Tech N9ne - Strange Reign Tour 2017
For an artist who has achieved so much – the most robust touring regimen in rap, more than a decade owning the most successful independent rap label, an independently released gold single, and recurring placement on Forbes’ Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, among them – Tech N9ne wanted his new album to transport him and his listeners to new levels of musical expression. With Special Effects, the Strange Music mogul has delivered.
“We’re playing with music, letting people know that we got this,” Tech N9ne says. “What it turned into, after my mom passed June 6, 2014, we still kept the same thing of affecting the music and the beats, but it got real serious, man.”
Tech N9ne gets serious in each section of Special Effects, which is broken into 10 portions (each of which has its own subdivision), starting with “Sunday Morning” and running through the entire week before concluding with another “Sunday” installment and an “Encore.”
The “Wednesday” section is dedicated to lyricism and features a collaboration Tech N9ne’s been working on since 1999. Eminem appears with Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko on “Speedom (WWC2),” one of the best rap exercises ever recorded. Each rapper flows at breakneck speed while clearly articulating each word of their mind-blowing raps.
Even though having Eminem on Special Effects may bring Tech N9ne extra attention, he didn’t secure the appearance for name recognition. “I got Eminem on the album because I love what he does and he’s on the top of his game,” Tech N9ne explains. “I always felt like I was one of those guys, too, that really took time with lyrics, that really took time to create material that people have to study.”
Longtime Tech N9ne fans have been studying Tech N9ne’s story raps for years. One of his most legendary series reaches its dramatic finale with “Pyscho B**ch III.” Given that the Kansas City rapper no longer has the psycho female element in his life, he wanted to conclude the installments with a chilling ending based on a real-life experience.
“When I heard the beat, it was so massive and so eerie that I wanted to talk about a crime of passion,” Tech N9ne explains of the song, which features Hopsin. “My best friend Brian Dennis, he was killed through a crime of passion, so I know it’s about a woman dating two dudes, usually. So, I made the song with two rappers dating the same chick. She got busted with one of them and they both knew each other. They don’t like each other much and they’re fighting over this girl.”
Switching gears, Tech N9ne gets serious about making music for the clubs with “Hood Go Crazy.” The song features 2 Chainz and B.o.B, and harkens back to Tech N9ne’s roots as a dancer.
“I know what makes people move,” he explains. “Just like I did ‘Planet Rock 2K,’ ‘Let’s Get Fucked Up’ and a lot of the party songs I’ve done, being three-dimensional. It’s 2015 now, so what’s Tech N9ne’s ‘Caribou Lou’ going to sound like in the future? It’s ‘Hood Go Crazy.’”
As much as Tech N9ne focuses on other pursuits, Special Effects is dominated by darkness, the pain and confusion that enveloped him upon the death of his mother. While he was reflecting upon her passing, he thought about the artwork of his K.O.D., Seepage and Boiling Point projects. Each featured black tar covering a portion of Tech N9ne’s body. As Tech N9ne revisited his artwork, he and producer Seven realized he was now metaphorically covered by this film.
The results were “Shroud,” one of Special Effects’ most emotional songs. “It has a need to be angelic, to be good, to take all that madness and let it explode and shake the masses and put it back on the evil people,” Tech N9ne explains. “I spit out everything I felt. I was really angry with people’s evilness and was dealing with my confusion about my mom, about why she was so tormented. She was such a God-fearing person, loving person. It’s just me talking to God and really letting the darkness take over me, but still turn it on the evil. It’s all in me, but then I turn it back on them, the evil that they made.”
As the album heads into its final sections, Tech explains how people have turned on him with “A Certain Comfort,” discusses losing longtime friends to disagreements on “Burn It Down” and details bringing people together on “Life Sentence.” With “Dyin’ Flyin’,” he addresses people’s claims that he’s selling out, while “Worldly Angel” sums Tech N9ne up as a human: the good and the bad, the confusion and the joy.
