Tech N9ne always wanted his music on the radio. The 42-year-old independent rapper just didn't want to have to compromise to do it.
Though even before his current hit "Fragile" he was one of underground hip-hop's biggest success stories - selling hundreds of thousands of records, moving mountains of merch, touring constantly - he hadn't yet broken through to mainstream radio.
And after largely-fruitless years of pushing songs to radio DJs outside of his home state of Missouri, he'd essentially given up.
But "Fragile" has been a smash, cracking the Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop top 40, and getting constant play on stations like Power 106, in Tech's adopted hometown of L.A.
How did this happen? Turns out I played a role.
In 2012 Tech N9ne began work on his thirteenth solo album, Something Else. Upon hearing the beat for "Fragile" (produced by ¡Mayday!, Daniel Perez, and Ralfy Valencia), which already featured vocals from Nashville songstress Kendall Morgan, Tech wanted it for his album. The beat was melancholic and percussive, somehow both soft and aggressive. Still, Tech wasn't sure what he'd rap about.
Meanwhile, in March 2013 he performed at the Paid Dues Festival at San Manuel Amphitheater. Going all out, as usual, he considered the show a success. Then came my review of the show. Though the review was mostly laudatory, Tech focused on the few negative words ("... his delivery can feel redundant and gimmicky"). Incensed and inspired, combatting a career's worth of criticism, he wrote and recorded his verse for "Fragile" while on the road in Seattle.
Cause they wrote nothin' but lies, quotes stuck in my eyes
Amateur writer dissin'
He's a beginner and hopes for your demise...
You don't really get why I'm so pissed? Understand this:
I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my shit
For a feature on the track, Tech felt he needed a rapper with an "equal ability to flow." Kendrick Lamar, who once toured with Tech as Jay Rock's hype man and appeared on his song "I Love Music," was down.
"People were so in love with Kendrick I was thinking he might not have had somebody criticize his music or his shows and say anything derogatory," says Tech now. "But he said he did."
So Tech sent him the song. "I was floored," he says of hearing Lamar's verse. Tech also reached out to Eminem, but was told features had to be approved months in advance. He didn't wait and continued recording Something Else.
The second single on the album, "Fragile" premiered via Complex on July 17, 2013. While the initial online response to the single was impressive, there was no telling whether "Fragile" would blow up.
In L.A. recording his rock album Therapy that same day, Tech had dinner with me to discuss my review. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.
But it went well, and soon after our interview, Power 106's DJ E-Man invited him to the station to hear the song's inaugural radio spin.
"I remember 2002 when I went to Power and they were like, 'Naw, we don't like [my] song," Tech says. "To go back up in there and have love more than decade later - crazy."
Released July 30, 2013, Something Else reached #4 on Billboard's Top 200. Radio stations around the U.S., like New York's Hot 97, soon began playing "Fragile" regularly. At one time #11 on Billboard's Rhythmic Airplay chart, "Fragile" also ranked 85th among the most Shazamed song worldwide (currently #91) and 26th in the U.S. (currently #29).
"It just goes to show how a great record mixed with the right radio staff can transcend the norm of what we're used to," says Tech's A&R and publicist, Richie Abbott. "DJs have [wanted] to support Tech for a long time. This was a record everyone loves, so they were able to do that."
Now, it's a huge song for Tech at his shows. "Everybody knows the song. We don't even have to sing the first part," Tech says. "We just let the crowd do it."
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Tech's Independent Grind Tour hits L.A.'s House of Blues today, June 4. It will be a fitting homecoming. According to Tech, many from the music industry will be in attendance, most seeing his show for the first time. He's slightly stressed, but says this performance will be as high-energy and on point as the rest.
To former fans who claim his radio play and industry attention are tantamount to 'selling out,' Tech has two words and a new song, "Dyin Flyin," which will appear on his next album. He made it to radio without conforming. And yes, he's still sensitive about his shit.
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