For years, critics and fans have celebrated rap music's ability to give a voice to the voiceless. Kansas City MC Tech N9ne recently was able to do so in the most literal way when a fan on the long road to recovery after a ghastly car accident that left him in a near vegetative state was able to become responsive and regain the use of his vocal chords thanks to Tech’s music.
Kyle Pinelli was a studious Virginia teenager when he went for a ride in his truck after completing his junior year of high school. That night, May 31, 2014, would change his family’s lives as Kyle’s truck hurtled off the road and smashed into several trees. Kyle was ejected through the windshield, headfirst into a bundle of barbed wire. Beneath the broken bones, torn flesh, and spilled blood, the worst of the impact happened to Kyle’s brain where he suffered a DAI (diffuse axonal injury). Among the most serious of brain injuries, it’s estimated 90 percent of victims who suffer from DAI never awaken.
While she was hesitant to call it a “vegetative state,” Kyle’s mother Joan described the severity of the injury by saying Kyle couldn’t even track with his eyes. After three weeks in a Virginia hospital, Kyle’s family was suggested to look into Shepherd Center, a rehab facility in Atlanta. It was at Shepherd Center that Kyle’s mom was asked a question that wound up having a profound effect on Kyle’s recovery.
“His therapist asked me what kind of music he liked. I told her rap. She asked who was his favorite artist. I said Tech N9ne. She was a young, hip therapist and said ‘Oh, I know Tech N9ne!’” After pulling out an iPad that the therapist had Tech N9ne music already loaded onto, she played Kyle “Fragile,” followed by “Dysfunctional.” It was when “Dysfunctional” started playing that Kyle’s mom took a few pictures, and the moment wound up being a turning point for Kyle as two months later his first words since the accident were “Dysfunctional”’s chorus.
Prior to the accident, Kyle had become a huge fan of Tech N9ne and his label, Strange Music, after being introduced to the MC’s music by his brother, Alex. Kyle recalled “Dysfunctional” being one of the first songs Alex played for him, and with Alex being by his brother’s side every step of the way through his recovery, it was fitting their bond encompassed Kyle’s musical reawakening as well.
As of July 2015, just over a year after the accident, Kyle’s recovered tremendously. While he still has some nerve damage in his arm as well as some memory issues, Kyle today has the same vibrancy and zeal for life as he did before the accident happened.
Among the most exuberant in rejoicing for Kyle’s recovery is Tech N9ne himself, who was told of Kyle’s story by the people at his label and, once he saw the photo of Kyle and him together, instantly remembered his face. “Reading it, I got choked up,” he said. “I’ve been knowing for a long time that my music helps a lot of my fans and gives them an idea of what to do in life. We hear a lot of stories about how our music saves our fans’ lives. A lot of them say ‘“Suicide Letter” kept me from suicide’ or ‘“Mama Nem” really got me through after I lost my mom or grandmother.’ And the fact that it helped Kyle come out of a vegetable state. That’s crazy. That means, before he had that accident in the truck, he really dug those songs.”
“Dysfunctional,” a song Tech only vaguely remembers being inspired by “people who bring you darkness,” is a song from his catalog that has taken on a life of its own. While never released formally as a single or even with a video, the 2009 track only recently worked its way into Tech’s live sets after Tech’s partner Travis alerted him to the YouTube clip of just the song having over four million views.
how good is God that the music therapist was a Tech N9ne fan as well? It’s like God sent an angel in the room with them. —tech n9ne
Tech believes the stars aligning for his music to aid in Kyle’s recovery must have been divinely inspired. “What would make the music therapist choose those songs? And how good is God that the music therapist was a Tech N9ne fan as well? It’s like God sent an angel in the room with them. And in Atlanta? We’re still building our brand in Atlanta! It’s more people every time we go, but it’s not humongous like I’m Future or T.I. It’s divine, that’s what I think.”
One of the most impressive elements of Kyle's recovery was that he didn't let the accident derail his academic career and still managed to graduate last month. “I had previously done very well with my schooling,” he said. “I didn’t take many electives, but just my core classes that I needed to have to graduate. I took most of them before my accident and then just had two classes after my accident, which I got done.”
Now Tech N9ne knows exactly what he will do the next time he and Kyle cross paths. “When I see him next time, I’m going to sing N.W.A’s song to him. ‘I just want to celebrate!’”
Chaz Kangas is a writer living in New York. Follow him @Chazraps.