I was taught good guys wear only white. So after the stage lights came on and Tech N9ne stood in front of a packed Culture Room clad in a white gas-station-attendant shirt, matching pants, and a star-shaped mask pasted onto his face, revealing only his eyes, mouth, and the considerable hair on his chinny chin chin, I figured he was dressed as a superhero.
But as the sinister lyrics came out of his mouth coupled with the tongue-wagging gesture that was his go-to facial expression for the night, this man or at least his public persona was that of a villain.
Through his 90-minute, high-energy set, the Kansas City rapper shouted about "evil brain, angel heart" and wondered aloud, "Am I a Psycho." For a Wednesday night, Culture Room was utterly packed with scarce room to breathe. A small but obnoxious percentage of the crowd seemed to be auditioning to be Tech N9ne's evil henchmen. But these meatheads pushing their way around the floor need not apply, as he already had a sidekick in labelmate Krizz Kaliko.
Kaliko, wearing a matching all-white outfit sans mask, was in constant motion, whether rapping or even occasionally singing. He even had the stage himself for a couple songs as Tech N9ne took a breather where Kaliko could belt out "Inside" and "Unstable" without having to fight for attention.
Though Tech N9ne and Kaliko enjoyed showing off their dance moves, the most impressive facet of their performance is their chopper style rapid fire delivery of lyrics. It was highlighted in "Rip Your Heart Out" and most especially in "Welcome to the Midwest" where Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko partook in a ridiculous game of chopper tag where one would spit out lyrics at a mile a minute and when their verse was over would point at the other where it would be their turn to top it.
Opener Freddie Gibbs from Gary, Indiana, lacked the pizazz and flair of the headliners, but still had the audience in his corner. Coming out in an orange tracksuit with a sidekick of his own and a DJ backing them up, Gibbs did not feel the need to dance or have videos projected behind him. He relied instead on accepting joints handed to him on stage and led the crowd in chants of "Fuck the po-lice" whenever there was a lull.
But the fans were more receptive to the masked man who, as the night wore on, seemed less sinister and more gregarious. From the thoughtful interview he gave the New Times and his business acumen as the head of Strange Music (the merch table had everything from Strange Music flasks to socks to neckties), it's obvious Tech N9ne is not the bad guy he portrays. He let the crowd in on his sensitive side as he introduced "Fragile" as "the song that got me on every radio station in the world." Though Kendrick Lamar wasn't present for his part in the song, Kendall Morgan was there to sing hers. "Fragile" was inspired by a music critic's knocking on Tech N9ne for being gimmicky, showing even villains have feelings.