[all photos courtesy of Diallo Javonne French for Demencha Magazine]
On Friday night at Crossroads KC at Grinders, Tech N9ne and a handful of his Strange Music affiliates invaded the Crossroads art district in Kansas City, MO for a homecoming show of sorts. It marked Tech N9ne’s return to KC after hitting over 90 tour dates in a little over 100 days. I’ve been spending my own live music experience over the past 6-12 months in the Crossroads more than I ever have before. (Perhaps the Crossroads can give Westport a run for its money soon, but that’s a story for another day). Crossroads at Grinders is the kind of venue that will make you long for a more traditional music festival within our city. This past Friday, August 24th, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, 816 Boyz, Ces Cru and Stevie Stone all converged outside Grinders at Crossroads for what was nothing short of yet another Strange Music spectacle.
At about 7:00 or so, the line for ticket purchasers stretched around the block, nearly all of whom were draped in enough red and black Strange Music gear to convince anyone of the sheer power of the KC-based Strange, one of the most successful independent music labels in the world.
When 8:30 rolled around, St. Louis-bred Strange Music member, Stevie Stone, opened with an appropriately dramatic track as the lights behind him beamed all the way to the back of the venue, sporadically blinding anyone’s plane of vision caught in the crossfire as the lights waved side to side across the crowd. The place was packed and the sun had just gone down.
I’m not sure how Stevie Stone has worked live shows in the St. Louis area in the past, but his stage presence and ad lib chants were very reminiscent of Tech N9ne’s own. But when the leader of the label has one of the wildest, most reputedly on-point stage shows in all of hip hop, perhaps it’s only natural to take notes. Once I raised these observations to myself, I flashed back to my first Tech N9ne show at the Blue Note in Columbia, MO nearly ten years ago. My girlfriend at the time completely ruined it for me. I remember her becoming upset with the go-go dancers included in Tech’s performance, as if I had something to do with the scantily clad females on stage. All ex-girlfriend stories aside, I’d forgotten what a glorious thing Tech N9ne shows really are.
When Stone’s set concluded, Strange Music’s latest announced signees at that point, Ces Cru (Kansas City rappers Godemis and Ubiquitous) took to the stage. As an avid Ces Cru listener for several years, I can’t recall ever seeing them rock in front of several hundred people (a thousand plus?). While songs like “Old Gregg”, “Hate Season”, and tracks off Matter Don’t Money were surely recognizable to their dedicated underground legion, many fans who came to see Tech specifically didn’t seem to be very familiar with Ces’ music. I’ve seen Ces Cru rock venues such as the Riot Room and Record Bar in the past, but my first time seeing them on a big stage made me realize that their music may not have been so conducive to an audience of that magnitude, at least not at that point.
As I peered over the crowd at several points during Ces’ performance, I noticed that there was not much movement going on through the crowd. Few people were nodding their heads, for instance. Crowds at the aforementioned smaller Westport venues typically are typically more exuberant.
They did run through some new tracks off of their “13” release (out on Strange tomorrow), one of which I couldn’t help but think of as a Just Blaze inspiration, with a call-and-response chorus tailor made for a live setting. But the main lesson that Strange fans should’ve left with after Ces Cru’s performance is that everything is a work in progress.
Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko finally came out from backstage after a lull that may have lasted 30 minutes or more in between Ces’ set and their own. “Mental Giant”, “Am I A Psycho”, “Planet Rock 2k” and a smattering of both new and old tracks filled out Tech N9ne’s performance, which included him bringing out his 816 Boyz crew.
Even if you don’t care much for Tech’s newer material, and regardless of the fact that a lot of DJs still won’t give him spins, hearing his music is unavoidable. From his older, patented styles of psychotic strip club music to his new and improved songwriting game, Tech N9ne is an ever-evolving creature. With too many underground hits to really fit into one show, he opted to run through some surprisingly satisfying clips of most of them. After doing “This Ring” from Anghellic in its entirety, he asked the crowd if they thought it was the best song he’s ever penned. After some conflicted but enthusiastic crowd response, he insisted “I think it was.”
Though Tech N9ne put on a hip hop spectacle unlike anything the city has seen since he returned from his latest summer tour, and even if you think there’s nothing more to be said about his legacy, just know that legacy is an ongoing tradition which is shattering age, race and class demographics within our city still today. As mentioned earlier, everything is a work in progress, and more artists across the board should treat their craft similarly to Tech. We have a feeling that the Strange Music saga, an independent rising from the Middle of the Map, will continue well into the future. There was no roof over the Crossroads on Friday night, nowhere to raise it to and nothing to pour water on or burn. But this show was a reminder that this greater scene we know as Kansas City rap/hip hop is the house that Tech built.