Interview: Tech N9ne
Thu, 16 Oct 2008 09:33:03
From his early days on the streets of Kansas City to his current position at the top of the indie rapper mountain, Tech N9ne has worn his relentless work ethic like a badge of honor. Refusing to bend to the market-driven whims of major label suit 'n' tie stiffs, Tech paved his own road by being the only thing he knew how to be–himself.
A true story of self-made success, Tech N9ne's indie approach and dynamically impressive vocal technique have garnered him the respect of fans and fellow rappers. He's also seen the lights of the mainstream shine down on his name through inclusion on major motion picture and video game soundtracks.
While these bits of mass exposure have yet to make the rapper the household name his unique style might suggest he deserves, he has reached a milestone that few outside the "Major leagues" have accomplished. With the release of his 11th album, Killer, the Midwest-based artist has officially moved over one million records, and that number promises to grow as the critically-acclaimed two-disc set continues to infiltrate the earlobes of music fans everywhere.
Standing alongside a highway underneath the Arizona sun, the charismatic and outspoken Tech N9ne spilled his guts to ARTISTdirect.com about Killer, his past, present, future and everything that makes him tick.
Let's talk about Killer…
Oh my goodness dude, that's my baby! [Laughs] I usually say that about every album, but this couldn't get any better. I'm talking about the likes of "My World" with Brotha Lynch Hung or "The Rain"— that's got my little girl rapping on it. This new album has "One Good Time" on it and, it's like, "What?" You know what I'm sizzlin'? It's incredibly dope, man. Think about all the featured guests that this album has. Ice Cube, X-Clan, Scarface, (hed) P.E., Kottonmouth Kings and Shawnna all came through for me. They helped make this such a wonderful album. I still can't stop listening to it!
Between that, the songs themselves and the overall production, Killer has the vibe of a big release from a major label, but you're still doing things yourself.
That's just it. This is a major release from Strange Music, baby! We're trying to build an empire, and the best way to do it is with quality music. To me, I haven't heard anything new that keeps my attention for this long, or makes me want to keep listening to it. You know what I'm sizzlin'? I bought the new Lil Wayne album, and I think it's dope as hell. I can listen to it four or five times, but it's not like listening to Tech N9ne. Not because it's me, but everyone that listens to Tech N9ne will tell you it's infectious.
There's something about Killer. I can't quiet put a finger on it, but it offers more than other rap albums do. You bring something to the table that a lot of other rappers don't.
It's about everyday life—a human being's life. I might be an extraordinary human being, but we bleed, we shit and we piss. It's life. This is my life. It's not just me rapping, rhyming or saying clever shit. This is me, inside and out—whether I'm partying, having sex with a chick or I'm crying. I'm crying on the inside and wishing I could cry externally. That's the difference between me and a lot of these rappers. They rap to be rapping–and that's a cool thing! I'm a fan of it and I love it. However, I've got a lot more to say. What I know better than anybody is myself, and that's what I write about. These are my stories; good or bad. I think that's the difference. Killer is not just that one thing that all these other rappers do, it's everything.
The album has a lot of personality. It really reflects your different moods, from the more upbeat, party vibe of the beginning to your angrier and darker side that comes out later.
A lot of people say they like the second disc better because that's where it gets really personal. Or they like the stuff like "I Love You, But Fuck You," "One Good Time" or the other songs in that section. Then, right after that section, it's into "Happy Ending" and "Last Words." This is all very personal shit. A lot of people tell me they love the first CD, but they really love the second because I bring that classic, personal Tech N9ne shit where I turn myself inside out.
Is it harder for you to put yourself out there like that, or is that what comes naturally when the pen hits the paper?
