Only Ones With Smoke in the Middle of a Drought: On TEC and Maine Musik

Luke Benjamin weighs the merits of two of Baton Rouge's finest.
By    September 19, 2018

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Luke Benjamin will lapse into a poor Ed Orgeron impression if you give him more than 8 beers.

82 miles separate New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the connective tissue is more sturdy than just Interstate 10 and rap music. Nonetheless, Sherwood and Bourbon Street feel distant and discrete.  They’re closer to cousins than brothers, intimate family, kinsmen, but clearly part of a slightly different genetic branch. BR is the seat of state government, one of the South’s preeminent land-grant universities, and home to more great rappers than any comparably sized city in America. With New Orleans, it shares intense poverty, a forever-high murder rate, and a penchant for a raucous Mardi Gras parade. 

In BR, Boosie is the elderly sage, magnetic and plagued. His prime was curtailed by jail, a bout with cancer, and constant label ones. He seems much older than 35, but nonetheless has accumulated what he said he would: a Beatles catalogue.  YoungBoy and Kevin Gates complete the obvious holy trinity of modern BR rap (with Webbie filling out a Wal-Mart Mount Rushmore). Behind them, exist countless would-be phenoms: numb and violent, knuckling their way through unsettling and catchy hooks and verses so grounded in some graphic reality that they seem otherworldly. TEC (pronounced T-E-C) and Maine Musik are two of the best from this latter bloc, often working in tandem though just as wicked separately. (Scotty Cain, Sherwood Marty, Whop Bezzy, 70th Street Carlos, Jay Lewis, Geaux Yella, and Fredo Bang, all deserve some mention too)

Maine is raw, sordid and blunt. TEC is more variable and buckshot, his precision less important than an overriding episode. At his best, you can’t pull your eyes or ears away from him: hooks lodging deep in some nervy subconscious alongside particularly acidic two to three bar sequences.

Maine is spindly and angular, often fidgeting with a cigarette. TEC is shorter, lighter complected and more emphatic, probably dancing and ruggedly but fashionably dressed. One symmetry is a chain they both wear, white diamonds interspersed by a few purple making the shape of a spider.

It’s an obvious symbol for a shared allegiance to a set, Spider Gang, just one of Baton Rouge’s dissenting camps. Even if they weren’t tied by shared hoods and loyalties, the two’s creative synergy seems preordained, borne from years of brotherhood. “My Spider,” a G-Mix of Lil Baby’s “My Dawg,” is one of TEC & Maine’s most popular and narratively tortuous records. As of this writing the video checks in at just over 15 million views, largely due to the circumstances or coincidence of its release: mere hours after the violent murder of another Baton Rouge rapper, Da Real Gee Money. That some of the lyrical content of the song seems to mirror the details of Gee’s death has flamed suspicions and a great deal of internet sleuthing.

As for “My Spider,” it’s both cruder and higher stakes than Lil Baby’s original. TEC and Maine don’t so much imprint themselves on the record as fight for control of it. It could fizzle into some calculated trend-hopping but for Tec’s cold-blooded economy. Maine is consistent and assured but plays second fiddle, short of some force. Perhaps the most telling sequence comes halfway through Tec’s verse: “That was my work, I got em murked / I left his face open / They still got the case open / Stole yo dog / I’ll pull a Beethoven” Mono-syllables (for the most part) impacting clearly and decisively, no debris or loose ends left by the end of each bar.

The only more decisive outcome from the song and its milieu is Gee Money’s absence. This loss felt most acutely by his family and loved ones, but also put into sharp relief within the insular scope of Baton Rouge’s rap community. “My Spider’s” rise traces the arc of what is becoming an all to common trope across popular music, violent controversy only begetting more fame and infamy onto its subjects.

Though to frame this as the principle ignition behind TEC and Maine’s rise is to be wholly disingenuous. The duo have been iconoclastic fixtures in BR for a few summers now, originally signed to No Limit and picking up heat steadily. These past six months have been especially boiling, both amassing millions of views on YouTube and staking their claim to a greater share of the provincial turf. In recent times, both have been mostly consumed with their solo work. Though 2017’s joint project, Retaliation, is appointment listening for fans of roughly formed and sinewy Southern gangster rap.

The spiritual and contextual follow-up to “My Spider” is another G-Mix, this time TEC taking up YoungBoy’s “Thru The Storm.” Here he follows a similar recipe, excising brooding paranoia for callous faux-elegy colored with vivid incriminations. It is magnificently sticky and buoyant and at tension with the murky bloodletting of its origin, almost masquerading as a sing-along.

Like much of TEC’s best work, “Thru The Storm” is stuck together with malevolent charisma and a sneaky finesse on hooks. The song’s aura hinges on the implication of covering a YoungBoy record, those fingers that don’t point at TEC and Maine as the bringers of Gee’s death do at YoungBoy. The uneasy propulsion of the record is as extrinsic as intrinsic. TEC’s writing is spare and domineering, almost never pulling back and maximal at its zenith— both in sound and implication.

Maine never quite gets to this pitch, but treads similar territory, “Black Cloud” is one of his recent trophies, moody and recalcitrant and featuring one of his close Spider Gang contemporaries, Dez Da Ghost. Maine excels at fleshy moments, more nuanced and masterful in his mode. At one point earlier this summer, he was putting out music at the pace of a song and video a day: never running out of bars or ideas, his momentum never interrupted. Maine’s records lend themselves to deconstruction, diligent and purple rapping all that is needed. For reference, see his “Luca Brasi Flow” series, which is as emotionally effective and throttling as anything in his, or anyone else’s, catalog.

TEC, or Luwhop Hussein as he is sometimes known, swings closer to the paroxysmal sometimes pop of Kevin Gates, best at his least restrained and most pointed. The evidence for this claim is “Deadly Combination,” the opener to one of TEC’s 2017 projects Luciano’s Way. It’s quicksilver and silvery with a pestilent undercurrent. This loosely slinky and bassy record perhaps not an unfitting statement of Tec and Maines ethos taken together: rivals beware.

Both won’t stop coming. TEC is already two projects into his 2018: Web Life the prologue of sorts to the more truncated 700 Degreez. Both falter when he skews closer to something resembling Bryson Tiller’s style of sexless sing-song. The best moments come close to the firebrand heat of “Thru The Storm” and “My Spider,” “White Flag” is one of these numbers. Tec’s first verse is sublime, sending poison slicked arrows at all counterfeit opps and stealing souls indiscriminately. His most venomous passage comes about thirty seconds in: “Lil whoadie reppin’ on that body, he ain’t like that/ He had to be freestyling he ain’t write that / ‘Cause in that verse he claiming bodies he ain’t hearse / Now he out here head first, and that shit wasn’t even his work”

New Orleans has always loved outlaws of a token. William Burroughs settled there for a period. Fugue state high and strung out, whistling past Bourbon Street for seedier neon dens. The archetypal outline something like that waylaid author—misbegotten bohemians and star-crossed junkies. Baton Rouge subscribes to a different caste of desperado, both repenatent and unrepentant. Deities of this place leave bodies in their wake and rarely escape untouched. Boosie’s laconic advice to YoungBoy upon the latter’s unsanctioned coronation comes to mind: “Get out of BR.”

Tec and Maine fit the profile—Maine sometimes goes by Meezy Osama—and play their roles to a tee: reviled and beloved by different corners; leery of strays and defiant; ready to fire at shadows. They may burn it all down before they are eclipsed by fast coming fame. If they don’t, then Baton Rouge has two more liminal stars, and a new claim for its place amongst an overcrowded and mimetic rap ecosystem: the only ones with smoke in the middle of a drought.


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