The faint thump of heavy base leaked onto the sidewalk outside of the Knitting Factory in beautiful downtown Spokane, Washington, the evening of March 31st, 2017. We had walked down from our hotel room at the Davenport Grand, ate glorious burgers at The Onion, and may have stopped for a drink or three at bars on our walk down to the Factory.
Parked along the curb in front of the entrance were big shiny box trucks with Strange Music wraps, rapper Tech N9ne’s record label, on them. A line of people waited to get their concert tickets scanned, and everyone around us seemed to be talking about their last Tech N9ne experience.
Tech N9ne has been coming to Spokane since the 1990’s, and speaks highly of the massive and loyal legion of followers he has built in the Northwest, far from his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri.
“I saw him in Nashville last year. Best show of my life!”
“A few years ago I went to a show at The Midland in KC! It was amazing!”
Excited voices filled the air where the line of people waited to get in.
I told someone about the first and only other Tech N9ne show I had been to in Kennewick, Washington at the Toyota Center several years ago, and how things got so out of hand during and after the show that they were asked not to return.
This is my music, independent hip-hop. And Tech N9ne is independent hip-hop’s undisputed king.
After getting our tickets scanned and getting wristbands for alcohol, we filed into the Knitting Factory’s concert hall, and the sound and feel of the base multiplied exponentially. A couple local openers were on stage as we entered doing a parody of rapper Ace Hood’s single, Bugatti.
“I WOKE UP IN A PORT-O-POTTY!” They shouted over and over, a wordplay on “I woke up in a new Bugatti”.
My partner, Amber, who had never been to a Tech N9ne concert, looked back at me and burst into laughter.
“It’ll get better once they get to the Strange Music guys, trust me!” I yelled into her ear, still hardly audible.
It was shoulder to shoulder as we shuffled toward the bar through the crowd of Technicians, the name Tech N9ne has given his loyal supporters. On the way there, we saw Tech N9ne jerseys donning the number “9”, a man in hospital scrubs with the number 6688846993 (a reference to a rap group Tech N9ne was in during the mid ’90’s in Kansas City called Nnutthowze) vertically plastered on the front of it, and a girl of maybe 12 years old on the shoulders of her father, with long braided hair and white and black face paint, much like the war paint Tech N9ne used to wear on his face during his shows.
It was like a dark carnival, ominous and aggressive, an aura of blissful lunacy filling the air.
The only thing missing was an evil clown, but one of those would show up on stage later in the evening.
After we finished our drinks in the beer garden we made our way down into the pit of the Knitting Factory where people were packed up against the front railing in front of the stage. Although there were people everywhere, we easily made our way along the side of the crowd and got down in front, just to the right of the stage, and maybe ten feet from the front railing.
From here, we could not only see Strange Music’s first performers, a rap group duo called Ces Cru, up close and personal, but we finally got the full view of the grandeur the Knitting Factory had to offer. I pulled out my phone and captured videos of the crowd, both on the ground and in the V.I.P. area above. Strange’s Stevie Stone also gave a hard-hitting, high-energy performance after Ces Cru, bringing his brand of brash, gravelly-voiced gangster rap to the Factory.
Next, Sacramento-native and Strange Music veteran Brotha Lynch Hung, also nicknamed by Tech N9ne as the “cannibal from Sac-Town”, took the stage in his west coast blue, performing a classic from his repertoire, My World. While the whole concert had a dark and aggressive feel, Brotha Lynch Hung’s set was without a doubt the darkest part of the concert, bringing his bizarre brand of horrorcore rap to the stage that you’re not sure whether to be scared of or amused by.
Brotha Lynch Hung’s storytelling ability and gritty rap flow is an undeniable talent, and as you listen to and watch him perform you feel like you may be in a scene from one of the Saw movies. With a career that has spanned for 30 years, Brotha Lynch Hung has developed a loyal following, including superstar basketball player LeBron James who a few months posted an Instagram video of him listening to Brotha Lynch in his free time.
But after Brotha Lynch was finished, it was time for the main event.
The stage lights cut off, and the Factory was nearly pitch black for a few moments before a large “3:00” with a Strange Music symbol came up on the video board behind the stage, and began counting down.
Jonathan Davis’ voice, the lead singer of the heavy rock band Korn, rang over the speakers as the song Starting to Turn from Tech N9ne’s newest solo album played in preparation for Tech N9ne’s arrival.
The crowd worked itself up into a frenzy as the timer struck zero, the music stopped, a spotlight pointing above the video board came on, and a man dressed in all black with a ski-mask stood on a pedestal atop the video board.
Like a machine gun, words chopped out of the man’s mouth. The voice was unmistakably that of the King of Darkness himself, Tech N9ne. The song was Stamina, about 20 seconds long and over 15 years old, an impressive barrage of words spit at you like bullets ringing from a tech nine machine gun, embodying the identity of Tech N9ne’s fast-paced style.
