIKO met Tech N9ne, he was already trying to figure out how to fuse opera and Hip Hop.
“Tech’s music is dark,” KRIZZ KALIKO explains. “It was the perfect vehicle.” When Tech N9ne landed back home in Kansas City after touring and found his longtime producer Icy Roc working with a new talented voice, Tech was intrigued. He liked what he heard and hired KRIZZ KALIKO to work with him on “Who You Came To See”, from his Anghellic album (2001). Tech was so impressed by KRIZZ KALIKO’s ability to craft catchy, album-ready songs, he asked him to collaborate on his next project, Absolute Power (2002). Powered by a fusion of funk, rap, rock, R&B and opera – a self-made style KRIZZ KALIKO calls “Funkra” – GENIUS covers the entire spectrum of genres, from the slow and seductive “Get Off” with Tech N9ne and the rock-flavored “The Chemical” to the street anthem “Back Pack” and the album’s crossover single, “Misunderstood.” KRIZZ KALIKO pulls from a wide variety of artists he enjoys listening to, from Billy Joel and Elton John to Prince, Cee-Lo and Soulja Boy, and in doing so, he has made an album that defies categorization. Along for the aurally eclectic rollercoaster ride that is GENIUS are Tech N9ne, E-40, Kutt Calhoun and Big Scoob.
As most fans already know, KRIZZ KALIKO offers a unique perspective on life that many can relate to. The husband and father of one was born with a skin disorder called Vitiligo, which he not only discusses openly in his music, but also used as the title of his debut CD. “I want people to get that people who look differently can actually be the coolest dudes,” he relays. “To come from being a freak to this dude that I am here is a wonderful and interesting story and makes you want to listen to the music even more.”
One of the GENIUS’s most poignant tracks sheds light on another of KRIZZ KALIKO’s conditions: “’Bipolar’ talks about my experiences as a little kid, how I came to have anxiety problems and diagnosed as bipolar,” he explains. “Everybody I know that’s extremely talented or smart is a little bit crazy. I embrace that because without that I wouldn’t be as creative. I write songs about it and lots of fans identify with it.”
It’s important to KRIZZ KALIKO that his lyrics are not all about hardship and pain. “I want people to be excited by me, come into my world,” he adds. “I want you to have a good time when you’re around me. You gotta want people to want to be around you, want to listen to your music, want to be interested in you.” Judging by his scores of fans, KRIZZ KALIKO’s extensive grassroots efforts and inclusive musical philosophies are working.
Brotha Lynch Hung
Sacramento CA | Hip-Hop/Rap
Kevin Danell Mann (born January 10, 1971), better known by his stage name Brotha Lynch Hung, is an American rapper and record producer from Sacramento, California. Since the release of his debut album 24 Deep in 1993, Brotha Lynch Hung has sold 1.4 million CDs independently, and has been described as an innovator of horrorcore and one of the forefathers of the genre.
There were times when more hip-hop albums sounded like this, like Ces Cru’s Constant Energy Struggles, the Kansas City duo’s debut full-length album on Strange Records. There were times when albums were formulated around concepts big and small, dedicated to pushing envelopes, sharing pin-pointed messages and built around lyrical conceits that required intense listening, confident rhyme flows that created new patterns, music that thumped and bumped and pounded and grooved. Those times are not now, but Constant Energy Struggles arrives in this moment—sounding not like an anachronism or a revival, but a celebration of a lineage that, while overshadowed by other aspects of hip-hop, has continued to evolve and progress outside of the mainstream.
It’s only fitting that Ces Cru—comprised of rappers Godemis and Ubiquitous—would release Constant Energy Struggles. For the past dozen years, the two have operated mostly as a duo, all that remained of the much larger Ces Cru.
“Ces Cru was a collective of like-minded individuals,” says Godemis, a founding member of the group since high school. When he first began rhyming, he was simply doing cover versions of albums like Mac Mall’s Illegal Business? “The thing at the time was to be able to learn the rhyme and not only know the lyrics, but to be able to spit them at the same capacity as the record. It was like having a guitar and learning a solo.” One day, during his sophomore year, while he was reciting some Boot Camp Clik verses, a classmate who was already rhyming, gave him some backhanded encouragement: Oh that’s cool, but you should write your own shit. “He said it like he was the shit because he was writing his own stuff and I wasn’t,” Godemis recalls. Not long after, a friend approached Godemis with headphones and let him hear a verse he had recorded over Das Efx’s “Microphone Master.” That night Godemis wrote his first rhyme. Soon enough, Ces Cru began to take root.
“We made a lot of music without any clear direction,” says Godemis, adding that Ces Cru became infamous for shutting down ciphers and studio sessions about town. “We just tore up the streets in Kansas City together. It went from being more like a gang to a group as things progressed, as we started booking shows and actually making albums and putting time and effort and money into the music. We just thought that one day we could possibly eat off this rap life and we enjoyed out-rapping motherfuckers.”
