September 29, 2013. Portland, Oregon-
Independent Hip-Hop mogul Tech N9ne is on tour yet again promoting his thirteenth studio project, Something Else. The album debuted at #2 rap album in the country on July 30, 2013 and has been garnering critical and commercial acclaim since its release. Something Else is also stacked with fantastic features such as B.o.B, Big K.R.I.T, Cee Lo Green, The Doors, Game, Kendrick Lamar, Serj Tankian, T- Pain, and Danny Brown, as well as a variety of artists from the Strange Music roster. Given its unique and flawlessly executed production and the fact that-at 41 years of age- Tech still spits as hard as he did on 1999’s Calm Before the Storm, it’s no wonder that Something Else is as successful as it is, especially considering the fact that the rapper still tours relentlessly and performs with the energy and vigor of an Alvin Ailey dancer in their early 20s. It comes as no surprise that the show was packed to the doors, mostly with veteran Technicians decked out in full Tech N9ne regalia as well as teenagers and children who were most definitely born after a few Tech albums had been released.
Watching Tech himself perform in his electrifying call and response style with Krizz Kaliko was similar to watching a choreographed battle at the edge of reality between two mythological figures and anyone who dared to stand against them. It was truly strange sight to see parents bringing their children suited up in red and black outfits to a rap show like Tech N9nes, where a performance of “Areola”is preceded by the seemingly magical appearance of the said parts of a significant amount of female audience members. An a cappella performance towards the end separated the seasoned Technicians from everyone else when Tech stopped rapping and the audience continued to rap every word in response. Each and every fan of rap music, young or old should attend a Tech N9ne show; it is like a rite of passage, and it is no wonder the rapper maintains a merciless tour schedule- it is obvious that Tech has as much fun showing up for his fans as his fans have showing up to his shows, and he lets them know it.
Tech N9ne’s Something Else 2013 tour is comprised of the man himself in addition to equally vibrant Strange Music artists ¡Mayday!, Krizz Kaliko, Prozak, Stevie Stone, and Ces Cru. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Tech N9ne this past Thursday at Portland, Oregon’s Roseland Theater and ask him a few questions about the tour, the album, his upcoming rock EP produced by Ross Robinson, titled Therapy, his thoughts on the rap game, staying relevant, and what it’s like to achieve his level of success as an independent artist with approximately 2 decades of experience under his belt.
Q: You’ve been making music for approximately 2 decades so far. What are your thoughts on the rap game as far as changes and developments within the art form itself as well as the industry?
Tech N9ne: I love it; and people have their preference and they have their era that they liked, but when you have a Kendrick Lamar emerging- going platinum, when you have Jay-Z still going platinum, you know what I’m sizzlin’, you have Lil Wayne going platinum, you know. With technology being like it is, you don’t have to buy anything, there’s still money out here for everyone; on the underground, on the major scene- everything. And on the underground scene, you see Strange Music being the master of what we do and I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful that what technology is doing is making it easier for people to be heard, for youngsters to be heard, and seen, you know what I mean, so I hope that it gets even better, but with things like Spotify where the pay is minimal…I don’t know…
Q: So where do you see the industry going in the future?
Tech N9ne: Strange. (laughs)
Q: Fair. Who are your top 5 MC’s out right now?
Tech N9ne: That’s a hard question man. Eminem is in there, Nas is in there, Jay- Z is in there, Tech N9ne is in there, Kendrick Lamar is hardcore.
Q: You’ve been releasing a steady stream of quality content since the 90’s. How many songs do you think you’ve recorded to date and what’s your secret? How is it that you’ve managed to continue to produce a catalog of such consistently solid material?
