Tech N9ne Addresses Perceived Disconnect With Black Hip Hop Fans
Exclusive: Tech N9ne explains enlisting T-Pain for "Breaking In To Colored Houses" and why fans embraced him for bucking industry trends.
If you want to get a beat on what makes Tech N9ne tick, look no further than his tour bus. Aside from being impossible to miss—it’s always emblazoned with the Strange Music logo and the title of his latest album—the bus is where he spends the majority of each year. With an average of 200 road dates each year, it’s become such a staple that other artists recognize it’s importance.
“One of my first shows was with him…10 or something years ago,” Clyde Carson noted during a March interview with HipHopDX. “This nigga had two tour buses. Trust me, I know he’s doing his shit independently the correct way.”
Suffice it to say, Tech has added a few more buses to the arsenal since then. Aside from speaking to Strange Music’s resources, you’ll find artwork reflective of Tech’s Metal and Rock influences and both his physical and musical family.
“You see the artwork on this bus, I mean, that’s me,” Tech notes, pointng to a picture that resembles the late Heath Ledger’s role in The Dark Knight. “That’s how I look at myself—evil brain, angel heart.”
Other than the performance stage and a trip to the media tent, the only other time he leaves the bus is a quick trip to the Monster Energy Drink booth to interact with fans. He cracks open a can of his favorite flavor (that would be the red “Assault” variety), toasts with fans and hangs out in a very un star-like fashion. Tech is giving out daps, hugs, shaking hands and signing any memorabilia handed to him. Then it’s back to the bus, where he spends the majority of this particular Saturday in San Bernadino, California for Paid Dues. Whether he’s interacting with Strange Music signee and Black Hippy member Jay Rock, his daughter (Tech reveals she was recently accepted to Mills College) or getting his face painted before hitting the stage, Tech N9ne is equal parts “The King, The Clown & The G.”
It’s a dichotomy that most artists don’t display. During the course of the day he beams like a proud father, takes part in a pre-show prayer, sings the praises of fellatio aided with hot water (as detailed in his 2008 song, “Seven Words”) and chronicles his rise to mainstream acceptance. As he closes in on 42-years-old, there’s not even a hint of a mid-life crisis.
HipHopDX: So this is what—round two, round three?
Tech N9ne: Round three…something like that, yeah.
DX: We’re live at Paid Dues 2013.
Tech N9ne: Man, I guess we’ve paid our dues like three times over, because this is not our first rodeo over here, man. I got love for Chang and Murs for considering us again, and I really love them for putting our new group, Ces Cru, on at 4:30. I think they’re a wonderful addition to Paid Dues. I hope I can get to see their show.
DX: Now this is their first time touring with Strange Music, right?
Tech N9ne: Yes, it is. And they are crazy fucking appreciative.
Ces Cru, “Bad Season” & Strange Music’s Marketing Strategies
DX: We talked to them last week; we feel they have a very interesting perspective being from Kansas City and having recently signed to Strange Music. We wanted to know what their favorite Strange Music moments were, and they spent a lot of time talking about the street team presence around Anghellic. There were stickers everywhere and billboards going up, and then they said during Bad Season you guys didn’t do it that way…
Tech N9ne: Well, the thing about Bad Season is, it was new. We had never done a mixtape. Whoo Kid said, “Nah we’re gonna do this. I’m gonna send you beats, and it’s gonna go.” We were just testing the water, and it happened to work without a lot of promotion. If we decide to do another one—if we ever do another mixtape, because we don’t really do ‘em—we do collaboration CDs. I might collab with some people outside of Strange, and one might be totally Strange artists like Welcome To Strangeland. So that one was a little bit new to us. Hopefully the next one we’ll give that same Anghellic attention to.
