The scene figures to explode late this summer, when Tech N9ne releases a solid album on JCOR/Interscope that promises to put Kansas City rap on the map the way Nelly's Country Grammar did for St. Louis. In the meantime, though, more rap groups than ever are fiending for shows and only a handful of willing venues are available. This means the competition for recognition in the KC rap world is hotter than ever, and so is the hatred brewing between rival rap crews. In the middle of it all are two MCs who, though their styles could hardly be more different, choose to collaborate instead of start beef with each other. Approach doesn't curse in a single verse, though his frequent partner in rhyme Mac Lethal has been working blue since the womb, but the two put their differences aside to concentrate on their shared strength: freestyle skills.
"We'll work together, but when it comes to most projects we're so stubborn that we'd just bust heads the whole time, so it's better if we can do our separate thing and tie it in together," confirms Mac Lethal about his unofficial status as a co-conspirator with Approach. Though the two often have appeared on the same bill and even the same stage, they've appeared together on wax for only one track.
"Certain pieces of the puzzle work well together," Approach adds, "but then you can add another piece and mess the whole thing up, so for myself, I like to have a peaceful atmosphere, so I'll just go with the flow to make the project happen."
"And I'm like the drill sergeant," Lethal says. "If I don't like it, I'm bitchy and whiny, and people get frustrated 'cause I want to take so much control."
In addition to his control issues, Lethal's choice of subject matter has proved controversial. His unrepentant hedonism, skin tone (that would be white) and occasional misogynistic rants have ensured that he received his share of Eminem comparisons, which has somewhat overshadowed his obvious lyrical talents. As one local music observer put it, "Lethal will be a lot better once he realizes there are more important things to talk about than his dick." For once, Lethal comes close to agreeing with his critics.
"Maybe they're just jealous because I've done things they've tried to do for a long time, but all these songs that people are talking bad about, that's coming from my heart and my mind ... it's what's inside me," Lethal explains. This isn't a soothing thought, considering tracks such as "Suicide Note," on which Lethal delivers a detailed description of his self-destruction.
"This is not shock rap," Lethal continues. "It's just not all positive. I haven't had a real positive life, so there is definitely a dark part of me that comes out, but it's real. A lot of people think I might be doing this to get attention, but I could really give a fuck if people are watching me or not."
Approach might not give a rat's ass about audience approval either, but the clean-livin' rapper would probably replace the f-bomb from Lethal's last statement with a "darn." That's not to say that Approach has no street cred: His freestyle skills alone would allow him to hang on any corner. And his Ultra-Proteus EP, on which he smoothly drops intelligent facts over '70s funk tracks, proves that hip-hop can stretch far beyond bling-bling, swear words and sex talk. He even eschews traditional rap-style self-promotion, choosing not to include his picture in the CD's artwork and barely mentioning his own name in his songs. He's also reluctant to brand his style, fearing that he might limit his possibilities by doing so.
"I don't want that one record to define me as an artist," Approach says. "I just made it funky 'cause I like funk. I don't even know what my next thing is going to be. More melodic? Spoken word? Rock? I just want to open it up and show all the sides to this music. I listen to Led Zeppelin as much as I do Talib Kweli."
Approach insists that regardless of what sort of musical concoction he cooks up, the main ingredient will be fun. "That's how I came to do Ultra-Proteus," he reveals. "We just wanted to have some fun, and there were dudes playing horns in my kitchen. So if you want to criticize me for having fun, go ahead. A lot of people take this stuff way too seriously."
Some of those people might be the ones who have made it known that they were "out to get" Approach and Lethal, either through an MC battle or brute strength, and if the offending MCs know what's good for them they'll stick with the latter. If not, Approach just might kill them with kindness; so far, leaving the controversies and conflicts to the willing and capable Lethal has played a major part in his success. "Hey, if you got skills, let's work together," Approach offers. "Forget about battling."