This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.
Clusters of red and black balloons floated above Happy Hollow Playground in Germantown to honor fallen neighborhood hero Akhiym Mickens, also known as Tech 9.
Tech 9 was a renowned battle rapper with a career that spanned well over a decade and took him from verbal spars in the neighborhood to compete with the nation’s best in battles treated like prizefights.
He passed away earlier this week. The 32-year-old’s cause of death is unknown.
Lit by candles spelling the name T-9, more than 100 people gathered on Tuesday in the playground to share stories about the legendary wordsmith.
“Tech 9 was an innovator, bro,” said local rapper Greg Geez of Southwest Philadelphia. “I’m talking about fearless. Step into that ring and represent Philly to the death. You understand me?”
In an arena where young, lyrical gladiators from tough neighborhoods — or people presenting as such — hurl violent, not-safe-for-work rhymes that sometimes denigrate family matriarchs and children, Tech 9 was revered as one of the greats. His rhymes flowed with skill that could give English academics plenty to analyze, and he set himself apart with humorous, animated performances that brought laughter to audiences not easily swayed.
“He brought the charismatic performance, jokes,” said Buttah From Da Block, a colleague of Tech’s. “And you could still be…what we in battle rap call street, which is the darker side of rap. He still kept it street but he was able to be comedic. He showed that it was entertainment.”
Tech’s contribution went beyond the stage. He co-founded a battle rap analysis show Champion with co-host Jay Blac.
Jay Blac says he felt “the energy and perfect chemistry” with Tech 9, and to continue without him makes no sense.
“He’s the star of the show,” he said. “Champion’s basically him.”
News of Tech 9’s passing went beyond the battle rap community into the upper echelon of hip-hop. Popular artists such as Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, and indy rap legend Tech N9ne, who had to clear up some confusion, offered their condolences online.
Rip dawg!!! I’m tired of saying rip 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾 https://t.co/zocx0pyUhL
— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) March 25, 2019
THEY SAY MY FACE DONT LOOK THE SAME WITH THE STOCK-
Condolences to the family of the late great Tech9 of philly. Rest well.
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) March 25, 2019
Rip Tech 9…one of the most entertaining battle rappers.
Condolences to his family and friends.
May God have mercy on his soul.
— “DROGAS WAVE” NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) March 25, 2019
— Tech N9ne (@TechN9ne) March 25, 2019
Missouri state Rep. Bruce Franks, Jr., who is also a battle rapper and goes by the name OOOPS, sent a letter of support to commemorate Tech. In the letter, Franks praised his Philadelphia friend for “pushing people to be the best versions of them, while being the best in battle rap and life.”
Close friend Damion Young remembers the vicious lyricist as being a “genuine dude” who touched everybody’s heart, and always managed to turn a sour time into a good one.
“Tech was a lovable person, man,” said Young, who used to rap with Mickens when they were younger. “Tech was one of the funniest, one of the coolest. You just talk to him and you just have a blessed day. Your day just gets better when you talk with Tech.”
Tech’s father, Mark Anthony Mickens, started a Facebook fundraiser on March 25, the day Buttah broke the news of his passing. By Thursday, the fundraiser had already exceeded its $20,000 goal.
Buttah says he and others supporters of the late battle rapper want to maintain Tech’s legacy with a dedicated street, park, or day honoring him. Some have already begun reaching out to the mayor.
“Man, we’re trying to get Tech Day,” said Buttah. “If we can get Tech Day, let’s make it happen.”