Music review

Therapeutic Rap-Rock: Tech N9ne’s Nu-Metal Mystery

Aaron Dontez Yates, best known for his work as rapper Tech N9ne, has always had a habit of sneaking his way outside of the hip-hop genre and mixing in with rock and metal genres; it’s become one of his most appealing features. He’s a verbose and skilled rapper, but it’s his desire to experiment that has earned him so much attention from so many different genres. Therapy is Tech N9ne’s latest adventure, a return to the ancient art of nu-metal. The fact that Yates is moving into this territory is something that simply must be noted. Despite continued support from genre mainstays like Korn and Limp Bizkit, the nu-metal genre is practically abandoned. Deftones departed back in 2000 with the spacey White Pony, while Linkin Park discarded their nu-metal influences after 2003’s Meteora. So why in the world would Tech N9ne dive into a genre that’s barely alive? His logic behind the decision is still fuzzy, but what’s even more notable is how Yates is able to inject a shot of adrenaline to this otherwise drained subgenre.

With nu-metal producer Ross Robinson on board, Tech N9ne’s newest EP is bursting with heaviness and weighted groove. It’s a clear throwback to the late 90’s-early 2000’s era of metal, and as an effort to breathe new life into that struggling subgenre, Therapy is actually a remarkable success. “Hiccup” is a record-scratching blitz that takes hardcore rap and mixes it with clamoring beats and chugging riffs: it’s a track that’s chock full with intensity and it’s a highlight on the album. However, other songs on the EP don’t work out as well. “Public School” sounds like something ripped right from a mid-era Korn album (with a guttural yell sounding eerily similar to the start of Korn’s single, “Blind”). The first few songs on the album tend to pride themselves on nu-metal tropes like beefed-up rhythms, but without much refinement. But overall, despite some very impressive performances, Therapy still has a persistently dated vibe. If you don’t have a history listening to early nu-metal like self-titled-era Korn or Adrenaline-era Deftones, it’ll be very hard to see what the big deal is. Still, for an album rooted in a near-obsolete subgenre, Therapy is still an admirable work.

The songs that move away from the nu-metal trappings are also very well done. “I.L.L.” is a smashing hitter with a club-metal vibe over Tech N9ne’s rapping, while the heavy, but gloomy “Stop the Sailor” closes out the album with panache. Vocalist Caroline Dupuy Heerwagen’s performance on the hypnotic “Shame on Me” is stellar (though it’s the only guest appearance that really stands out). Therapy’s best feature is still Tech N9ne’s rapping, which hasn’t lost its luster. You won’t hear as much rapid-fire chopper rapping like in All 6’s and 7’s, but his rhymes are still intelligently constructed and poetically lyricized. His creative use of rhythms has earned him critical acclaim over the years and his rhythmic prowess is still very prevalent on Therapy. It’s just in a more subdued form.

Tech N9ne’s courage to break out of the rap genre is admirable, though his decision to revitalize nu-metal with Ross Robinson on board isn’t without its issues. The less-than-stellar songs feel overworked and claustrophobic; the beats are too heavy and a bit too cacophonous to bring out that perverse magic of nu-metal. But even during the weakened moments, Therapy has a good amount of things to love. It’s still a fine example of Tech N9ne’s versatile skill as a musician with a lot of cleverly implemented and substantial hooks. While the album will more than likely be appreciated by classic nu-metal fans the most, anyone who has followed Tech N9ne’s rap discography from the start will still find his skill to be as razor-sharp as ever. It’s not Yates’ best work, but considering his more-than-impressive track record, Therapy is still an interesting listen.