Tech N9ne: Well, I write my life, so I don’t count. I have no idea if it’s a thousand, two thousand, I have no idea- I don’t even know if it’s that many. But I write my life man, so it’s hard to see and count how many songs I’ve done- maybe my fans know- but I just write my life and that’s how it keeps going and going and going; and as my life progresses, I write. I write about things I go through. That’s how I keep current I guess, I just write my life and maybe when my life is no longer current- I don’t know, when will it not be? When I’m dead, I don’t know man. But I’m just glad that I didn’t latch on to fads, you know what I’m saying? Having red spiked hair wasn’t a fad. Nobody wanted to do it in the rap world, you know what I mean- maybe in the rock world… Painting your face as a black man is not a fad, you know what I’m saying? (laughs) And I still do that even though I lost all my hair, you know. Rapping like I rap, like a clusterfuck… like a tornado, is not a fad when that doesn’t really work for radio. They say for radio you gotta dumb things down, you know. I’m glad I didn’t stick to fads. I’m still here- still relevant. I feel like Dracula. I’ve been here during the rise and fall of a lot of MCs and we’re still on the incline; at 41 years old, still on the incline.
Q: Big ups man. Do you make music on tour?
Tech N9ne: No. I cannot concentrate on tour. I listen to beats on tour and get ideas, and then I execute them when we go home. It’s too distracting on tour.
Q: Speaking of, congratulations on the new album, Something Else. It’s a very good listen, and debuted at #2 rap album in the country.
Tech N9ne: Thank you so much. Actually, one song I wrote out here: my verse to “Fragile.” I didn’t want to write it out here, on the last tour, but I did it and I recorded it in Seattle and I sent it off. I didn’t want to do that, but I did it and it turned out wonderful.
Q: I heard that the song was a response to a particular critic?
Tech N9ne: Oh totally man. LA Weekly said something out of the way that I didn’t think was fair…I think you have a right to your opinion, but when you say that I’m redundant and gimmicky, I’m going to take that personal…when I do every thing in my power to be different- and different content- and somebody just made a mistake. …Saying they didn’t print it right…
Q: Well they found out quick.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, he interviewed me after the fact- the guy that said it- we had a good dinner; and I explained to him “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit,” and he understands.
Q: Erykah Badu
Tech N9ne: Yeah, Erykah Badu all day. Thank god for her.
Q: How long did it take you to complete Something Else from start to finish?
Tech N9ne: I don’t know man. Travis O’Guin can tell you that. All I know is I had some months- Travis might say it was a year, I’d say it was a month… I don’t know.
Q: Were there any major influences that you found yourself drawing upon in making the album, or anything you found yourself listening to that contributed to making it?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, there was a major influence: it was the meteorite over in Russia. It scared the hell out of me, cause I always felt that the world was going to end in fire that way: meteorites, asteroids. So the whole album has that theme.
Q: And that’s where the burgundy mist that the skits talk about came from?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, the burgundy mist, and the creature on the front, which is me: Evil Brain Angel Heart, E.B.A.H was riding on that.
Q: Who did the artwork?
Tech N9ne: These were some in house guys and I told them my dream, how I saw myself in my dream: fiery crown. And we tweaked the fiery crown until I saw it how it was supposed to be in my dream, and one eye darkened, because of the darkness, the seepage, and a regular eye, and a transparent heart with wings on it, and they were worried that it was going to look girly- I’m like no; it’s a dream, it’s art. So we went with a painting, and I wanted my skin to be burned with all my logos and 6’s and 7’s.
Q: It came out looking fantastic.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, it did.
Q: You have a lot of collaborations on the album, including Serj Tankian, Kendrick Lamar, The Doors, Danny Brown, Cee Lo Green, and a bunch of cats from strange music: ¡Mayday!, Krizz Kaliko, Ces Cru and others. What is your approach to collaborations with other artists?
Tech N9ne: I work with artists I adore musically, and Serj, I’ve been a long time fan of since the first time I heard a System of a Down song, “Sugar.” And I’ve been wanting to work with him for a decade or more and it happened! A dream come true, as well as the Doors track. My label, Strange Music was named after that, being a Doors fan. A lot of dreams came true on this album. I’ve been wanting to work with Cee Lo Green for a long time and it came true on this album. I just work with people that I love. I’m a fan of music. My dream is to go take months off and book flights to go see Tool in Turkey… or System of a Down in Bangkok, or… R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg on a boat in the middle of… St. Marks; Collie Buddz in Bermuda, Citizen Cope in Cleveland, Floetry in London… I want to go see Metallica in Switzerland. I just want to go and be a fan and take somebody that can sit on my face. (laughs)
Q: Speaking of collaborations and artists that you adore, what was it like working with Lil Wayne and Andre 3000 on “Interlude” for The Carter IV? You dropped a solid verse on that one.