When Ubiquitous—a Colorado native who grew up on acts like Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J and the Fat Boys as well as metal, punk rock, ska and electronica—moved to Kansas City in 2000, he had already been polishing his rap skills over jungle beats. “I used to rhyme at raves,” he admits. “I guess that’s why I like fast-paced rapping and making really progressive rhymes, stylistically speaking and content-wise.” Though Ces Cru had swelled to include six full-time rappers and had declared membership closed, Godemis was impressed by Ubi’s skills during a recording session and invited him to join the group. As time went on, members moved, moved on, went to jail–leaving just Godemis and Ubiquitous. “These days, it’s just him and I: Aquemini,” jokes Ubi. “We discussed the prospect of admitting other people into the crew, and even really strongly thought about it multiple times. But when it got down to the wire, we were like Nah, it just needs to be me and you. We’re probably done adding members for life and we’re just out here mobbing together.”
Together, the duo independently released 2004’s Capture Enemy Soldiers (featuring appearances from former member Sorceress) and The Playground in 2009—both heartfelt, intricate works of beats, rhymes and life that play with music, words and ideas with astounding ease. Since signing with Strange Music at the end of 2011, the duo has released a pair of solo mixtapes—Godemis’ The Deevil and Ubiquitous’ Matter Don’t Money—as well as an EP, 13. Their new release, Constant Energy Struggles, takes everything that has come before it and advances the argument for hip-hop as a wordsmith's affair.
Inspired by conspiracy theories, metaphysics and everyday labor pains, Constant Energy Struggles contains lyrical exercises like the Tech N9ne-featured “Juice,” a masterful homage to Rakim’s classic “Juice (Know the Ledge)” and the four-bar patty cake “When Worlds Collide” which finds Godemis being “too fly” before crash-landing and “looking for the black box, FBI search methods/Soul of Saddam, I’m the motherfuckin’ bomb/ Check it: inspiration of Hitler/ Bruce Lee’s work ethic” before Ubiquitous picks up with “Sun Tzu, manifest a Dalai Lama mindstate/Hijack a G6, trippin’ tryna fly straight.”
Produced by longtime collaborators Info Gates and Leonard Dstroy as well as Strange music’s go-to beatmaster, Michael “Seven” Summers and others, Constant Energy Struggles is a well-rounded affair, both musically and topically. The slow blues-rock of “Smoke” and the slight psychedelia of “Confession” address the issues of balance, strife and love within romantic relationships. “Wall E” speaks on the destruction of the Earth: “People pretend like the shit they using just disappears/As if it doesn’t accumulate every fiscal year/ Shit don’t evaporate, vanish without a trace/ There’s a island made of trash, you can spot it from outer space,” raps Godemis.
Closer to home are tracks like the rejoiceful “Shake It Up,” the introspective “Perception” and the menacing “Fuck Me on the Dough”—songs which deal with the ups and downs of blossoming fame: the delight of success, the expectations of fans, the shadiness of promoters. “Constant Energy Struggles comes from real life experiences,” confesses Ubiquitous. “Everything I’m talking about is stuff that actually happened to me in the past or recently.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening number, “Lotus” where Godemis notes that they “came a hell of a way from battling squads, murdering features” and admits that “they might’ve been local forever had Tech not swooped them.”
But Tech N9ne did swoop them. And Constant Energy Struggles signals that Ces Cru is just beginning.
Lawrenceville GA | Pop
Raised in Gwinnett County, Rittz embodies the same level of irony and self-conflict as his hometown. Born into a musical family, he, his twin sister and their brother had always been exposed to the inner workings of music. The fact that their parents were heavily into rock and roll ensured that the kids were always around instruments or in studios. The family moved from small-town Pennsylvania (Waynesburg) to the Atlanta outskirts when he was eight years old, and once Rittz got to junior high, his musical tastes evolved. Atlanta's booming bass and rap movement had traveled north on I-85 to get the entire metro area jumping. Nowadays, the rap career of Gwinnett-raised Rittz is rapidly on the rise. From his affliation with one of the hottest new rappers coming out of the South to his first mixtape, Rittz White Jesus (hilariously inspired by a friend’s term of endearment), everything is coming together now, two years after he nearly lost everything. These days he's booking late night studio sessions, and still clocking in to work early the next day. "I see both sides: the regular, working class type shit and then I've also seen a lot of the street shit that goes on here, some people that are blind to that here, may never have seen it." Rittz says he's "just a normal guy who raps"- a contradiction if there ever was one- but he makes you believe, with the humility of the everyman and the talent of a superstar.