DX: Another thing they said was since Bad Season, you guys haven’t taken that same approach on the ground with the street team. They said there were more billboards and busses but less stickers…
Tech N9ne: Well, I don’t know man. Maybe they’re talking about their little EPs, like 13 or something that I didn’t see a lot of on there. But I don’t know. When Tech N9ne and everybody else comes, I see everything. I see stickers, I see billboards—I see a lot of things. They’re not at home right now, so they can very well have billboards right now and not know it. We’ve got Ces Cru. I know that, and I know those snipes are getting put up. They’re out here with me and they don’t see it. When they go back home they’re like, “Oh my God!”
DX: What’s the relationship like between you and [Strange Music CEO] Travis [O’Guin]? Do you guys go on vacation together?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, we go on vacation together. Every year, we celebrate New Years in the Caribbean with the family. We didn’t do it last year, but we’re doing it this year. The family said they don’t want to go this time, so I get to go as Tech N9ne bachelor [Laughs].
DX: This is the cruise you mentioned the last time we spoke?
Tech N9ne:Yeah, yeah. Travis is my brother. Luckily, we got a friendship. Everybody that comes into business don’t have to be friends. A lot of people don’t get along, but we rarely have disagreements. He does his job to the fullest, and I do my job to the fullest. Damn, my phone is ringing...
DX: Is that Michael Myers on your wallpaper?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, that’s me. Everything is Michael Myers. Eminem is Jason [Voorhees], Krayzie Bone is Leatherface, Bushwick [Bill] is Chucky. Nobody is Freddy Krueger though. I think that’s funny.
DX: It sounds like one of those collabo groups that people say should pop up. I think y’all should do it. It’ll be crazy as a one project only type of thing.
Tech N9ne: Woah. That’s crazy. Yeah, I would do it. I’ll get them all on K.C. Tea...a lot of crazy shit will come out.
DX: What are you like on the weekend? What do you watch on Sundays?
Tech N9ne: Sundays—because that’s my write day...I’m off Sundays and Mondays, so I write. If I’m not shooting a video for Ces Cru or shooting a video for Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun or working with any of my other artists, because I always have something going. Usually on my write days is when I’m free and not in the studio. Sometimes people at Strange book me to do things for other artists when I’m supposed to be writing. But when I’m not and I’m at home writing, I turn on “Girls” on HBO. What’s her name? Lena Dunham? I dig that show.
DX: That’s a well-written show. It’s smart.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, she’s cold-blooded. She’s in it, too. Her character is a really wonderful one. It’s a cluster fuck of things like sexual, smart, dingy—all those things. She’s a cluster fuck like me.
DX: That was a hell of an EP.
Tech N9ne: Yeah it was. Much love to ¡Mayday! for throwing me all the beats for Klusterfuk. It was an experiment to see where I would go with different music behind me. It took me and Krizz Kaliko some places. Krizz can go anywhere. He’s on there speaking Spanish. I forgot how he did it, but I was like, “Woah!” He was crazy! He took it somewhere else. Krizz can adjust to any musical situation. That’s why we’re the only emcees with Hip Hop mixed with rat-pack music. Put the camera on that dude right there.
“Absolute Power” & Tech N9ne’s “F.T.I.” Movement
DX: I was listening to Absolute Power, and that seems like a very interesting turning point with Strange Music as a label. You put that out for free while everyone else was increasing prices for their CDs because of Napster.
Tech N9ne: It was one of those RIAA commercials like, “You’re stealing.” You’re stealing if you didn’t buy it, and it had artists on there saying, “You’re stealing our music.” But if your music is good, they can listen to it, preview it and still go buy it if you take the time to do wonderful artwork. If you take the time to do wonderful music—it’s not just one or two good songs on the album—then maybe they’ll want to download the rest of it without buying it.
We proved with the F.T.I. movement—Fuck the Industry—that if you do beautiful artwork and do beautiful music all the way through and not just try to get over, then the fans will buy it. We were correct. Good product will always sell. You have to go the extra mile to make collector’s items nowadays, because with the Internet you can download anything for free. Why would they want to buy anything that’s subpar? Don’t make subpar music and you won’t end up in that group of people that’s “Stealing our music.” That shit is wack.