Tech N9ne: Fucking crazy! Thank you man. I did my thing and had no idea that Wayne was gonna put Andre 3000 on it.
Q: So that was a surprise to you?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, he came to Kansas City to do a show and he had an off day the next day, so he came up to Strangeland with his whole crew and said, “You wanna hear the song we did?” and he played it and I was like, “Oh shit! This is about to come out in a week?!” It was so crazy man, but working with Wayne down there in Florida was amazing. To go visit him in Rikers and see him in an orange suit just hurt me cause he aint supposed to be there like that, and then when he drove up to the studio in that Bugatti man, I was like, “That’s how you’re supposed to look!” It was wonderful to see rap music working like that. Working humongously…since the Hot Boy$.
Q: Are there any dead artists that you’d like to work with? If you could bring back three or four, let’s say, who would they be?
Tech N9ne: Totally. Well I Just did Jim Morrison- we just brought him back. I did one with Tupac, it’s called “Thugs Get Lonely Too.” We were supposed to do it before he died, but…. QDIII hooked it up, my producer back in the day, and after he died, like a week later, he said, “Do you still want to do the song?” and I’m like “Yeah,” so I did one with Pac, and Jim Morrison. I’d like to do one with Jimi Hendrix…Kurt Cobain…
Q: Michael Jackson?
Tech N9ne: Michael Jackson for sure! Michael Jackson for sure man! Off The Wall Man.
Q: It seems like you’ve been going in different directions stylistically in your more recent work as far as the sound of the music that you’ve been creating, and as with any musician, I’m sure that you’re a fan of a variety of different musical styles. Do you find that your musical palette has been broadening in recent years or as you get older? Are you hearing things that you weren’t necessarily hearing before in certain music that you are hearing now?
Tech N9ne: Yes, I’m hearing things in older music, like “Nights In White Satin.” Stuff like that man, just listening to older music, man… Wow… really nice sound, and I missed this music, I missed it when I was younger. I missed “Nights In White Satin” years ago. Now I’m hearing it and I’m like, “Wow that’s amazing,” just the musical composition…
Q: Without computer production as well…
Tech N9ne: Yeah man, and just listening to vintage music is making me want to use live instruments and shit, you know what I’m saying.
Q: Speaking of live instruments, you’re releasing a rock EP called Therapy, with Ross Robinson, who has produced artists such as Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. What has that been like?
Tech N9ne: It’s fucking insane, it’s like heaven…and you go to heaven to talk about all your hell… and bring all your hell out. Right there on Venice beach, in this big fucking house on Venice Beach man, you’re writing right in front of the water, man. It’s heaven, but you’re getting all your hell out. It’s therapy- that’s why I called it that; with Ross, he brings all that out in me man.
Q: He’s like a therapist in that way?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, it’s wonderful, we did 7 songs; Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit came and played on a lot of it, Sammy Siegler played drums, Alfredo Ortiz came and played bongos from the Beastie Boys, a couple of bass players came through… It’s wonderful man, wonderfully done. I hope people like it, because I love it. It’s done now, I’m checking the mixes today- I checked two of them today already. Yeah, we’re there, you know.
Q: What would you say the vibe is like?
Tech N9ne: The vibe is like nothing you’ve ever felt from Tech N9ne. Only my voice is familiar; my singing voice might be familiar, my yelling voice: not familiar.
Q: So you go in a scream-o-ish direction?
Tech N9ne: Yeeeah. Well on one I did, and on some I’m singing really soft, so it might be reminiscent of “Delusional” because of how it feels, but this is totally different man. Some of it is punk-ish. Seven different villains, some of it is like some honky-tonk sounding shit. We just went where Venice Beach took us. I sat right there on the beach and just wrote a song a day.
Q: So you got that done in about a week?
Tech N9n3: No… 2 weeks, because I had to leave and do a press week and have an album release and then come back and finish.
Q: For the vast majority of your career you’ve been a rapper, and now you’re transitioning to making rock music. What prompted your decision to actually go from just being a fan or a listener of rock music to actually deciding that you want to make some rock and roll?
