Kansas City Rap titan Tech N9ne [click to read] must not be feeling the effects of our current economic downturn. After surpassing the million unit Soundscanned mark for his decade-long career last summer [click to read], following the release of his most recent solo offering, Killer [click to read], the arguable king of independent Hip Hop (unarguably the current indie sales king with over 100,000 units scanned for Killer) is following up that audacious double-album release by dropping a vanity side-project showcasing the spitters signed to his Strange Music label, as well as a slew of relatively unknown regional talent. Sickology 101 is the second such "collabos" project featuring Tech alongside lesser known artists (following 2007's Misery Loves Kompany), and proof positive that the rapid-fire rhymer is by far the only Hip Hop artist in 2009 that can put out whatever he damn well pleases without worry to how its received commercially.
And without a doubt, Sickology will sell well for an independent release but be yet another Tech-helmed effort ignored by the mainstream music world. That who gives a fuck about what everybody else is doing/regional focus is best showcased on the compilation's standout selection, "Midwest Choppers 2" [click to listen]. For this sequel of sorts to its less ominous predecessor featured on Misery, Tech recruits fellow lightning-tongued legend Krayzie Bone [click to read] and Kansas local K-Dean for a heartland anthem, with the three seemingly trying to spit faster than one another (with Tech besting his formidable competition) over haunting echo effects and cathedral organ bursts.
But it's not all menacing "Midwest muder music" on Sickology. Tech and company spend most of the disc having a seemingly inordinate (for such a serious group of guys) amount of good ole' fashioned fun. Beginning with "Poh Me Anutha," and continuing on to the next track, "We Kixin' It," the Killer Klown and his affiliates pay homage to partying while drunk off your ass. The former (alongside label-mate Kutt Calhoun, and Potluck) functioning as a hard-hitting hood equivalent to Asher Roth's [click to read] breakout tribute to collegial wastedness, and the latter (alongside Ron Ron and The Popper) and even more energized ode to kickin' it in the club over high-octane organs and a pounding 808, with funky synths sprinkled in to complete the bouncy orgy of sippin' and pimpin'.
Unfortunately, the good times don't last. And Sickology takes a turn for the nauseating in the album's second half. Beginning with the first of two Tech solo joints, "Blown Away," the disc's sound and style eschews the enjoyable party times and instead starts to feel as disoriented and sick as a morning-after hangover. The aforementioned "Blown Away" seems well-intended enough - Tech deservedly laments the lack of respect he gets on the road from his more known to the masses, but less skilled on the stage, musical peers - but the combination of the track's sleepy soundscape (along with Tech's unimaginative usage of Auto-Tune on the song's chorus) and attacks on the princess of Hip Hop Soul, as well as the God of Hip Hop, make for a painful listening experience. Not to mention a seemingly arrogant (and even blasphemous in this Hip Hop thing of ours) pity-party when Tech exhales, "We couldn't wait to see Rakim rock, but he never ever showed up / He swole up 'cause he didn't wanna go up before us / Man, what's wrong with these people? / Think the world gonna kiss they asses...," before concluding the track by demanding "Keyshia Cole get off your high horse. Rakim get off your high horse. Industry get off your high horse."
The uncomfortable listens continue with the quirky "Sorry N' Shit," featuring the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains, who prove to be more pathetic than comedic with their juvenile bitches-ain't-shit routine. The equally childish "Creepin'" marries grating synths and singing with trite, adolescently crude lyrics from B.G. Bulletwound and Paul Mussan addressing the same topic TLC already much more creatively tackled nearly 15 years ago.
But the banal lowlight of the album is undisputedly "Areola" (featuring the 816 Boys), a tribute to nipples even a group of 12-year-olds would find immature, set atop a hyperkinetic dance number that only fans of Flo Rida could possibly appreciate.
It becomes painfully obvious after digesting these less than stellar selections that Tech's shadow looms large throughout his attempt to shine a light on a bunch of mostly unknowns, as none of his guests (especially the artists not already signed to Strange Music) even come close to comparing to their talented album host. And with at best average production (courtesy of Young Fyre or Matic Lee on most of the disc's tracks) on a large portion of the album, those undistinguishable voices go even more unnoticed.
Ultimately, Sickology is a mixed bag. A handful of tolerable but not noteworthy tracks ["Sickology 101" [click to listen] featuring lyrical powerhouses Crooked I [click to view] and Chino XL over a blah production, "Ghetto Love," "Let Me In," "In The Air," and the solid straight-ahead Rock offering, "Far Away"], intermingle with a handful of complete duds, topped off by a handful of unquestionably worthy selections, including the saving graces of the second half of Tech N9ne's latest full-length crew showcase: "Dysfunctional" and "Red Nose" [click to view]. The former being a live-guitar guided (featuring Strange-rs Krizz Kaliko and Big Scoob) explanation of the thing we all are, at least a little bit. And the latter being the second solo shot on the album from Tech, "Red Nose," in which the man who once unashamedly sported red hair creatively compares himself (and his career outside of the mainstream) to the outcasted holiday character: "I'm an independent, talented individual working, but the industry is the reindeer game / And they call me Rudolph The Red..." There's no debate that Tech N9ne is the leader of independent Hip Hop's sleigh. Recession be damned, Tech's nose still shines bright.