These are hallmarks of Tech N9ne’s work, key ingredients that have helped the Missouri mastermind grow from one of rap’s best-kept secrets into one of its most successful acts. With a tireless work ethic, he became rap’s marquee double-threat: a rapper whose musical magnificence was matched by his impeccable live show. He and partner Travis O’Guin launched Strange Music in 1999 and have methodically built it into an independent powerhouse, a label that releases high-quality, chart-topping music and whose artists, Tech N9ne chief among them, tour throughout the world virtually year-round.
It all adds up to one of rap’s best success stories. But, as Tech N9ne has found, success doesn’t always shield you from loss, setbacks and jealousy. “It’s messed up that money changes everybody around you and not necessarily you,” Tech N9ne says. “I’m still me. Money changes everything. Fame changes everything and it’s a shame. That’s one thing about Special Effects. Two is that I’m totally messed up about my mom’s death because I felt like she was such an angel and she was cheated spiritually, to me, in this life, so I’m frustrated. But in the midst of all that sadness and upset and madness, I’m still going to find a way to celebrate, to say thank you to my fans. We’re going to party the pain away.”
And Special Effects is the perfect elixir – for Tech N9ne and for the rest of us.
There are two kinds of crazy in this world — crazy you stay away from and crazy that manifests itself as brilliance. Krizz Kaliko knows both ends of that extreme, whether by design or not.
Born Samuel William Christopher Watson, at age two — well before becoming musical co-conspirator to Midwest rap legend Tech N9ne — he developed vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes loss of pigmentation. His eyelids and lips are splotched white and he cuts an odd figure; in a crowd or alone, he’s impossible to miss.
“Growing up, kids would pick on me and kids would bully me,” he says. “They’d throw rocks at me and chase me home, because I looked different. It hurt. It changed me. Made me sad. But then, also, it made me do things to alleviate that sadness. I learned to sing. I learned to dance. I learned to rap. I was a fat little kid that didn’t look like anyone else — naturally, that became my biggest asset. Somehow, I became pretty popular.”
Kaliko was reared in the racially-diverse suburbs of South Kansas City, Missouri. His mother was a singer of local renowned gospel group; father, the superintendent of a Sunday school. He first stretched his vocal cords in the choir, and, had it been up to his parents (they divorced when he was just 4-years-old), he’d have gone on to a fine career as an attorney. After two years at Penn Valley Community College he quit school. Something else was tugging at his soul. Something from his youth.
“My stepfather used to whoop on me,” Krizz says, “He was fresh out of the pen, and he was a terrible dude. He was physically abusive and crazy, institutionalized crazy. Not only was he crazy, but also a criminal. He made his bones robbing banks and committing other serious crimes. For Kaliko, step-pops is an enduring source of much psychological pain.
“He terrified me” he says. “When people weren’t around and my mother wasn’t there, he’d abuse me. And nobody believed what I said. It was like I was the crazy one. I thought about killing him all the time, I’d think about it endlessly. Visualizing it, how I’d do it, I was that mad. I would get weapons from my friends — bats, knives, or whatever it would take. I thought: I will kill him in his sleep. And then miraculously the boogie man disappeared, he and my mother split up.”
Carrying his childhood scars, Kaliko spent his teens and early twenties drifting, not especially successful or unsuccessful at anything, he opted to not continue with college. He went on to hold a series of odd jobs. He was a grocery store clerk, corrections officer and even a customer service rep for VoiceStream (later to be known as T-Mobile) meanwhile, he quietly pursued music by rapping and singing, not hewing to any conventional standard for what it should sound like.
“I was just a fan,” he says. “And that allowed me to go in many different directions. I could identify with country songs, gospel songs, Christian rock songs, songs that were meant for dancing, commercial songs, non-commercial songs. I was and still am, a liberal thinker. I enjoyed everything, and through music I could do anything, be anything. Most importantly, I could be myself.”
