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Playing the serpent 

Rapper Tech N9ne may or may not swallow your soul

For a rapper who claims to have an obsession with Jim Morrison, and whose last album was a pitch-black primal scream of spiritual fury and misogynistic roleplay titled K.O.D. (or King of Darkness), Kansas City's Tech N9ne maintains a remarkably clean image. Despite his detractors' accusations of everything from satanic worship to homosexuality, there are no scandalous arrests, drunken bar fights or public feuds on Tech N9ne's CV.

That's not to say the rapper's colorful style doesn't bleed into real life: "Once I get on television and radio, then the Jim Morrison shit will start," says Tech from his beautician's chair. "Then the questions about drugs and multiple women and my political views will start. But I'm underground, so you're not gonna hear it."

Instead, on K.O.D. the rapid-fire emcee lays it all bare, particularly his mother's health problems and how they've planted the seeds of religious doubt in Tech's mind. The growling opener "Show Me a God" says it all: "How come an angel gotta be sick in the pancreas / Like she an atheist / Maybe it's the faith that is making this lady crazy / It's made me a skeptic."

"My mom was down with pancreatitis on top of lupus on top of epilepsy," says Tech. His mother's made it out of the toughest patches, but Tech doesn't have to work hard to get in touch with his dark side as he heads out on tour.

"There's still dark aspects of my life going on, you know what I'm sizzlin'? Like, Mom made it through pancreatitis, but she just had a couple of seizures yesterday, and the day before. I'm in the midst of finishing [a forthcoming K.O.D. B-sides album], so after tomorrow I'll be totally out of the darkness and I'm going towards the light, 'cause I'm sick of it.

"I want to party now, man. I want sex. I want liquor. I want chicks. I want sunshine, you feel me?"

That outlook comes in handy when Tech, one of the few independent hip-hop artists to sell 1 million albums, faces the kind of harsh criticism his onstage antics — including the frequent use of horror makeup — tend to attract. In a fascinating outtake included on K.O.D., a real-life (according to Tech) newspaper interviewer badgers him over the serpentine logo used by his label (Strange Music) and the number of letters within Tech's album titles.

"Who or what are you following?" the man asks before Tech hangs up on him. Ironically, the content of his songs, including the barbaric kidnapping of a woman ("In the Trunk") and confessions of lechery ("Killing You"), never came up.

Throughout K.O.D., Tech throws red meat to the room with mentions of a 2012 apocalypse and taunts that he will "eat your soul."

"It's funny, man," he says. "It's like a tease to the ninth power. It's just an 'S' and an 'M.' Strange Music. It arouses suspicion and I'm totally aware of it.

"Poking fun, what's gonna be done! [Tech laughs maniacally.] The Mayan calendar is bullshit! Nah, I'm not gonna say that."

scene@csindy.com

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