DX: How difficult was that? That was like 2002.
Tech N9ne: We came up with it in 2001 and it released 2002.
DX: That’s forward thinking at the time. Did you feel risky giving away a project? It wasn’t a mixtape.
Tech N9ne: It was real. “I’m a Playa,” and “Slither” were on there. “Here Comes Tecca Nina” was on there. “The Industry Is Punks,” and “Slacker” were on there. We were giving away top-notch music, but I already knew. Travis is a mastermind. He knew, too. Good shit should shine; that’s what we were banking on. We could’ve ended up with the latter. We could’ve ended up like, “Oh, no. They didn’t buy it.” But we took the chance, and that’s what happens when you take chances with beautiful things.
DX: Did you see a drastic increase with your fans at that time?
Tech N9ne: Totally. Everybody was with it. Instead of doing a video—of course we did the “Slacker” video—I had a choice of doing another video as opposed to the commercials we shot with F.T.I. I was like, “No. Stand up. Be heard. Download my new album Absolute Power for free.” Those commercials—you can look it up on YouTube. I was doing commercials when I was young, darker...you can tell I was in Los Angeles. We chose to do those commercials rather than another video, and they played. A lot of people responded, and people still come to the shows with the F.T.I. shirts on. It’s still working.
DX: Those are collectors’ items now.
Tech N9ne: Totally.
DX: At the end of “Yada, Yada, Yada,” you have a line where you’re like, “Dr. Dre, here I come. Timbaland, here I come.”
Tech N9ne: I’m still coming.
DX: What do you mean by that?
Tech N9ne: I’m going to be getting beats from them because that song was my exit from my producer, Don Juan. I was like, “Dr. Dre, here I come.” All the producers at the time were beautiful to me. “Swizz Beatz here I come.” “Sick Jack, here I come.” I said all those names. I have yet to come, and I’m still coming. I love to come...hard on beats.
DX: Did you ever reach out to those guys?
Tech N9ne: No, I think I might meet them today for the first time. I heard Dr Dre’s going to be there with Kendrick Lamar, so I hope I can bump into him and show some respect. Maybe we’ll see each other on beats. I still want to work with Timbaland, still want to work Pharrell, I still want to work with Sick Jacken. He’s my dude. We just haven’t had time to really be there. I said a lot of people, and I still want to do it.
DX: There was a moment during our conversation last October and you were talking about after this next project, you want to take time and be a fan. People talk about retiring. I don’t see you as a person who’ll ever say that type of thing. Are you thinking about your career in a different way now?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, man. I’m still the same way, I guess. I haven’t touched everybody on the planet yet. I haven’t been to Hawaii still. I haven’t been to Japan. I haven’t been to Africa, Dubai, Bangkok. We just did a lot of different places on this last tour, and there’s still so many more places we have to go. I feel like I still have to keep making beautiful music.
I just did a song with Yas [Yaser Bakhtiari] from Iran. He came all the way to Kansas City to record in my studio. I’m singing the hook and it was just wonderful to see it spread. Before you know it, I’ll be in Iran. We’re uniting Iran and the US through music. It’s a beautiful thing and it’ll keep on happening. That lets me know I’m on the right track, because it’s spreading everywhere to people who don’t even speak our language.
Tech N9ne On Hip Hop’s Global Appeal
DX: How did you get in touch with Yas?
Tech N9ne: They found me. He really wanted to work with me. He’s like Jay-Z over there in Iran. He’s one of the first guys where the government said, “Yes, you can sell your Hip Hop music.”
DX: Have you guys talked about what it’s like making music in Iran?
Tech N9ne: Yeah. We talked about a lot of stuff. He had his manager with him. She translated a lot of words, since I only learned a little bit in Farsi. How did it go? [starts talking in Farsi] That’s like, “I’ll be there right by your side giving you a bit of truth.” It’s beautiful. I learned it. They said 70% of the population out there are our fans. I’m like, “Wow. They listen to my music in Iran.”