After the high energy opening bars, Tech was lowered to the stage on a small platform and took off his ski mask, smiling his vampire’s smile to the crowd, which erupted at the sight of his paint-less face. He went on to deliver another of his throwback, high-energy classics, Einstein.
Not only was Tech N9ne’s veteran stage performance impeccable, but the show’s production level was incredibly unique. The stage featured a large video screen behind the performers, along with two smaller vertical-standing video screens to the right and left of the stage, each approximately six-plus feet in height.
Many rappers over the course of hip-hop’s heyday have featured alter-egos. Such as Tupac’s Makaveli, or of course, Eminem’s Slim Shady. There have been many rappers who develop these alter egos to bring to life different aspects of not only their music, but their inner selves, and maybe the demons they believe live inside them.
Tech N9ne is no exception. However, he doesn’t necessarily describe himself as having alter egos, he describes it as the three dimensions of himself.
The King, The Clown, and The G.
The King with a God complex.
The Clown with a destructive thirst for women and drugs.
And The G, the one who understands what is most important in life, like family, and his children.
Tech N9ne began the show in all black as what I assumed to be The King, with a dark stage featuring bright contrasting flashes of light. The Clown version of Tech N9ne, wearing a red jumpsuit and a white skull mask, danced among flames on a screen to the real Tech N9ne’s right, and The G, wearing white and looking much like an angel sent down from heaven danced in clouds on a screen to the real Tech N9ne’s left.
After running through some old classics and some new bangers, Tech N9ne welcomed his long time stage mate and Strange Music veteran Krizz Kaliko to the stage. Krizz Kaliko, one of the most multi-talented and underrated artists in hip hop, has been featured in Tech N9ne hits both as a rapper and a crooning singer for well over a decade.
As Tech N9ne left the stage to become The Clown, Krizz Kaliko kept things going with a few of his own rap hits that feature his high-energy and bizarre style, as well as some of his slower and soulful songs that you’d expect to hear sung in a church-choir solo, rather than a Tech N9ne concert.
When Tech N9ne returned to the stage, he was dressed in all red hospital scrubs and the number 6688846993 on his chest, and the stage suddenly looked as if him and Krizz Kaliko were standing in the pits of hell itself. Flames danced on the videoboard behind him, red lights lit up the Factory, and The King danced on the smaller screen where The Clown had been the set before.
He performed some of his darker, angrier songs during this set, including Demons and Paint a Dark Picture. Although there was a dark and angry feel to these songs, it was just as much fun for the crowd, as everyone jumped and sang along with the songs.
The Clown’s set was an unleashing of anger and dark desire, unconcerned with the destruction that unleashing could later cause.
After The Clown came The G, and Tech N9ne came out in a costume in stark contrast to the rest of the show. The G rapped about the destruction The Clown had caused. Wearing all white with white lights illuminating the stage, he performed some of his more heartfelt songs, songs about his family and his fans, and his desire to do the right things, even though he’s made a litany of mistakes, such as losing his wife to divorce and not seeing his children as much as he wishes he could.
The song This Ring (this hyperlinked video is a really cool live version of the song from a concert in 2011) highlighting the set. The energy was still high and the crowd was still jumping, however the feeling from the lyrics and music elicited a mixture of sadness and regret into the set, emotions everyone can relate with.
After The G had finished, Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko returned to the stage with Strange Music basketball jerseys, looking like normal, everyday guys, and the party started. A celebration and appreciation for the blessings in life. They played one classic party cut after another, including possibly his most famous song, Caribou Lou.
At one point during Caribou Lou – Amber and I had worked our way nearly to the front of the stage – Tech N9ne looked right down at the phone I was holding above my head for about 7 seconds as he rapped his verse, delivering a video I would proudly share and brag about on social media.
For his final song, Imma Playa, another classic cut over a decade old, he brought out the artists from his Strange Music label, Ces Cru, Stevie Stone, Brotha Lynch Hung and a few other road members, and they all danced and sang to the classic in a grand finale.
It’s fair to say that Tech N9ne has been at this for a long time, and certainly knows what he’s doing. He came out of the gates hot, proclaiming his godliness and pumping himself up to the crowd. Then he brought in his dark side that revels in his fame, and indulges selfishly in his worldly desires, only to be followed by regret and destruction caused by his sins, and the responsible father in him that wants to do the right thing and bring a feeling of positivity to the crowd after dragging them to the brink of hell. Finally, he ended it with a celebration, a high-note that left the crowd wanting more.
The Knitting Factory provided the perfect venue for Tech N9ne’s contrasting style of dark versus light, good versus evil, as an intimate experience with the artists being up close and personal, while being a large enough venue to pack in a large crowd that could really rock the whole street block.
Next time you hear that this crazy Tech N9ne guy from Kansas City is coming to the Knitting Factory and you’re not sure if you want to go, do yourself a favor and put on your face paint, pick up a Tech N9ne jersey, and let your inner clown go wild for the night.