It's hard to do because of the people around me that love me. Their lives are being put out there too. My wife for instance, can you imagine the call I got from her after she heard "I Love You, But Fuck You?" She doesn't like that shit, but all I know is myself. If she does something that pisses me off, I'm going to write about it. She made a valid point when she said, "I know we argue about shit from time to time, but do you have to fucking tell everybody about it?" I was like, "Damn, you've got a point." At the same time, I've got to be myself. If something is heavy on my heart because she's living in L.A. and I'm in Kansas City because we're separated, I might have to say something about it. I just need to let my fans know where I'm at. It's a very hard thing to do. There are a lot of people around me that love me. My kids have got to listen to that shit. They don't like that mommy and I aren't together. It's hard. When I'm writing, I'll ask myself, "Should I say this?" I wanted to say a lot more shit in "Last Words," but I had to hold back because it would hurt too many people. If I totally let loose and said everything I wanted to…Oh my God! I would hurt so many people, dude. It's hard because I have to ration what I say. My way of cleaning that up is by not saying names, because if I said names, they would lose it.
You have to get that shit off your chest somehow though, right? This is only outlet you know.
And that's the hard part. I have to censor myself, while being inside out at the same time. It's crazy.
Did the fact that you've never had a label standing over you, telling you what you can and can't put on your albums turn you into the rapper you are today?
I've always been like that, and that's why I could never do what the major labels wanted me to do. They wanted me to be the Tech N9ne they wanted. That was always my problem because I can't do anything else. I can't do anything else. They couldn't tell me, "Tech, you can't rap about this," or "Tech, you can't wear your hair like that." That's why I never worked with any of those labels. I could never tuck my tail for money. They wanted to say, "You need to look this way, Tech. You should never paint your face, Tech. You're going to scare people, Tech. You're a black dude with red hair and makeup. They're all afraid of you, Tech."
And yet, you made that all work for you and have reached the level where you're at now. Did hearing things like that make you work harder on the business end of things?
Exactly. Not only that, but Travis O' Guin taught me a lot that I didn't know when I was a young kid doing things that got me into a lot of trouble. Travis O' Guin taught me so much and he made me want to go into the business side of things a lot more. After getting my ass handed to me for all those years, Travis came in. All of a sudden, it was like, "Wow, there are a lot of things I don't know." He taught me a lot, and I love him for that. When he approached me, he wasn't like, "Be on my label." He said, "Do you want to start a label with me? 50/50." And, BAM, there was Strange Music.
Now, the two of you are signing your own acts, putting out your own albums and booking your own tours. Like you said–it's becoming an empire.
There's no better way to do it. Two weeks ago, we were out in L.A. filming a video for "Like Yeah." All of last week, we were shooting the video, and it was all with our own money. Now we're starting to make money off of the record because there's no middleman. Universal/Fontana distributes our stuff worldwide, and we don't have a middleman stepping in and taking the money. It comes straight to us. It's a wonderful day.
Did being from Kansas City, as opposed to New York, L.A. or anywhere else with a solid scene and reputation make life more difficult as you were getting off the ground?
There were no opportunities in Kansas City. There are now, but back then we had nothing. There's no Def Jam Midwest or MCA Midwest. We had to start our own thing from the ground up. To make something from nothing is a wonderful thing. Back in the day, when I was going to the Jack The Rapper Convention and telling people I was from Kansas City, they would laugh. They would talk so much shit, "There's no place like home…There's no place like home. How can you rap when you're milking cows in Kansas?" Then I would start rapping, and they'd be like, "Damn! You can rap in Kansas City like that?!?" Being from Kansas City was hard, but we made something from nothing. It's a wonderful thing to see it blossom like this and spread like wildfire.
I’m from the Kansas City area too, and it seems that since you and a handful of other artists from various genres have risen up and made names for yourselves, a lot of other local acts are doing the same. You all kind of opened the floodgates for this part of the country.
I'm going to tell you one thing that does it, and that's what I'm doing right now; touring. It's like being a politician. It starts at home. You get everything and everyone on board there first. It's a wonderful thing, but you've got to branch out. It's a hard thing because it takes money for gas, but once you get those people in those other states and cities on board with you, BOOM, it's a wonderful thing. Barack Obama isn't going to win by sitting at home in the kitchen, and McCain isn't going to win on the golf course. They've got to go from town to town and impress people. That's what touring is. It's traveling around, shaking hands, kissing babies and spreading the word of Tech N9ne. The more you do that, the more people latch on to your music. That's how we built that. That's how we ended up on Billboard; #12 on the top 200, #1 on the indie charts, #4 on the rap charts.
