The King of Darkness gives a profoundly personal breakdown of the biggest independent Rap album of 2009
The best-selling independent Hip Hop artist in the world should be in complete celebratory mode right about now. After selling 30,000 copies of his new full-length, K.O.D., in just the first week of the album’s release (a feat even most major-label artists can’t seem to pull off these days), the self-proclaimed “King of Darkness,” Tech N9ne, should be enjoying the fruits of the relentless tour grind that has helped the Kansas City rapid-fire rhymer secure a dedicated following of well over a 100,000 loyal supporters (a.ka. “Technicians”) who made it possible for Tech with his last solo release, 2008’s double-disc Killer, to reach the monumental mark of scanning over one million albums total for his nearly-decade’s worth of solo offerings.
But it’s hard for Tech to fully enjoy his historic success when so much personal darkness has engulfed his life of late. His mother is now suffering with Lupus (in addition to a nearly lifelong battle with epilepsy), his one-year-old nephew tragically died in a car crash just a few weeks before the release of K.O.D. (and the night Tech was to depart for his latest tour), and so the “Caribou Lou” sipper is anything but in the mood to make any of the traditional party-and-bullshit songs that typically make their way into the Killa Klown’s usual mix of the macabre and the mournful, the gangsta and the girl-crazy. And it was the dark themes dealt with on K.O.D. that were expounded on by Tech to HipHopDX recently for arguably one of the deepest discussions of the always engaging artist’s epic career.
HipHopDX: I wanna start off with a really easy question...is there a God? [Laughs] I thought there was, but then I heard “Show Me A God” and now I need a 100% proof too.
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] I really hope there is, man, because I pray to Him every – I pray to It, Her, or Him every night. Whatever It may be, I pray every night, I pray every day, before I go on stage. I have faith that there is something there greater than us. I have no proof. There’s signs like the sun, and the moon, and birth of a baby. There are signs there’s something greater, but there’s always room for doubt. [But] I don’t wanna doubt, put it like that. But it’s certain things in The Bible [that are] contradictory. [There are] certain things in everything you read that are contradictory ‘cause man is imperfect. And when man writes these things, do you sometimes have to use your imagination because it ain’t always a 100% together? So, how can I be a 100% on something that ain’t 100% all the time?
DX: Would this song have happened if not for the personal situations that have befallen you recently, or you think this song would have happened irregardless?
Tech N9ne: Well, the song probably wouldn’t have happened. But, even Erykah Badu said, "Most intellects do not believe in God, but they fear us just the saaaaame.” Before my mom was sick, [I questioned] Darwinism and Creationism. And you got different sets of people saying this is right and this – Okay, the Darwinists say everything grew like a plant, it’s an evolution and da da da da da, Creationists say it’s a higher power, and everything is mystical, magical… You catch the Holy Ghost in church, start jumping up and down and scaring the kids. [Laughs] I ain’t never caught the Holy Ghost. So before mom, I had a song way back in the day called “Fuck Your Religion.” Because, I was raised a Christian. When I was 12, my mom married a Muslim. And he told me the stuff the Christians believe wasn’t 100. And then, I started seeing flaws in Islam. I’ve worked with Muslims who follow the remedies of Noble Drew Ali, and the Muslims who follow the remedies of Prophet Muhammad. They were almost the same, but a little bit different. I started finding loopholes in that, which made me look into Confucianism…and Taoism, and Hinduism, and Judaism, and Buddhism. And it just tore my head up like, “Damn, if all these people are saying this is the right way – even Dianetics, Scientology – which is the right way?” Now, my grandmom and mom they taught me to believe in the Holy Ghost, and Jesus Christ…and God. So that’s what I believed. But, even before my mom’s [illness], an intelligent mind always wanna find logic in everything. Some of that shit don’t seem logical, but we still believe because we wanna believe that it’s right what we’ve been taught. And we don’t wanna believe that The Bible was just put here to keep law and order.
So, yes I pray to God every night. Every day before we get on stage we pray for a blessed show, [for] no incident or injury…with hopes for a higher power. You heard me on Killer, a song called “Hope For A Higher Power,” [it’s] the same thing, man. It’s always wonder. I said in “Hope For A Higher Power”… [Starts rhyming] “[The scriptures] written by man though / So when man destroys us the word might not stand, so / Till that day I’m just gon’ protect my fam with ammo.” [Starts singing] “If there is a final hour.” It’s always been if there is a final hour, let’s hope for a higher power." [Starts rhyming] “One by one, and two by two/I have ammo, what about you?” If there’s not anything, if dying is just eternal sleep, that means if another war come down, or if there’s a race war that comes down, a revolution or whatever…what if it ain’t an afterworld? Like Prince say [on “Let’s Go Crazy”], “There’s something else / The afterworld.”
