Proving that age doesn’t matter when it comes to talent, Tech N9ne is the Kansas City rhymer who’s been laying down the lyrical law for many years, but is just getting the worldwide recognition he deserves now. With a guest spot on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV alongside Andre 3000, as well as an appearance in one of this year’s BET Awards cyphers, his commercial stock has just risen considerably.
With a rapid fire flow that’s hard to compete with, Tech’s rap career has travelled a long and winding road. Going from being signed to incompetent record labels to having the most successful indie label on the planet, Strange Music, Tech has collaborated with many of hip-hop’s biggest acts and has been considered the industry’s best kept secret... until now.
Having just released his latest project, Welcome To Strangeland, the Kansas City spitter sits down with TaleTela and describes what a typical Tech N9ne show is like, discusses his short lived friendship with Tupac Shakur, and why he’s not eager to leave the independent game for the majors...
Tell us about your humble beginnings and how you came up?
I come from Kansas City, Missouri, born and raised. It’s where I started this rap thing. It’s where all the Technicians started. I’ve been through weird-ass record label situations to major record labels like Perspective Records, Qwest Records, and Interscope Records. Out of all of those labels, none of them could do it right. You know what I’m sizzling? Nobody could do it right. So me and my partner Travis O’Guin we started Strange Music in 2000 and we’re now the number one indie label in the world.
For those that don’t know, you’ve actually been putting it down for a long time. You’re consistently releasing albums and you have one hell of a fan base, known as the Technicians. How have you garnered such a huge following?
I give my heart to my fans and that’s why they’re so connected to me. And the thing is, the way they got their name, the Technicians, is because they like that technical style of rhyming. If you listen to ‘Psycho Bitch’ and some of the other earlier stuff, like ‘Einstein’ and all the other spitty songs I do, I’ve been technical since the beginning. Think back to The Calm Before The Storm with ‘Planet Rock 2K,’ I’ve always been a spitter, a chopper. I’ve always been a technical type of emcee when it comes to rhymes schemes. That’s why I call them Technicians and they love that. If I ever stopped doing that I would lose the Technicians because they know my style is technical. So the Technicians have been with me since the beginning, and they’re multiplying because the younger fans are now just hearing me on Tha Carter IV. They hear that technique, that critical technique that’s on there. It’s a beautiful thing that they’re multiplying and I love them.
You just mentioned your feature on Tha Carter IV, your commercial fame has risen considerably since the appearance on the album. It all came about when an incarcerated Lil Wayne shouted you out. How did you first hear about this?
I was in the studio working and my big homie, Big Scoob, came in and said: “You hear about Wayne?” I was like, “No. What happened to Wayne?” Scoob then was like: “Nah, he said he wants to work with you and Andre 3000.” I didn’t know that he knew me. That s**t was crazy. So all the OG’s got together and made it possible for me to go and see Wayne in Rikers [Island]. We were in there for three hours and we talked about pretty much everything, and at the end when the warden broke us up Wayne said: “When I get out it’s on.” So when he got out I went to Miami, Florida with him to record and we did the song ‘Interlude’ for Tha Carter IV.
He let me hear his verse on there and then I wrote my verse, I put it down, it was beautiful. Then when the album came out it had Andre 3000 on it and I had no idea. It was a pleasant surprise. Wayne came to Kansas City and let me hear it a week before the album came out. I had no idea. Nobody knew. That’s why [Andre 3000] wasn’t on the credits because it was supposed to be a surprise. Wayne got his wish. His wish was to work with Tech N9ne and Andre 3000 so he put us on the song together. It’s a beautiful thing. He followed through and it feels like I have nine lives for real man because I’ve been down so many times and then gotten back up. I keep getting bigger every time I get back up. This is a big leap right here. Much love to Wayne and everybody at Young Money/Cash Money. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m pleased. I’m pleased to be a part of his family.
You mentioned starting Strange Music with Travis over ten years ago, how did you guys meet and how did the label take shape?
All those years of doing the bulls**t with the major labels I then came home to Kansas City in like ’98/’99. You know what I’m sizzling? I met Travis when I was doing a fashion show with some guys whose clothing line he was funding. I was there doing the show with my friend, I performed one of my songs at the show and then one of the guys from the clothing line told me that Travis wanted to meet me. So me and Travis met, he said he was a fan of my music and that he wanted to do a label together. I told him that I wanted it to be Strange Music with the snake and the bat, and we’ve been flying ever since.
Looking back, what would you say was the biggest lesson learnt running your own label?