When you're on the road and return to a city, do you see more and more new faces coming out to see you each time you pass through?
There are new fans each time. Every time we go on tour, we get more new fans. People have seen the movie Alpha Dog and heard my music there. They start witnessing new shit there, and they go tell their friends about it. A lot of young girls are coming out to the shows now. It's like, "Wow!" There are a lot of things brining these people in. Alpha Dog is one of them. A lot of beautiful music is another. Having a song on the John Madden game had a hand in it. There are just a lot of things that happened that got a lot of younger people involved. I love it. My music is supposed to be for everybody, and Killer is going to bring in a lot of new fans.
You just nailed it right there, Tech. Your stuff is something a lot of people can get into. I know rock/metal fans that are into it.
My shit is for metalheads, gangsta rappers, Britney Spears popheads! We've got the Britney Spears crowd, and they love it! They love to hear us sing about drinking 151. There isn't anything pop about that shit. It's just what we drink [Laughs]. It proves to me that I did what I set out to do—make music for everybody. That's what my name means. It's the complete technique of rhyme—technique number nine. Nine is the number of completion. It's happening like it's supposed to. These cats sitting up there, they’d better hope I never get on TV and in regular rotation in the radio because I'll take everybody's spot. We're doing this shit independently. Imagine what would happen if MTV or BET jumped onboard with us. All my fans are going, "Oh Tech is going to go mainstream, and it's going suck." No, I'm never going to go mainstream because I'm raw and this is my life. But what if the mainstream became me? Tech N9ne will not go mainstream, but the mainstream will go Tech. There's that raw talent. I'm inside out, and I'm giving you my life and blood. That's what the mainstream is lacking. Well, there's some of it out there, but not much. Kanye West puts himself into it on a lot of tracks, Eminem put himself into his stuff. However, what I do is way, way, way, way personal and way, way, way, way lyrical. There is something different about it, and the way I give it is so wonderful. It's going to be me on the camera and me on the radio. They'd better hope that shit don’t come to pass.
“I'm never going to go mainstream because I'm raw and this is my life. But what if the mainstream became me?”
There are a few spots on Killer where you talk about giving it all up. Are you ready to quit this life?
I think about it a lot around this time because I miss my children. It's hard being out on this road and doing what I do to make money for them. I do it so they can be in the nice schools and everything. When you release music like we do and you know that your music is for the rest of the world but the world isn't getting it, you get a chip on your shoulder. You get this "Fuck you" attitude. The people that do understand it really get it. I'd say like 300,000 people really get it. But when Tech N9ne is supposed to be selling 10 million or more like Eminem or 50 Cent…300,000 is great for independent, but my music is supposed to for the rest of the world, my friend. When you start thinking about these things, you don't take the people close to you for granted because they really get you and love you. The rest of the world isn't that close. Why isn't the rest of the world getting it? Why am I doing it? I'm doing it for the people that love me. Sometimes, I've got to remind myself that I will get there and the world will be singing my song. I've got to shake that chip on my shoulder, keep my head up and keep trucking. I've got to keep being that politician. That's where the chip on my shoulder that's on Killer came from. That's where "Happy Ending" and "Last Words" came from. That's how I feel, and that's why I want the rest of the world to know my story. What makes my story so wonderful? What's so fucking important about me? I give myself. I sacrifice myself for the love of my fans. I sacrifice my life with my wife on the road. I'm away from her and my kids, and I expect something huge in return. All I ever wanted was a family, but I chose my fans and the road. I have to go all the way now because I gave it all.
You can't turn back now, Tech. It’s been great talking with you, man.
Yes, it has and I want to thank you for talking to me about this, brother. Right now it’s hotter than hell outside and I've got people in the car waiting for me so I want to leave you with this: "Celebrate life, because the people that run this country are trying to blow this fucker up, for money." Jim Morrison of The Doors said, "I know one thing, I'm going to have my fun before the whole shithouse goes up in flames." Well, the whole shithouse is about to go up in flames. Look at the war in Iraq that won't stop. You know what I'm sizzlin'? Celebrate your life and the people you love because the whole shithouse is going up in flames. Tech N9ne!