We wanna believe, man, but you asked me, “Is there a God?” There better be God damn it. I’ll tell you that. There better be, because I been believing all my life, youknowhatI’msizzlin’? Please, let me see a ghost. Please, let me see something other than us breathing. Please! Yeah it might scare the hell out of me, but please. That’ll prove to me that there’s a spiritual world for sure. And you got all these TV shows that say, “I’ve seen ghosts,” and “Oh my God this place is haunted.” I’ve went to these places on tour. Bogey’s, I think it’s called, they said it was haunted… They say the basement is haunted, and I go down in there and I sit – It’s an old swimming pool, and it’s dark. And I go down there and sit in the corner and just see if I can feel anything, by myself, deep down in the basement. Man, it looked like something out of 13 Ghosts. But, that’s ‘cause I want a 100% proof not 99 %. I’m at 99. That’s pretty good, don’t you think? If my mom ever [heard me] talking like that [though], she’d kill me.
DX: I heard you say in a previous interview that she’s basically the motivation for the tone on this album [though], the darker tone. How much of her situation affected the direction?
Tech N9ne: My mom, been an angel ever since I was born. Before I could think, [she’s] been an angel. [But she’s been] tormented all her life. [She’s had] epilepsy since she was 18 – 17 or 18. I know that her first seizure was [after] my father was supposed to come get her for the prom, Senior prom, and she waited in that window all night ‘til the next morning and he never came, [still] in her dress, [and] the next morning she had her first seizure. Damn.
She’s been having epilepsy all that time, except for the last two years, three years possibly, Lupus hit her. Oh my goodness, where’d that come from? [And then] last year I had to fly from Winter Park, Colorado [back to Kansas City] to talk to the hospital [and] they said, “Your mom’s suffering from pancreatitis. You might wanna be here by her side. She might not have [much time to live].” You here that about your angel. This is the lady who taught you to love. This is the lady that gave you your heart. This is the lady that took you to church every day of the week and you’d be like, “Damn mama, we gotta go to church on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and Sunday?” Pentecostal Church, Baptist Church, switching churches, man, just searching. I done went to damn-near every church in my area with my mama and them. [A] church over in Kansas City, Kansas, just churches everywhere. We’ve attended every damn church I can think of – Bethel AME, Barker Temple…churches where I don’t even remember the pastor’s name. Then she married the Muslim. She don’t think that’s gonna mess up my head?
So, [after I was told she had] pancreatitis, I flew home from Winter Park, Colorado. [I] stood by her side. She was losing all the color in her lips. Her lips turned black and everything. She couldn’t talk and they had this thing in her mouth and she was looking at me with her eyes, [and a] tear [started] coming out. I’m like, why would she suffer all her life like this? And my family [is] real religious. All my aunties and uncles telling me [saying], “The Lord just test the righteous,” and that he just testing her. [And I’m like], “Oh, really?” Testing her all her muthafuckin’ life? She just turned 55 October 26th. She was 54 [when this was happening]. I said in the song [“Show Me A God”], “And she only 54, in a ward watching a war / That’s more blood and gore, and she tore, ‘cause people are so deceiving / And I’m on the floor, ‘cause with nor Lord this war absorbs more poor, having all the soldiers screaming / Show me a God!” ‘Cause she always used to be watching TV, [and] she was real compassionate like, watch the news and cry like, “Why’s the world like this, baby? Why do we have to kill each other?” I’m like, “Mama you can’t trip on that. Stop watching TV trippin’ off of everybody else.” [And she’d be like], “But what can we do to stop it, baby?” I’m like, “We can’t do anything to stop it.” [And she’d be like], “There’s gotta be something.” I’m talking about, she used to watch TV and be hurt.
A real angel, man. So why in the fuck wouldn’t I think the way I think [about God]? Like please man, show me something. This angel of all people is the most tormented? You mean to God damn tell me she gotta go through all this pain all her muthafuckin’ life for a God to say, okay, you truly believe in me? Fuck that, man! And, I’m not cursin’ at God. I’m cursin’ at the situation, with my people telling me that, “He tries the righteous and test our belief.” Really? Testing mama with epilepsy? Testing mama with lupus? Testing mama with pancreatitis that was about to kill her? Testing mama by putting her in a psychiatric ward all her muthafuckin’ life?! Yeah, that make me feel real good [about God], bro’. Why wouldn’t I write “Show Me A God” [at that point], tell me that?