One artist who appreciated Kaliko’s approach was rapper Tech N9ne. The pair met in 1999, through DJ Icy Roc, who once dated Kaliko’s sister. After paying Tech the whopping sum of $500 to feature on his solo album, the Strange Music co-founder discovered Kaliko’s diverse skill set. He asked him to appear on “Who You Came To See,” from his 2001 album, Anghellic, and then they began performing together locally. It lead to a years-long series of collaborations — Kaliko writing, producing, featuring on, touring with and generally being a musical wunderkind in the Strange Music family.
“It was like I was his musical muse, and he was mine,” says Kaliko. “We learned from each other. On stage, in the studio— nobody has believed in me, wanted more for me, wanted the entire world to hear and know and understand my talent, more than him.”
In 2007, Kaliko officially linked with Strange Music. Since then he’s released five albums, each one more confessional, more expressively oddball than the previous. Songs in his oeuvre include: “Bipolar,” “Misunderstood,” “Freaks,” “Rejections,” and “Scars,” as well as appearing on many others, endearing him to society’s misfits. In recent years, he’s also become more clear-headed about who he is and what he wants to do musically.
“For years I rapped and rapped well,” he says. “The fans enjoyed it, I enjoyed it. I made some good music, but it was time to try some new things.”
That much is clear from his new album, Go, where he ditches rapping almost completely. Instead he commands listeners to the dance floor, belts out melodies, softly croons, plaintively coos while generally seeming to enjoy himself more than he ever has before. Yes, nearly a decade into his career, Krizz Kaliko is rebranding, rebirthing — or as he’d say, returning to his roots — as a full-fledged singer. Pop, rock, R&B, trap, funk, no genre is off limits, no scale unsung.
“I just wanted to make timeless music, songs that could play twenty years from now,” he explains. “Go is a roller coaster ride. It starts out as dance, but then there are other parts where one might listen on a pair of headphones, because it’s very meaningful. Other songs you might turn up in your car. Through it all, I’m speaking from the heart.”
The album is chock full of earworms, songs both aesthetically-appeasing, yet also immediately captivating and catchy. Case in point: the brooding “Stop The World;” folky anti-depression ode, “Happy-ish;” or the shout-along “Didn’t Wanna Wake You.” Not completely abandoning hip-hop, songs like “More,” featuring labelmate Stevie Stone, and “Orangutan” — with Strange Music all-stars Tech N9ne, Rittz, Ces Cru, JL, and Wrekonize — invoke the crew’s knowing, trusty Midwestern flavor. Mostly though, Go is a new sound; all frenetic, inspired energy. It’s the biggest, broadest, most accessible project Krizz Kaliko has ever made.
“The truth is I’m an unlikely guy to be a pop star,” he says. “Look at me— I’m a big dude, I have vitiligo, I get anxiety attacks, and I’m bipolar. But Top 40 radio and a global audience, that’s what this music is worthy of. I’ve always been an unlikely dude to do anything, whether it’s music, working with Tech N9ne or even being alive. Frankly, the odds being against me, that’s good, I like that. I have trust that the music will ultimately reign supreme.”
Stevie Stone’s life has changed dramatically in the last two years. During this time, the Columbia, Missouri native has gone from an independent artist with a regional buzz to a national artist who has completed four major tours and performed in front of hundreds of thousands of fans.
So for 2 Birds 1 Stone, his second Strange Music album, Stevie Stone wanted to incorporate how the progression of his professional career has altered the course of his life, both personally and professionally. “I was taking the elements of my life,” he says. “In the business aspect, I’m always on the road. Then there’s the personal, with my family, my kids. There’s all these things I have to accomplish and get done and those are the two biggest birds and there’s one me. I wanted to play off my name and make it real with my dealing with different things, my music and being on the road and being back home. It’s just two elements of my life and it’s one me.”
The hyperactive title track, the confrontational “Get Out My Face” and turnt up “The Reason” all showcase Stevie Stone delivering the type of anthemic songs that have earned him legions of fans around the country. On these tracks, he’s able to translate the boundless energy of his performances to his music.
“Come to a show and see what I’m talking about,” Stevie Stone says. “It’s the energy, the passion. When you give it to the people, they give it right back. So, it’s a volleyball match of energy. It’s an incredible feeling. When we’re on stage, everybody on the label comes with a certain conviction that you can’t deny.”
