Music Review: Tech N9ne's 'Strangeulation Vol. II'
Strangeulation Vol. II(Strange Music)
Tech N9ne once boasted, on the title track of his 2009 EP “E.B.A.H.,” that he has an “evil brain” and an “angel heart.” Those contradictory extremes have characterized the Kansas City rapper’s extraordinarily successful career, so it’s not surprising that the two albums Tech N9ne released in 2015 may be the best and the worst recordings in his extensive catalog.
Special Effects, a stellar project released in May, might be Tech N9ne’s artistic pinnacle. Strangeulation Vol. II debuted in November at #4 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts and #25 on the publication’s overall albums chart but is arguably the weakest of the rapper’s 16 studio albums.
Loaded with challenging music and insightful lyrics, Special Effects was enlivened by contributions from hip-hop superstars including Eminem, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. Strangeulation Vol. II features Tech N9ne’s colleagues on the Strange Music roster, but it isn’t the absence of multi-platinum rappers that makes it disappointing — it’s subpar beats, uninspired sounds and insipid content.
The first of five songs labeled as cyphers contains the most embarrassing of Tech N9ne’s many unfortunate lines. After clumsily explaining the album’s concept — “Smokin’ weed/True indeed/Sick emcees/Presented by Tech-a-nees” — Tech N9ne equates himself with elite rappers and insists his output is “pure art: I'm the shit and… you're farts.”
Scatological references aren’t the only questionable lyrics. The misogynistic “Fired” slanders a sexually adventurous "stupid bitch" who's particularly "loco" during "the week of her period." Details about a foreplay ritual on the revolting “Chilly Rub” might trigger gag reflexes in the most libertine of listeners. On the grotesquely lewd “Muah,” a contender for the worst song in his discography, Tech N9ne suggests that "pounding punani each night" is a perk enjoyed by skilled rappers.
Still, there’s enough brilliance on Strangeulation Vol. II to justify suffering through the 80-minute project. Tech N9ne’s stentorian flow salvages deplorable selections, as when he brags about his speedy delivery on “Slow to Me,” suggesting the oral dexterity that allows him to rap with nimble quickness can be adapted to sexual acts.
Tech N9ne’s propensity for over-sharing is made bearable by contributions from his Strange Music label-mates. While Tech raps about “coughing up a loogey” on “Wake and Bake,” impassioned vocals from the multi-talented Krizz Kaliko rescues the otherwise putrid track.
And despite the shouted chant of “play ball slay all” that serves as the inept hook of “PBSA,” the men of Kansas City’s Ces Cru, Ubiquitous and Godemis, contribute smart and funny verses.
Raps by Ubiquitous and the California-based Murs also redeem “Blunt and a Ho,” which opens with Tech N9ne delivering a voicemail message any sensible human resources officer would flag as workplace harassment. Though his “boss man” bullies him, Murs examines his financial and romantic woes with good humor.
Elsewhere, Kansas City’s JL, the most recent Strange Music signing, spews five words a second on a brief track that acts as an entirely convincing 50-second commercial for JL’s next project.
These songs contain Tech N9ne’s signature blend of rock and rap, but the album also includes a pair of intriguing contemporary R&B tracks. Tech N9ne’s verse is a superfluous interruption to Mackenzie O'Guin’s compelling vocals on the smooth “Actin’ Like You Know.” And Darrein Saffron, a vocalist who sounds uncannily like the hit-maker Chris Brown, effectively plays the role of Tech N9ne’s romantic rival on “Real With Yourself.”
The promising new style explored on these two bracing tracks indicate that Tech N9ne is fully capable of returning to top form by striking the proper balance between the evil and angelic on his next album.
Bill Brownlee’s writing appears weekly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. He blogs about Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.