One of the most interesting things about Tech N9ne‘s latest album, Something Else, is its title. While the album itself draws from a vast range of musical styles within hip-hop and beyond – far beyond, in fact – the source of the album’s title is rather singular: alternative music. “Alternative music” may be a debatable, nearly useless term now, but when it was first uttered among fans of punk and other burgeoning underground genres, it had a polemic thrust; it referred to music that was produced under alternative conditions, in environments that were independent of the whims, limits, costs and failures of the commercial music industry. Eventually,” alternative” came to mean music that you bought at a certain store or saw performed at a certain venue, which is just as pretentious as it sounds. On Something Else, as he has been doing throughout his rather extensive career, Tech N9ne attempts to reinvigorate alternative music’s polemic origins, notably getting some of mainstream music’s stalwarts to join his ranks.
The album is divided into 3 sections, each with its own elemental description – “Fire,” “Water,” and “Earth” – and its own characteristic mood. “Fire” comes first, beginning with the declarative “Straight Out the Gate,” which opens with an eerie litany and surges forth with a rage-filled verse from Tech, followed by a chorus from Serj Tankian, who introduces the album’s primary contradiction through a twisted image: “We are the children of your rivals, holding guns while reading bibles.” On the second verse, Tech makes the contradiction more explicit by referencing E.B.A.H, his 2012 EP that stands for “Evil Brain Angel Heart.”
Though Tech personally describes his brain as evil, which is a rather one-sided concept, the “Fire” section as a whole is fairly complex. On , “B.I.T.C.H. (Breaking In to Colored Houses)” which has quite a red herring for a title, Tech joins forces with T-Pain to decry his alienation from hip-hop and black culture. The pairing is highly tongue-in-cheek given the two artists’ respective positions within the music industry, but the sarcasm of the track isn’t its highlight. The highlight is Tech declaring that now is his time while going even further inward. Most artists tend to become more palatable when it is time to crossover, but Tech aims for purity, doubling-down on the traits that encouraged his initial alienation. Accordingly, “B.I.T.C.H.” is followed by “With the BS,” a thumping track that easily could have been a club song, but is made into a horrorcore posse cut. The next sequence of tracks avoid pandering just as aggressively, especially “I’m Not a Saint” and “Fragile,” moving songs in which Tech voluntarily exposes his heart, much like the Something Else album cover.
The brief (3 songs) “Water” section is a conundrum. While Tech the technician is still present, meaning his rapping is still brilliantly crafted and executed, for two of the section’s three songs, the word “weenie” has a noticeably increased frequency and the tone is rather goofy. Nevertheless, by the time the B.O.B. -driven “See Me” is over, despite the increased goofiness and a rather lame verse from Wiz Khalifa, the “Water” section feels like a necessary transition to the “Earth” section, which has tectonic shifts in tone and content.
Featuring few choruses from Tech N9ne himself, the “Earth” section takes the listeners beyond Tech‘s personal thoughts and desires on his life and focuses on the lives of others, particularly children. “That’s My Kid” is actually this section’s highlight, featuring musings on parenthood from Tech, Big K.R.I.T and Kutt Calhoun alongside a very powerful chorus from Cee-Lo. “My Haiku-Burn the World” is a close second. It’s tempting to classify the track as an attempt to crossover, but what kind of crossover song talks about child molestation? Furthermore, as “B.I.T.C.H.” indicated, who exactly would he be crossing over to? In addition to the general message of “Don’t give horrible deeds the luxury of silence,” the meta-message “My Haiku-Burn the World” seems to be something along the lines of, “You can make whatever kind of music you want and you should.” Rappers should take note.
Autonomy doesn’t always guarantee success though. “Believe” and “Priorities” are definitely misfires, no pun intended. The former is heartfelt in its ambition, but its execution lacks the passion that characterizes the rest of the album, even on songs like “Dwamn.” The latter is also ambitious in terms of its format -3 rappers trading bars over an increasingly frantic beat – but it is kind of an anomaly in terms of tone.
In the end, the range of Something Else may be a little disjointing, but the album makes a coherent statement about what one rapper can do. Emotional vulnerability, braggadocio, lust and rage are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, more than just a compilation of contradictions, Something Else is an assertive album that declares what rap can do in both its independent and commercial manifestations. In that sense, Something Else truly is something else, not a middle ground or a compromise, but an alternative, a workable aesthetic option for both those at the top and at the bottom.
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