I’d say the biggest lesson learnt was that I should have never done anything with the major record labels. The only time I started getting paid was when I started doing my own label. The majors... they fucked me around hard. So what better person to do you than you? You know what you deserve and you know where your music should go. Then if you can find a partner that knows exactly where it should go also then that’s a blessing.
So you’ve not been tempted to re-sign with a major label?
Nah, I’m good. Maybe in years to come, actually I don’t even know if I’d want to sell Strange Music. It’s gotta be something humongous because we’ve put an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears in. We ain’t lazy and we don’t want in ten years, if we did decide to sell it, for it to be ran by lazy folks. You know what I mean? I don’t even know if I’d sell it. I really can’t say. Right now we’re moving, we’re moving quick and real hard, and it’s working. And we’ve got a lot more work to do so we’re chilling right now. The majors know to leave us alone right now. We’ve got this.
There have been questions over your music in past with regards to the darker side of it. Some have labelled it devil worshipping music...
What did you say? I have never had anything to do with devil worshipping in my music. People just call me a devil worshipper because of my imagery and because of some of my darker music but I have never hailed Satan in any of my music and I’ve never done anything that had anything to do with Satan.
We’re not questioning whether or not you have devil worshipping tendencies, we’re merely saying that other people have and they’ve failed to see that you’re merely using your music to channel your darker thoughts. With that said, do you feel that as of late you’ve changed your musical approach since the commercial success thanks in part to the Lil Wayne co-sign?
Hell no. The darkness is still there on all of my albums. It’s not just something I do because I feel like it, it’s because I feel it. It has to come to me. My mom is the reason why the whole K.O.D. album was made. These are real feelings and real things. It’s not something I can just turn on and off. Even with the mainstream appeal I still do what the f**k I do. I’ve always had sexual music, I’ve always had aggressive music, just ask the Technicians. I just think people like certain things that I do better. Like some people might like the dark s**t that I do and I’m not just gonna keep doing dark s**t because people like it. It’s gonna have to come when it comes. Like on All 6’s And 7’s you might get ‘Cult Leader’ or ‘The Boogieman’, you know what I’m sizzling?
But it’s only going to come when I feel it, when I have darkness, and it’s always there because I’m always going to have pain because I love so much. So my music hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten a lot crispier. People misconstrue it because I did a whole dark album, K.O.D., but I’m not doing that s**t no more. That s**t brought me down. But I cannot control the darkness. So if it ever comes again, even if I don’t wanna fu**in’ do it, then it’ll happen. As I said I can’t turn it on or off. It’s not like, oh now the Wayne fans are liking me I’m gonna do brighter music... f**k no.
A lot of people say that I have changed but I can’t see it. When I listen to all my old album it’s just my life that has changed. People evolve and the stories get crazier. But maybe that’s it. The stories might not be as crazy as when I was on drugs. So maybe people like me to be on drugs and talk about ecstasy like I used to. Now I’m talking about how I miss Molly or I miss the pure ecstasy or the pure MDMA. It’s just a part of growing up. I’m 40-years-old now so it’s like... it’s crazy I get better the older I get. I will never let a mother fucker tell me I’m changing now that the mainstream is listening to me. They should have been listening to me a long time ago.
It’s become common knowledge that you have a rapid fire flow, one that can compete with the best of them. It hasn’t been until recently that you’ve collaborated with fellow quick spitters Busta Rhymes, Krayzie Bone, and Twista. How come it’s taken so long?
These people have been knowing me for years. It’s just there’s a time and a place for everything and now is the time. Back then I wasn’t polished like I am now. Back then I couldn’t have done a ‘Worldwide Choppers.’ You know? Back in the Anghellic days I wasn’t as polished as I am right now. If you listen to my fast stuff back then in comparison to my fast stuff now, it’s way more polished. (Giving an example of his fast rhyming which is far too quick to transcribe) Now my rhyming is polished because practice makes perfect. You ask why did it take so long? I think that these guys have been doing it for so long that I’ve now gotten to a point where I can hang. You know? They always knew I was good, but I was a bit weirder back then with my appearance - red spiked hair, I was on drugs. I wouldn’t take any of that back for the world. But it’s a new me now. It’s still psychotic, it’s still clusterfuck-ish, but now I think is the time people are recognizing.
