Album: Special Effects
Artist: Tech N9ne
About: 24 tracks; 78 minutes
Dan has once again chosen an album that has stretched my music listening zone beyond its normal boundaries. Tech N9ne has been kind of a smile in our family since the kids were in high school and Tech referenced Ali’s high school in one of his raps. While his name was a household one here, I could not tell you a Tech N9ne song if my life depended on it, nor would I be able to pick his music of any musical lineup. After the week of listening to the 24 song long Strange Effects, I can recognize some of what is going on with this guy.
24 songs is a long freakin’ album! But it is not a straight-forward 24 songs. He is all over the place with style. There are conversations (one that is the voicemail from a friend telling N9ne that it would probably be the last time that he would hear from him, and then a repentant apology for his drama the next day). There are lots of guest performances who all bring their own sound and style to their tracks. This album is quiet and gets loud and gets angry and gets sad and gets playful and gets dirty and, and, and.
The album’s first song, Aw Yea?/Intervention is a straight on rap that was released several months before the album itself. On this song, and a few others on the album, his rap is backed by a beautiful choir. This time they sing Audire Domine – Latin for Listen, Lord. He hits his God hard for some answers – invoking everything from Bill Cosby to Ferguson to Boko Haram. I hear a combination of anger, confusion, frustration, and pleading. About this song, he said in an interview It’s called ‘Aw Yea? / Intervention’ because I need one after seeing all this shit over the years. I let it all loose in one song.” That song ends with him screaming that even after all of the stuff he has put out there for God to answer to, the most important question hasn’t been asked. That question is “What about my mama?” – referring to the recent death of his mom.
That loss of mother comes through in many parts of the album in some extraordinarily beautiful ways. He uses choirs and sweeping loops to back his grief and anger. There is one song, Wither, that is a magnificent virtual tour through music styles. It starts out with almost a folksy sounding acoustic section that then rams into rap that plunges into hair metal screaming. Another track that I loved was Dyin’Flyin.’ It has a classical piano underscore that is joined by violins and that chorus again. Over this virtuosity of sound, he raps about the fall of his fanbase as they accuse him of selling out. Again, it sounds like a prayer – an ask for an explanation – a plea for peace.
Over on his blog, Dan had more fun listening to this album than I did. He laughed and bobbed his head along to some of the songs that I probably skipped through. We hear the same things different ways. That is what makes this fun.
If you take the time to listen to Special Effects, you hear the breadth of this man’s talent. I would not have listened to it ever, had Dan not chosen it. I am never going to be comfortable with some of the songs that Tech N9ne or most rappers produce. I don’t like the brutal and overly-sexualized images of women. I have no comfort with songs full of language that I think needs to not be used. That is not going to change. But if I take time, I can listen and hear the other. This album has a great deal of the other. It has soul, and classic, and rap, and gospel and heart.
Next Up: Rihanna’s Anti