Tech N9ne: Well, if you pay attention to Tech N9ne history, the first thing a lot of people heard in 2001 was Anghellic, and the first song was “Tormented,” you know, or “Riot Maker,” you know what I’m saying; it’s always been rock oriented, it’s all in my music; me working with The Deftones, it’s always been there, my label being named after a rock band; The Doors, Strange Music, so it’s always been there and we’ve always talked about a collaboration with the Dirty Worms called K.A.B.O.S.H, Killing Americas Beliefs On Society’s Hoods, like they don’t believe that niggas can rock out like this, you know, and we never did that so this is just something I had to get out of me because we’ve been planning this rock shit for a long time and doing shit with a live band.
Q: So it’s just about time?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, yeah, here it is. Here’s my first stab and I’m going to see what people think: should I keep going or no? But I can’t stop the rock that’s in me. Even if they told me “Don’t do rock, I don’t like it,” I still have to do what I do on my albums, and it’s rock influenced.
Q: Planet Rock 2K
Tech N9ne: (Laughs)Yeah.
Q: What does it mean to you to have a rock project in your catalog beyond expanding your fan base or flexing your artistic versatility?
Tech N9ne: I’m really not doing it to expand my fan base; if it does, then I’m happy, but this is what my fans have been asking me for and I usually give them what they ask for. There was a joke for years about a song called “Demons,” that I never had, and I did it on K.O.D with Three Six Mafia, and I said, now “Demons” is real mother fuckers. That’s for my fans. I pay attention. So this is what they’ve been asking for- they’ve been asking for K.A.B.O.S.H, no doubt. “The rock shit, we want you to do the rock shit, we love little pills!” so they’ve been asking for almost a decade, so…they’re asking? Here you go. I hope you like it- I hope you like what you see!
Q: Speaking of the fans, you seem to be very good at maintaining an excellent relationship with your fan base, and you’ve been steadily attracting fans since 1999 up until now…
Tech N9ne: We argue too, but yes.
Q: How do you retain your older fans while also drawing new, younger fans who are growing up listening to different kinds of sounds and who are coming up in a different musical climate? I imagine that some of your younger fans haven’t heard Anghellic, but what about the Tech N9ne fan who has never heard “Now It’s On?”
Tech N9ne: I attribute that to being Dracula. It seems as I get older, my fans are getting younger, and the older ones are bringing their children. Some of the old ones talk shit, like, “Oh, you need to go back to Mitch Bade.” Fuck you. You go back to Mitch Bade. When it’s time to do another Rogue Dog Villain album, I’ll do it- the music is in me, that’s what I do. I came up in a in a blood neighborhood, yeah I know what that is, but I know what other music is also. You’ve got to always be three-dimensional.
Q: It’s good that you ask your fan base to grow with you instead of remaining stagnant like a lot of other artists who either cater too much or too little to their fan base and don’t challenge their audience to grow with them.
Tech N9ne: Totally man. I do what I feel, and usually they feel it with me, so to put out an album like Something Else, and have everybody agree that it’s something else is such a victory for me.
Q: Speaking of Something Else, can we talk about the song “B.I.T.C.H (Breaking Into Colored Houses)” for a bit?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, totally.
Q: What inspired it? That shit bumps.
Tech N9ne: Well, it’s like this: I was knocking years ago, on a collabos record, of MLK, Misery Loves Kompany- a song called “Message to the Black Man.” …something like, I don’t see you at my shows, you know. And it was me knocking, like, “Please come to my shows, I’m not a devil worshipper, I know what you’ve heard, but I was raised in the church. Please, you’re missing this beautiful music,” you know. And I’ve been knocking for years, like, “I want you niggas at my shows! Let’s go!” Where my blood and crip niggas at? I don’t care, come on!- my music is for everybody. And I got tired of knocking- so this year, I went to go get T-Pain to help me break in to these mother fuckers houses, like I’m tired of knocking. But, I’m coming into your house on your TV and your radio like me though- I don’t have to conform. “Putting all the face paint I can put on/ put my black jeans and black hood on/ that’s your TV I just stood on…” It happened like on BET, you know, rapping and shit… So it’s time to break in because I’m tired of knocking and asking.
Q: So what do feel is responsible for your alienation from black fans? Do you feel that it’s a side effect of the hype centered on your style of performativity?
