After a career spanning three decades Aaron 'Tech N9ne' Yates needs no gimmicks or tricks to convince you to ride with him on his Strange journey. The music at this point can literally sell itself. Tech's fourteenth studio album "Strangeulation" hit #5 on the Billboard charts in its first week of release, without any obvious singles hitting nationwide, and without that "flavor of the minute" buzz that newly signed or recently discovered emcees have. Tech sells albums strictly because he's Tech N9ne and for no other reason. He's been around long enough to own a piece of hip-hop nobody can take from him, and if anything the Strange Music empire is growing - new albums from Murs, Rittz and Ces Cru are all scheduled before year's end.
Having said that I got an unexpected bonus with my purchase of Tech N9ne's "Strangeulation" when the Independent Grind tour came through my neck of the woods. It's my policy to spend money at the merchandise table/booth when artists come on tour, especially in situations where I'm being comped to cover the show and/or do an interview (such as Jarren Benton), since those sales are essential to everybody doing well above and beyond the appearance fee for the venue. The word "Grind" on the Independent Grind tour is apt - when you pay for food, gas, clothes and any security services or roadies it all starts to add up. Those merch sales smooth the rough edges off of the grind. Tech already had my money as a result before I even walked in the door, so he didn't have to throw a commemorative coin in the packaging of "Strangeulation" - but this takes "deluxe edition" to a new level.
Aside from a couple of the deluxe edition bonus tracks the entire album is produced by long-time Tech collaborator Michael 'Seven' Summers. Like the commemorative coin there are two good sides to this decision - Seven knows what tracks suit Tech best, and a single musical voice provides needed consistency on what is actually another of Tech N9ne's "Collabo" albums. Mr. Yates doesn't play the background and let his friends and Strange Music compadres hog the spotlight - he's involved in nearly every "Strangeulation" track. As the most recent signee to the label though it's pretty remarkable that Murs factors prominently in the mix though. Either he was already planning to make this move well before it was announced on February 7th, or Tech cleared the way for Murs to get into the "Strangeulation" sessions in a hurry even though he was already deep into getting this album ready.
"Aww shit! They fucked around and signed a backpacker
Smart, rich, handsome, plus he's not a bad rapper
I'm just a little local talent that fucked around and made it big
Underground bully pickin' on all these famous kids
And the danger is - now I'm doin +Stranger+ biz
'Bout to make the world forget about, what a major is
Independent powerhouse, runnin all these cowards out
My enemies are all forgotten - wishin I would shout 'em out" - "Strangeulation II"
Murs also has a guest appearance on the first full song of the album - "Hard (A Monster Made It)" - which coincidentally is one of the album's best. The mixture of gothic, electronic, hard hitting and rocking beats is a Tech trademark - and if you think it's good on the "Strangeulation" you should hear him do it live. Speaking of gothic "American Horror Story" allows the Ces Cru to take you on a bizarre journey: "black blood on the white walls/do a design in the droplets/psycho what you might call/but my mind is spotless." "The Calling" featuring Tyler Lyon is an eerie track as well - you get the feeling they dropped a guitar in the swamp and started playing and singing.
It's not all hard and heavy though. Godemis from the Cru and Murs ride to a bouncy fun backdrop along with Tech on "Which One." "Na Na" could almost pass for a quiet storm song, but it's a little too pornographic to pass for radio standards - good work by Stevie Stone and Rittz on the cut though. "Make Waves" is a high speed, high-powered romp that lives up to the song's name, and although it may not be on your copy if you don't have the deluxe edition I love hearing Krizz Kaliko croon on "Withdrawal."
Even as a long-time Tech N9ne supporter there are times when it's hard to tell the difference between a "Collabos" album and a regular Tech CD. He likes to show love to his Strange Music family, and I enjoy most of his posse, but I get nostalgic for the late 1990's and early 2000's when he was the unquestioned star of his albums. It's also a pretty long journey if you go with the deluxe copy, coin or no coin, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes. There aren't "bad" tracks per se on "Strangeulation" but some songs like "Red Rags" and "Stink" don't command any repeat play, and it's a little disappointing that the only appearance of Prozak is on the fifth and final "Strangeulation" posse track. It's a good album, even an above average album, one I'd be happy I bought at the merch table whether I was showing love or not and whether it came with a collector's coin that as much as I like it I feel may get misplaced once I put this CD on the shelf. Tech fans should definitely make the investment, and it's a strong teaser for Murs' official label debut in June.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: May 20th, 2014