A lot of rappers like to brag about their grind, but Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs are living it. In April, the underground all-stars set out on the “Independent Grind Tour,” along with Krizz Kaliko, Jarren Benton, and Psych Ward Druggies, an ambitious three-month trek through more than 70 cities. The tour is something of a victory lap for two uncompromising artists who have built a large and loyal following entirely from the ground up.
Macklemore aside, there may be no bigger independent artist in all of music than Tech N9ne. Over the past 15 years, he’s steadily built a massive following, selling more than 2 million albums independently through his Strange Music label. One of hip-hop’s mostly technically accomplished MCs, Tech’s double-time raps and dynamic delivery have had a perceptible influence on younger rappers like Kendrick Lamar, who guests on his moody new single “Fragile.” That song is giving the Kansas City rapper more mainstream exposure than ever, but his ethos remains under-grounded.
The first major exposure for fellow midwesterner Freddie Gibbs came with a series of mixtapes detailing his gritty tales of street life in Gary, Indiana. When he announced an album-length collaboration with the producer Madlib -- whose work on classics like the MF Doom collaboration Madvillain established his pedigree as one of the leaders in hip-hop’s underground avant-garde -- the pairing seemed awkward, but the resulting album, Piñata, is tremendous. Madlib’s beats are as cracked and blunted as ever, but Gibbs hugs them close, riding the rhythms with a tight flow that’s focused and fierce, two words not typically associated with Madlib’s loose and spacey sound. Piñata is one of the best album’s of the year, a welcome reminder of the magic that can result when two disparate artists step out of their comfort zone to find a common cause.
With their resolute focus and diligence, Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs personify both parts of the term “Independent Grind.” Their tour picks up again tonight in Bismarck, ND and continues through the end of June. Click here for a full list of dates on the “Independent Grind Tour.”