Tech N9ne: No, I just think they don’t see me on TV all the time and hear me on radio all the time, and see it to believe it like, “Oh, he doin’ it! Oh, that song, I dig that one, I’m going to the show.” They go to the Young Jeezy show, they go to the Waka Flocka show, they go to Gucci Mane show; they go to the Jay-Z show… they go to the Eminem show, I think. (laughs) Tech N9ne is independent, I use my own money, so I ain’t really on TV every day or at all for that matter. Just now, I’m getting a radio campaign going for the “See Me” song, so we’ll see. And you know, they just need to see it, I guess- to see that I’m not totally…well I am totally weird, but, I’m every day people as well, you know?
Q: How do you find yourself balancing your responsibilities as an artist against your responsibilities as the head of the Strange Music label?
Tech N9ne: It’s impossible, because I tour too much. Luckily, I have a shrewd businessman by the name of Travis O’Guin that can take care o f a lot of shit and send it to me like, “What do you think about this?” or “What do you think about that?”
Q: So you just give the final word on all of that?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, yeah.
Q: Do you have any advice for independent artists looking to make a name for themselves and take the next step?
Tech N9ne: Oh yeah man, it’s hard as fuck to use your own money and that’s the big hump you have to get over- to take your hard earned money and put it towards something you really love and if you love it, you will put all your money up. First step is putting your money up, but you have to have something that everybody agrees upon. It just can’t be you like, “I’m the shit.” It has to be your best friend like, “You’re the shit!” then your family, “Damn! That’s the shit!” then your block, “Oh, that’s the shit!” then the next block, and the next block, and then the hood, and then the club, and then the radio, you know; people have to agree- then you keep pushing it if you can. If you believe in it, and push it, you’ll achieve it, straight up.
Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done, on or off stage? Where you woke up the next morning and had to ask yourself, “What on Earth happened?”
Tech N9ne: Being on ecstasy a few years ago, having sex in the hotel hallway, and people are walking up and seeing…
Q: Where was this?
Tech N9ne: Denver, Colorado.
Q: Big ups Colorado.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, that was probably the craziest thing, and then they’re telling me I have to get up and get in the room, but they didn’t kick me out. We ended up in a small bathroom in the hotel, under the stool, fucking. That’s not a good place to have a girls head, you know, under the stool. We ended up under the stool.
Q: Someone woke up cramped the next day.
Tech N9ne: Oh, totally.
Q: What can we expect from Strange Music in the future? Is there anything in particular that we should keep tabs on?
Tech N9ne: For all of the artists to capture everybody’s hearts and become even bigger than they are right now; ¡Mayday!, humongous, Stevie Stone, humongous, Krizz Kaliko, humongous, you know, all of them- Ces Cru, humongous. That’s what it’s all about man, seeing them blossom. And they’ve already won my fans over, now it’s time to go out and do their own, you know?
Q: Any parting comments?
Tech N9ne: I’m high-spirited right now, and that’s a good thing.
Q: Not high? Just high-spirited?
Tech Nn9e: Just high spirited. I stopped smoking a long time ago, now I smoke every once in a while, like if it’s a celebration I’ll smoke a couple of puffs, or if I’m in Amsterdam I might- I do in Amsterdam because I can do it in front of the cops, I do in Denmark, I do in Canada, now Germany, because it’s a peace offering just like Canada, you know…probably though.
Q: Is it the legality that’s the issue or is there just too much to be done nowadays?
Tech N9ne: No, no, no, no it’s just that I’ve got too much to do. I ain’t got time. It used to make me think everything was impossible back in the day, but now when I do it, I’m just normal, I’m cool now. The older I get it just doesn’t faze me anymore.
Q: Well thank you for your time Tech. It’s been real.
Tech N9ne: Alright brotha, one hundred.
Q: One hundred.
Tech N9ne and the Strange Music crew continue the Something Else tour, performing at the Knitting Factory in Spokane, Washington on October 1. The tour ends on November 2nd at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For more information about the tour and the music, visit www.therealtechn9ne.com or http://www.strangemusicinc.net/product_info.php?products_id=10517. And keep an eye out for the Therapy EP as well as other strange things to come from the label.