Inside the robotic nightmare: "Special Effects."
Tech N9ne, who has accrued nearly three decades in the rap-game, has made a career out of dancing between the mainstream and underground universes. Admired by his fans for his consistency and his abstract approach to the genre, the Missouri MC's cocktail of freakshow world mixed with club-worthy finesse is something that has become expected out of each N9ne discography installment.
On his most recent effort Special Effects, Tech N9ne checks off every item off the list of fan and critic conjectures. N9ne’s dizzying delivery - that can get up to a speed that can make Quicksilver envious - shows up in spades here, particularly impressive on "Speedom." Not to be taken lightly with age, the 43-year old rapper flaunts the ability to manifest a dynamic sound, an affinity shared by only a few others in the rap industry. This remarkable diverse display is enough to make the record one of 2015’s standout rap albums. However what separates Special Effects from other impressive releases this year could also be viewed as a disadvantage-- he bounces genres so frequently, and goes just about everywhere, creating a listening experience that is as chaotic as it is unique.
It's a brave endeavor and definitely covers uncharted territory, however it can also be overwhelming. At times, digestion of the album can make you feel a little manic, but maybe that’s the point. Tech exploits every aspect of current music, chews it out, and spits it out into what sometimes feels like a cyborg meltdown. Corey Taylor of Slipknot even makes a cameo to help N9ne boldly go where no emcee has gone before: thrashing over progressive metal guitar riffs and walkie talkie wailing on "Wither." The metallic mindfuck is so startling, it becomes evident why this project appealed to the composers of "The Conjuring" and "Insidious" movies. Total twists in the album's road like this happen every so often and - whether they fit your fancy or not - they are certainly not to be labeled insipid. Every strike has purpose.
Perhaps the paramount achievement of Special Effects is the sense of purpose. For every buoyant banger like “Hood Goes Crazy” (“Saturday mornin', I ain't gotta work/Last night's show sold a lot of merch/Bad bitch in my bed so I ain't gotta jerk/Forbes List caught me so it's hard to make the dollar hurt”) there’s more calculated, contemplative displays like “Lacrimosa” (“I'm thinking the Lord will give me time while I’m in 'Vado/To say I love her before the Bible go hollow”). The detours from seriousness are concise and successful, which is a relief since there’s a fair deal of grappling with death and faith on this album.
Tech proves to be stellar in addressing his audience on both a micro personal scale and on a macro scale, with introspective demon hunting as well as an apparent finger to the societal pulse. It’s no mistake that the opening track and closing tracks of Special Effects - in “Aw Yeah? (Intervention)” and “Anti” respectively - are both being utilized as a platform to address the social climate in the fallout of events like Ferguson. If a credible and conscious MC like Tech went without concerning himself with matters like this, it would be disappointing and a missed opportunity. Luckily, the trademark lyrical machine gun rage that N9ne has been famous for retains its authenticity and relevance, with no signs of selling out in sight.
Also on point on Special Effects are the featured guests. There are plenty cameo appearances, despite this record not being an installment in the heralded Tech N9ne collabo series. Eminem, who reportedly requested no compensation and instead asked for Tech to return to the favor at a later day, engages in a face-melting game of one upmanship on the previously mentioned “Speedom,” and Lil Wayne drops some fire on the super catchy “Bass Ackwards.”
By the end of 25 tracks, some of the tracks’ content might begin to feel a bit redundant - especially some of the beats by Seven, which at their best rank as all-time favorites (“Give It All” steals the show) and at their worst feel like Madden menu screen soundtracking. The blemish isn’t enough, though, to muddy the musical achievement reached by Tech N9ne on Special Effects. It’s bold choices are bound to alienate some audiences, but maybe it’s actually just separating the men and women from the girls and the boys. Even those that do potentially get alienated by Special Effects, must admit that it is one of the year's bravest releases.