And still, I have faith. Mama’s better now, man. I sent her some money on her birthday last week [and she was like], “Baby, thank you so much,” and “I miss you, baby, call me.” [And I’m thinking to myself], mama you sound so good. But she could go right back into it at anytime, just tormented.
DX: And I noticed on “Blackened The Sun,” you basically are saying to folks, given your circumstances right now, you don’t give a shit whether they’re alienated by the darker tone on the album.
Tech N9ne: I don’t care, man. Shit, I ain’t never worshipped no Devil. I don’t care [if they think that when listening to the darker music]. It’s just my imagery is a lot different than what niggas are used to. If they seen me every day, they’d see me in my $73,000 chain that says “Strange Music,” and my $16,000 bracelet I got on my right arm, and my $10,000 watch on my left arm. And it’s like, maybe I look more like what they used to in my newest video so everybody love it. But this is also me. I’m three-dimensional. When you see me in the “Leave Me Alone” video with a suit on, yeah, I bought those suits from my trip last year on [a] Disney cruise. I bought the black suit that I’m wearing on the cover of K.O.D. for a Disney cruise! The gray suit [I’m wearing in the “Leave Me Alone” video], I took a picture with Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse in it and put it on my website. This is me everyday.
This is me everyday… I wear Levi’s 501s and Polos, yeah, on a regular day. Or sometimes I might just throw on my 501’s and a white t-shirt. But I don’t feel that I have to look like that when I’m on stage, man. It’s about having a show. Even Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, when you saw [Grandmaster] Melle Mel and them they were in costume… The old school taught me how to put on a show. Public Enemy had S1W’s in uniform. Why a uniform? Why would we wanna be in uniform? Because, the people see togetherness. These are soldiers. [And] if I’m on one thing, you can best believe everybody else that’s dressed like me is on the same thing. So if you mess with one of us, you gon’ have to fuck with all of us. It’s intimidating when they see brothers on one accord. That’s why [I wear] the uniform. Why the hospital scrubs? Why you think, man? I’ve [been] fucked up all my life. Because of my mom being in a psychiatric ward, I don’t know why I [came] up with Nutt Howze. I wonder why? I don’t really know; it just happened. I feel like niggas is institutionalized mentally. Yeah, we crazy. The painted face, oh I’m just fucked up in the head. I’m a nigga that used to have red hair with white paint [on my face] coming out… [And people would be like], “What the fuck is wrong with this nigga?” [Laughs] Yeah, I turned into the clown. The killa clown that used to scare little kids in Kansas City back in the day, but it was just a myth that [there] was a guy in a yellow van that kidnapped kids… But it was the myth that made everybody panic and wonder like, “Wow, does that really exist? I wonder…” [When] a clown paints his face you don’t know if [that] painted smile on is a real smile. Up under that he could have malicious intent. It’s the mystique of the whole thing. So [I] became the clown, you knowwhatI’msizzlin’?
DX: Let me get back to a few questions I had specifically about the album – stuff you said on the album. One of these questions is do you believe in karma, like you seem to be suggesting in “Shadows On The Road”? In the song you ask yourself, “Is it coming for me because of all the shit that I did in the past was bad to people?” Have you come up with an answer to that question since you wrote that?
Tech N9ne: Yeah I do believe in karma. On my neck, a long time ago when I was younger – when I was old enough to get a tattoo I guess, I mighta been 18 – I came up with this thing, it’s like a Bible verse, it says, “He who treads the path of the beast is also he who sins over principle. But be warned, for the beast in his past may return to haunt his present and twist the thoughts of the righteous.” What that means is that – “He who treads the path of the beast” means he who does bad things and lives a bad life “is also he who sins over principle.” You can repent, change. But, in changing just “be warned” because “the beast in your past may return to haunt your present and twist the thoughts of the righteous” to make you do something stupid to end up fucked up, even though you’re righteous. So karma, that’s what it means, what goes around comes around. So I always believe that. And that comes with my belief in God.
DX: Do you really believe spirits, or “shadows,” are following you? You sure it ain’t just the police [Laughs]?
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] I know it ain’t the police, ‘cause the police pulls us over. The shadows disappear. And I think it has to do a lot with drugs, back in the day just seeing things [while high]. But, I just think it comes with shadows period, man. I don’t really know [if spirits are really haunting me]. Even in the song I said I don’t know. I still don’t know. It might just be some shit that the eyes is just doing to ya.