I make it a point to have that Tech N9ne spirit so people won’t say, “Ahhh he sold out.” Nigga... I did what I did. On my biggest album, All 6’s And 7’s, with Lil Wayne, T-Pain, B.O.B., Twista, Busta Rhymes, all these big guys, I did my own shit in my world, Strangeland. I didn’t have to conform to anybody else’s s**t. That’s what makes Tech N9ne beautiful and I’m proud to be that mother fu**er.
Keeping on the subject of speedy rapping, how is it that all you guys from the Midwest are able to do that? What are they putting in the water?
It’s like we all eat pu**y man. (Laughing) You’ve gotta be able to eat pu**y to do that. Nah, I’m just joking man. I think it’s because we’re in the Midwest man. We get it from the south, we get it from the east, we get it from the west. It’s like a musical overload. It happened to Twista, it happened to me, it happened to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, it happened to Eminem, it happened to Shawnna, it happened to Crucial Conflict, it happened to Ludacris, it happened to all the guys I just named. It happened to Busta Rhymes but he from Jamaica where it comes from, toasting and s**t. So he’s supposed to be able to do that s**t. You feel me?
You were recently featured in XXL Magazine talking about the time you met Tupac. What was it like meeting him so early on in your career and how did you even get the opportunity?
It was beautiful man. I just happened to be down in Atlanta at the Jack The Rapper Convention and he was down there just being seen. I hollered at him, he said some s**t to me. The next year I moved to LA to sign with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’ Perspective Records in ’93, and the first night I was in LA he was there. We talked in the club, and then I saw him again at a Robert Townsend show. He was doing his new single ‘I Get Around’ and we ended up fu**ing with the same chick. It’s crazy, he used to call my house asking for this chick that we both used to hang out with. We was just connected. I then started doing music with QD3, his producer. I signed with Quincy Jones in ’97 and QD3 was ‘Pac’s producer. QD3, before ‘Pac died, had talked about getting me and him on the phone together but then unfortunately he died. Then three months after QD3 called me and asked me if I still wanted to do the song with ‘Pac and I said, “Of course,” and it became ‘Thugs Get Lonely Too’. If he was still alive I’d be right there with him doing beautiful music. That’s why I’m on the Outlawz new album right now because those are my niggas. You know what I’m sizzling? Through ‘Pac, all day all night. I’m in that circle and I’m always gonna be in that circle.
Talk to us about a Tech N9ne show. It’s reported to be an incredibly energetic affair complete with rock, rap and face paint...
A lot of energy man. It takes a lot from the old schoolers, you feel me? So we’re talking Public Enemy, NWA, Ice Cube, BDP - Boogie Down Productions, you know? That’s KRS One. Eric B & Rakim, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, you know? The old school. Busy Bee. They all taught me how to rock a crowd. You know what I’m sizzling? How to keep the crowd involved. I know Steve Harvey made a joke about rappers and how there are too many instructions - “Wave your hands in the air. Say ho!” That’s funny to me but it’s a beautiful thing to have people involved. People come to your show to be involved and to let other people know that they know the music if you don’t. That’s what the old school taught me. A Tech N9ne show is a mixture of old school and new school rhyme and that rock energy. It’s just a clusterfuck.
With that said, you travel all over the globe doing shows. How come you’ve never been to the UK?
Oh we’re coming. It’s all about the promoters. The promoters don’t know. All the places I haven’t been - the UK, Hawaii, Japan, they don’t know that Tech N9ne is a movement and they are just now finding out. They don’t really know. They don’t do their research. They’re like: “Oh s**t, I didn’t know he had an underground following.” So the promoters, when we call them, offer us low ass prices to come over there. So it’s like they don’t really wanna pay us to come. They don’t know that we have fans.
It’s gonna get to the point where we’re gonna have to take pay cuts to come over there and show the fans that we’re trying to come over there. The promoters just don’t get it yet. When we send out a blast saying that we’ve got a tour coming promoters call us. It’s like... boom! The promoters that know call us and tell us that they want this date and that date. Then we start putting a tour together. That’s how it happened in Denmark, that’s how it happened over in Sweden, that’s how it happened when I was over in Spain, that’s how it happened over in Germany. They found out that Tech N9ne has a following. It’s the promoters. It ain’t us.
Hip-Hop's most emotional rappers: Drake, Kanye West, Game and more...
Kanye West has exploded in a rage on numerous occasions with perhaps the most infamous being the time the hit rapper took to the stage after becoming enraged at country singer Taylor Swift's 2009 MTV VMA Best Female Video Award win over Beyonce's 'Single Ladies'. President Barack Obama later called West a "jackass." (Credit: PNP/Wenn.com)