I’ve been going to Tech N9ne shows for a long time. Not as long as some of his most tenured die-hards, who have been coming out in droves for the better part of 17 years, but long enough to legitimately lose count. Tonight’s show at Bogart’s put me somewhere in the high teens, and after seeing any artist with double-digit frequency, their performance feels almost second nature to yourself.
Such familiarity with the set isn’t necessarily good for retention. If you know you’re getting close to the same show year after year, the urgency to go tends to decline, as would anything that remains too consistent. Change is good, and although change throughout Tech’s career has historically been met with skepticism from complacent fans, he continues to embrace it at full speed. Despite cutting his famed spiked, red hair in the early 2000s to pumping the brakes on the “dark” stuff with the release of collabos project The Gates Mixed Plate in 2010, to enlisting mainstream emcees such as 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne in his more recent work, Tech has never changed from being the chopping, lyrically supreme emcee that he has always been.
Tech is also highly revered for his stage show. His tours are long, and they’re frequent. Some fans have chances to catch him upwards of twice a year, and you wouldn’t know it by the amount of energy radiating from the stage. It was somewhere around my fifth time seeing him where the formula for his show took a defined shape, and I began to worry that his performance would slowly become stale for the many who make a point to come out when his tour is nearby. He’d open with a hard-hitter, most likely from one of his two most recent projects. He’d then barrel through his extensive catalogue; new bangers and seasoned classics, stopping along the way to deliver timeless hooks and medleys, inevitably ending with “I’m a Playa”.
Since my last time seeing him, the stage show has changed. All new production and a redesigned set list were implemented earlier this year for the Strictly Strange Tour 2017, topped with a new mask from the creators of Slipknot’s disguises. These changes were met with praise on social media, from new and veteran fans alike.
As I enter the historic Bogart’s in Cincinnati tonight for the fifth-last U.S. date on the Strange Reign Tour, it is evident that this tour, or at least this date, did not receive the production treatment that the Strictly Strange Tour did earlier this year. On the billing is also a far less expansive crew than we’re used to seeing with Tech. Krizz Kaliko is assumed, delivering his own soulful brand of Rap & R&B, having become a staple to Tech’s performance over the years, and Stevie Stone, who is one of the most consistent artists on Strange Music, with his latest album Level Up joining the ranks earlier this summer. Usually there are at least two more support artists on the road with him, and while I’m typically a fan, it will be a nice change of pace to get straight to the point tonight.
The stage is framed simply by a cloth backdrop, donning Tech’s name and the Strange Music logo stylized from the Dominion cover, insisting that the show does not need all the bells and whistles to be enjoyed. Rapping underneath the banner is not a Strange Music artist, but Cincinnati emcee C The Gray, who has been gaining momentum for some time in the market. I’ve been to Tech N9ne shows at this very venue where the local talent is literally booed off stage. This crowd is not your traditional hip hop crowd. They’re there, but at a Tech show, you also see Slipknot tees, you see kids, and yeah, you see a ton of Juggalo shit. Talk about knowing your audience, C The Gray delivers a decently-choreographed set, laced with clear and concise double-time bars that not only got the crowds attention, but a large majority of them cheering. Not Cincinnati’s typical reaction to a local opener.
The show quickly gave way to Stevie Stone, who has always been known to carry a high-energy set. He jumped around his discography a little bit, landing on some of the bangers from Level Up, but not before taking a seat and performing his remix of “Come Gangsta” from Strangeulation II. Those who have frequented shows enough to see “Come Gangsta” performed by Tech, know that he always sits and by the end is up and moving. Stone recreates the experience with his own bars and choreography reminiscent of Tech’s performance down to the hand gestures.
Krizz Kaliko is listed separately on the billing, but we all know he will be sharing his stage time with Tech. Having been featured on a significant portion of Tech’s music, his soulful hooks and chopping contributions are an integral part of the music, and simply hearing them as a recording would not do them any justice.
Tech comes out in a white bandana straight out the gate to, well, “Straight Out the Gate“, the opening fusion between Tech and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian on his 2013 album Something Else. Not the newest, not the most unpredictable, but definitely welcomed.
He goes straight into something a little newer, the Logic and Joyner Lucas assisted track “Sriracha“. Before long the familiar pulsing intro to “Anxiety” begins; most people in the building know who is coming to the stage already. Within moments, Krizz Kaliko pounces on stage and joins Tech for several more seasoned cuts, beginning with the song that really hooked me in 2008, “Dysfunctional“, and moving to the mosh-inciting “Riot Maker“, building the hype for the most crowd-participated song of the set, “Einstein Tech N9ne“. If you don’t know when the song starts, you know by the end that when Tech & Krizz say “KCMO”, you are required to reply “ROLL”. No exceptions.
The middle of the show is a grab bag of well-known hits within the Strange lane. “Godspeed“, one of the newer chopping tracks, gave way to the buttery flow of “Who Do I Catch” and the invasive T-Pain assisted single “B.I.T.C.H.” It is at this time where Krizz takes a couple songs to himself, including the groovy and catchy “Talk Up On It“, which I was hoping to hear tonight. Krizz belts out the vocals to the rafters without the safety net of background tracks.
Now that everyone on stage is primed up, the duo get into the series of Chopper tracks, beginning with the first “Midwest Choppers” installment, barreling through the second installment, into the “Worldwide Choppers“, and ending on the Eminem assisted “Speedom“.
The adrenaline is high in Bogart’s right now, no reason to let up. They go right into “Kill Shit“, a ridiculously high-energy track from Krizz’s album Kickin’ & Screamin’, only to crank it to 11 with “E.B.A.H.”
At this point, they understandably need a breather. It isn’t a long one, because we’re immediately greeted with the snappy drum beat of “Fragile“, the music-critic-criticizing music that ironically received great critiques from music critics (phew). Being one of several collaborations with chart topping Kendrick Lamar, “Fragile” is definitely credited with many new Tech listeners.
They close with more hits, “Caribou Lou” which after 10 years in rotation, went platinum this year, and “Hood Go Crazy“. Not before addressing the crowd and admitting that he nailed the lyrics to all the Chopper tracks, and the tongue twisting Fragile verse without fail, understandably not a nightly occurrence. He attributes this feat to the energy being radiated from the packed Bogart’s general admission floor.
Also worth noting is his mention of being “run out” by people with guns last time they performed in Cincinnati (um.. news to me?!), and in response, Tech says:
“Well, we came back anyway, you know whY? CUZ We got guns, too!”
The concert ended less ceremoniously than in the past. Having done his usual sign-off salute “Stamina” at the beginning of the show, it was unclear whether another song would be coming after he addressed the crowd.
All in all, it was exactly what you expect from a Tech show. This was obviously the more condensed package that Strange Music took on the tour this year, but with a huge Strange Reign release show coming up in a few weeks at Red Rocks in the label’s biggest market, it’s clear that continued growth and change are on the horizon for one of the most successful independent rappers and labels of all time.