DX: Did you finally get a chance to see Argo?
Tech N9ne: Yes, I did finally see it. I know people talk bad about it, but I loved it. It had me at the edge of my seat at the end when they were trying to get on the plane. It was good. I liked it. I don’t know what the hell Hollywood expected out of it. I read some reviews like it was the worst and best at the same time. Like how the fuck are you going to say that? What the fuck do you mean? It was a good movie about a real time. I dig Ben Affleck for that movie. I like it and I’d watch it again.
DX: It was very entertaining. I like it too. Everybody just wants to be entertained.
Tech N9ne: Yeah. Everybody is just so literal. Like, “Really?” It’s a movie. Go enjoy it for people that don’t know that story. For the youngsters, like, “That was just Hollywood putting their little spin on it.” I’m like, “So what? It’s a fucking movie.” Damn. I sure some shit wasn’t right in Malcolm X. Obviously, it got the point across with Malcolm X. It was a beautiful movie with Spike Lee. Hate is a strong word, but I dislike people who are like, “Oh no, that couldn’t really happen.” Use your imagination, motherfucker. What do you do for enjoyment? Does everything have to be so literal? Did your wife suck your dick a certain way? Does it have to be a certain way all the time or do you like hot water in her mouth while she does it? Throw some spice on it. People just gotta be so...
DX: Does going on tour ever get old?
Tech N9ne: No, man. It’s mind blowing because it’s so late in life that I still feel like I’m getting younger and people are shaking my hand instead of being like, “Who’s that crazy motherfucker?” They’re shaking my hand and commending me on my work thus far. It’s a beautiful thing when people commend me for what I’m doing when so many other people are scared because I’m so extreme. I can’t help but be extreme because it’s me.
You see the artwork on this bus, I mean, that’s me. That’s how I look at myself—evil brain, angel heart. Everybody knows exactly what’s going on in there. A lot of people are hurt, so I keep it to myself. I share a lot of things in my music. On this new album, I have a song called, “I’m Not A Saint,” where I revealed a lot of stuff about my childhood in one verse. It’s like, “Woah.” I give a lot of stuff but if I gave everything, oh man, it’ll send everybody out. I can’t do that.
DX: Do you feel as extreme with such an extra large fan-base where so many people love you?
Tech N9ne: They’re very extreme with me. They’re me.
DX: How do you grab those people? How do attract so many people who are extreme?
Tech N9ne: Because I wrote my life. Even though we’re different color, different thought process, different clothes, and cultures, we have that human being thing in common. Feelings...if I can cry one good time. How many people feel like that? Have you ever been involved with a psycho bitch? How many people can agree with that? Or, “Damn, I’m so alone doing what I do.” I think I connect with people who feel those feelings. I’m kicking and drinking Caribou Lou. What’s that? It’s 151 rum, Malibu rum and pineapple juice. “Really? Let me try that.”
Everything connects, because I’m writing my life instead of writing bullshit raps. Even when I’m kicking it, that’s what we have in common. With certain character traits, and things they pick it up. They picked up those character traits. I ain’t mad at it. I love it, and that’s how you connect as human beings even though our cultures are different. We meet somewhere. There are skinheads that listen to Tech N9ne. I seen it.
DX: I see an image of that Dave Chappelle skit.
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] I forgot all about that. That’s crazy.
DX: I want you to react to this statement. There’s an artist named Abu Jamal, and I met him outside of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles because I just moved to LA. He said, “When you make stuff for the elite, you always eat with the masses. When you make stuff for the masses, you always eat with the elite.” What’s your response to that?
Tech N9ne: “When you make stuff for the elite, you always eat with the masses.” I am elite, so I write elite rhymes. So if I was making stuff for the elite, that means I’m making stuff for other artists?
DX: I think what he’s referring to is when you try to do things to impress other people, you always end up being where you are with the masses. When you do things for everybody, you end up becoming elite with...