That kind of confidence led to “Grave Digger,” one of the most menacing 2 Birds 1 Stone selections. Recorded during a trip to Atlanta, Stevie Stone was inspired by the eerie beat to document the forceful nature of his music. “On that record, I felt like nobody was messing with me, that I’m not a rapper,” he says. “I’m a grave digger. I be murdering tracks, burying it. It’s really just a metaphor about how I feel I am in this game.”
For all of the bravado displayed on certain 2 Birds 1 Stone songs, Stevie Stone also delves deep into the motivation that drives him on his new album. On the inspirational “Relentless,” for instance, he raps about struggle and overcoming it. The hard-hitting song was inspired by a trip Stevie Stone took to his native Columbia, Missouri for the first time in several months.
“I hadn’t seen any of my homies in a long time because we had been on the road,” he says. “I went back and I just hollered at all the fam, all the homies that I grew up with. ‘Relentless’ is really a record for them. It’s personal and they know these things that I’m talking about. They went through similar things. My message is that, ‘It doesn’t matter what your grind is. Just get it.’ I’ve got homies that are lawyers, homies that are still in the hood. I’m just telling them to stay relentless. It’s up to us to accomplish what we want to accomplish in life.”
Stevie Stone shows some of his own progress on his new album by collaborating with Kutt Kalhoun and Brotha Lynch Hung, a rapper he’s long admired, for the first time on “Hush.” He also delivers a smoky ode to marijuana over a bluesy beat on “Indigo” and sings outright on “Boomerang.” The latter also features Krizz Kaliko and finds the duo detailing the ups-and-downs of a relationship marked by tumult.
The biggest artistic statement on 2 Birds 1 Stone, though, may be “Boo Thing.” Joined by Darrien, this R&B-flavored cut features Stevie Stone exploring a new sonic direction and rapping about relationships from a deep, emotional level. He says the song and its direction was borne from its beat. “I’m very comfortable in letting music guide me,” Stevie Stone says. “That’s an element that I’ve never done before. It shows growth compared to what I’ve been doing on my previous album and my EPs. It’s got a different sound and swing, but I still made it me.”
There’s a reason Stevie Stone feels so comfortable expanding and experimenting with new and varied musical styles. As a child, his mother filled their home with gospel, blues and the work of Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross. At the age of five, Stevie Stone was already mesmerized by music.
Even an opportunity to play basketball at a junior college couldn’t compete with the desire Stevie Stone had to make music. So when he had a chance to perform for the first time, Stevie Stone ditched his hoop dreams and dedicated himself to making music.
After a recording with Ruthless Records, the imprint of the late Eazy-E, whose roster has also included N.W.A, Bone thugs-n-harmony and others, fizzled, Stevie Stone reconnected with longtime affiliates Strange Music. His first release for Tech N9ne’s label, 2012’s Rollin’ Stone, featuring the bass-heavy single “808 Bendin’” with Tech N9ne and “Dollar General” with Yelawolf. The latter was inspired by the 2007 film Street Thief and features Stevie Stone rapping about robbing a series of businesses.
In real life, however, Stevie Stone started touring the country, hitting the road with Strange Music on four major tours, including the recent “Summer Of Strange Tour 2013” with labelmates Krizz Kaliko and ¡Mayday! In addition to his hefty musical output and extensive tour schedule, Stevie Stone modified his diet while on the road in order to deliver better shows to his fans and to live a healthier life.
“This is my second go-round, my sophomore LP with Strange Music,” Stevie Stone says. “It’s my second wind. I’m more seasoned, more knowledgeable. I’ve done a lot of shows with them, even before I was signed. I’ve done four tours with them. I’ve got structure and am a lot more organized. I know the elements to put into a show. Strange Music prides itself in giving people a good show. All those elements are always what I’ve believed in and what they practice and preach, so it fits like a glove.”
No wonder 2 Birds 1 Stone sounds so powerful.