DX: On one of the illest joints on K.O.D., “Demons,” you talk about “those thangs that make you do bad things.” But is that some supernatural, evil spirit directing you to do bad things, or is that just the selfish nature of man that you or anybody else can’t always keep in check?
Tech N9ne: I’m thinking it’s the selfish nature of man, because I’ve never seen a spirit. They saying it’s evil spirits. My family taught me to believe that there’s evil spirits. That’s evil spirits in you. There’s a demon in you that’s making you do this. It’s the devil inside you, youknowhatI’msizzlin’? So, logically I’m thinking it’s man, being weak, giving in to – “It make me wanna drink a lot / Go up in the pink with not.” C’mon man, that’s not disciplined. That ain’t what my Muslim stepfather taught me. He taught me discipline. Be able to not do these things because this thing will make you live longer. If you drink alcohol, you’re not gonna live longer. If you eat pork, you’re not gonna live longer. Shit like that. So discipline is what my logic would say [is the real problem], but my Bible and my family say that’s evil spirits. So it’s confusion, I don’t have no answers for you. I don’t have no 100% answers for you.
DX: Well you’re the one that posed all these questions [Laughs].
Tech N9ne: I did! I’m still asking ‘em. That makes sense, don’t it? I mean the album just came out homie, [so] I’m still asking ‘em. This is my mindframe right now. These questions are being asked [and] just because I asked ‘em don’t mean I answered ‘em. The only way it’s gonna be answered is if God comes and how they say…caught up in the rapture. All the righteous will be caught up in the rapture. So that’s gonna be [when I get] my answer.
DX: I guess there is some answer on the album where you basically - I think it’s on “Horns” – say you just can’t hide that part of you.
Tech N9ne: I can’t hide the evil things that I do. And the evil thing that I do, people laugh at me [for morally struggling with]. “Oh, that’s what you think is evil?” I’m lustful. A lot of women raised me. My father wasn’t there. My uncles was there. My uncles Ikey and Ricky, they taught me. But at the same time, [there were] a lot of women around me. So I learned that God said one [woman] to each, after there was jealousy in the home when you [could] have 10 wives. So, I know what [a man with] more than one [woman] does to a Christian woman. She’s not having that. So, in my brain, because of what they taught me when I was younger, I’m not supposed to be unfaithful to a woman, especially when you get married. And I was married for nine years. So, that’s my sin, lust. I’m girl-crazy. That’s my major sin. They say, “There’s no sin greater than the other.” Bullshit. You go out here and cut a baby’s head off, opposed to stealing a piece of candy, then nigga that’s a bigger sin.
DX: Now, the “madness” records on here – “In The Trunk,” “Pinocchiho” – might creep out the squeamish, but I personally think the most frightening moment on K.O.D. is when journalist Jason Whitlock’s voice is heard [Laughs]. Do you wanna address any of the old claims Whitlock was making about you…?
Tech N9ne: It’s stuff I been hearing ever since I started this, with the snake and the bat [symbol for my Strange Music label]. The Christians in Eugene [Oregon] protesting, saying I’m the devil. And the snake is supposed to be the devil. And a bat is a nocturnal creature. And I put ‘em both together and that’s supposed to be a powerhouse [for] Satan and all that kinda thing. C’mon man! These are ideas that are written by man in The Bible, youknowhatI’msizzlin’? And it’s like, [the claim that] me having the bar code cross [logo is me] trying to say evil is God is just… The bar code cross is just T 9, man. And I always been [a] mechanical type of rapper. So the bar code comes into play, like just property of…T to the 9th power. There’s nothing biblical, it’s nothing – It just looks like a crucifix. But, it’s nothing biblical. It’s nothing that should be considered scary. It’s just that people try to say my stuff is evil. And that’s all that Jason Whitlock was trying to say on the album. It’s pretty funny to me, all those ideas about me being the devil, when my mom [said] I’m her angel sent down here to protect the lost souls, and take care of lost souls. She used to tell me that ever since I was little. But when you do something different, people are gonna dissect it. And I have really religious overtones [in my music], if you listen, even though there’s [still] confusion [about religion]. And there’s always gonna be [that confusion]. Such is life. So, it’s scary [to Whitlock and other outsiders]. And I poke at people like what if they’re right [and I’m evil]. [Makes ghostly sound] Woooooo-ah-ah-ah-ah. It’s funny to me.