Tech N9ne: I think that it means stay true to yourself. I think it means exactly what Quincy Jones told me. “Tech, rap what you know and people will forever feel you. Forever feel you.” What I do know better than anybody else is myself. So I started writing me and doing me. I do what makes me feel good lyrically and musically. That’s a better reward because people are accepting that coming from your heart as opposed to you trying to do something to please those other motherfuckers.
Like, “Okay, I’m going to do something that Lil Wayne’s doing and maybe I’ll fit in right there.” I fit everywhere for a reason, because I’m everything. I’m all types of emotion. I think that’s what it means. Do you and it will blossom, and people will accept that. Quincy Jones was right. There’s people in Strange Land that have F.A.N.S. tattoos. It stands for, “Forever Accepting N9ne’s Soul.” Forever. I feel that out here. I feel that love, because I give them all of me.
How Mainstream Hip Hop Embraced Tech N9ne
DX: We’re trying to figure out a point in time where there was a difference between a mainstream and an underground in music. Do you remember a point where you looked up one day and were like, “Woah. There’s a difference between mainstream and underground.”
Tech N9ne: I always knew there was. Mainstream had a bigger machine; they still do. That’s why my fans are like, “Tech will never go mainstream. Mainstream will go to Tech.” I told them that a long time ago, and it started happening. We’re going keep doing our underground thing, but it will bleed over into the mainstream and it did.
I was on the BET [Hip Hop Awards] Cypher, I won the MTVU Award for “Best Left Field Artist,” I was on Tha Carter IV, I was on “When I Was 17,” I was on “106 & Park” as an independent before everybody started saying they’re independent. That’s proof that it’s spreading like crazy. I didn’t have to do anything special to fit in. I did me, and that’s what it’s going to work.
Even on my new song with T-Pain, the first single we released off Something Else, it’s called “B.I.T.C.H.” Breaking In To Colored Houses. That’s what I needed T-Pain to do. Give me a chorus that’ll help me break into black folk’s house through that TV. They see me on that TV like, “Woah, that’s that Tech N9ne dude!” The first thing I said on that song was, “Putting all the facepaint I can put on.” I’m not changing even on the song where I’m breaking into colored houses. It’s me. I’m breaking into your house like me. Not something that you’re used to—something else.
DX: You think there’s a disconnect between your music and black culture?
Tech N9ne: Yeah, a big one. But you got a lot of black folks coming to my show now and saying, “Not all us are missing you.” And I am a lot different than the regular rapper. That artwork? No, not a regular rapper. They say that looks like Rock N’ Roll, Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeath, Alice Cooper shit. I have those influences. I’m not going to change that. I’m not the everyday run-of-the-mill. So just imagine how everyone felt when they saw me on the BET Cypher, “That’s the same motherfucker?” That’s so beautiful to me. You can’t stop it no matter how much you talk shit about it, saying, “That’s the devil shit.” Here I am. I’m going to keep on popping up.
Justin: Tha Carter IV did that too...
Tech N9ne: Yeah, yeah. “That’s the boy Tech?” O.G. Tech N9ne as they say. Because back in the day on the Tupac Gang Related soundtrack, everybody heard “Questions” because millions of people bought it. Like, “O.G. Tech N9ne from back then? From The Wake-Up Show?” Yes, it’s me. Dracula is here, man...daywalker though, or like Blade. I’m going to keep on popping up and look younger every time you see me. I’ll be 42 this year.
DX: I want to ask this one last question as a follow up from our conversation in Atlanta. Last time, we asked you if your daughter became homecoming queen. You called, and said the voting would be announced the next week. Did she end up winning?
Tech N9ne: She didn’t win. She said some lesbians won. That’s cool. But she got accepted to Mills College in Berkeley; it’s an all-girls college. I guess that’s not easy to do, and I’m totally proud of her. Aliya Renee Yates [blows a kiss]...she’s here.