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Tech N9ne: Rap’s Indie Trailblazer on the Other Side of Fame

“[They’ll say] my facepaint probably won’t work well with urban. . . I look more like my ancestors than you, motherfuckers!”

tech n9ne

At 43 years old, Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne could be crowned the world’s oldest XXL Freshman. His song “Hood Go Crazy” is cracking mainstream outlets like MTV, hip-hop radio and festivals like Los Angeles’ Powerhouse — though he’d probably do just fine without them. Since starting his Strange Music label in 1999, his independent hustle has been almost invisible from mainstream view, but it’s proven more lucrative than many traditional paths. Forbes consistently names him one of rap’s “Cash Kings” — on this year’s list, they suspect he brought in more money than Rick Ross and J. Cole. His 15th album, Special Effects, just entered the Billboard 200 at Number Four, marking his highest debut and highest sales week to date. We caught up with the mogul to find out about life on the other side of fame.

You’re finally having a radio hit… 15 albums deep?
[Laughs] Yes, dude. So weird to me, so weird. The first little whiff of it was last year with “Fragile” with me and Kendrick Lamar and ¡Mayday! and Kendall Morgan. That was surprising to me because I did not write that for the radio. I was mad at a journalist that said something sideways about me that was not true — LA Weekly or whatever — and the next thing you know, it’s on the radio. So now this one — because I used to be a dancer back in the day, pop-lockin’, breakdancing, MC Hammer-dancing, whatever it was I did it. I chose this party beat from B.o.B.’s camp and he had that wonderful hook on it, “Hood Go Crazy.” Next thing you know, we put 2 Chainz on it and it’s everywhere. I was like, “If it made me move, then I’m sure it’ll make other people move.” I had no idea that it was gonna be this big. And so late in life, to still be on the incline, makes me totally feel like Dracula, man. I’ve always said it: I was “Alucard,” “Dracula” backwards. I’m being preserved for something great, so this doesn’t help my Dracula thinking [laughs].

When “Fragile” happened, were you like, “I just did this messing around. If I really went for it…”
Yeah, man, yeah. It surprised me. I guess I really kind of went for it… but doing what I do. The only thing different about Tech N9ne are the features — that’s the only thing different than mainstream guys. If you listen to my [2008] album Killer, “Why You Ain’t Call Me,” it was talking to a lot of mainstream rappers like Jay Z and Ludacris and everybody. But I was asking them, “Why you ain’t call me, man? I’m a rappin’ motherfucker, man. What’s going on?” I was reaching out to my peers like, “Please!” Now, I can’t stop them from calling me, you know? It’s changed, drastically.

Do you have opportunities and phone calls that haven’t been available for the last 20 years?
Yes, man. After my mom passed, June 6th, everything I ever wanted started coming to me, man. I feel like I might have an angel looking over me like, “OK, now it’s time,” but I just hate that she had to be gone for it to happen. It just kills me, man. But maybe she’s not gone at all; I feel like she’s just right here with me. Major labels calling us and offering us money, all the features I ever wanted in my life — Eminem, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, T.I. — everything, man, just came together. I was on Jimmy Kimmel, I’m about to do it again. All of these Summer Jams and Rock Fests are booked. Things I’ve always wanted.

You’re already famous in the Tech N9ne universe. But you’re getting “traditionally” famous for the first time?
[Laughs] That’s funny, man; that’s so funny to me, man…. People are logging on, man. Do you know how weird it is for me to go to Denver, Colorado and selling out shows for over a decade at 4,000 people, and now I’m bout to headline the SummerJam at Fiddler’s Green with 18,000 people? And can you believe, how I feel, when I get the Shazam numbers and they’re like really high in Denver? There’s people that don’t know Tech N9ne still? They still wondering who sings “Hood Go Crazy” when I’m selling out 18,000 and it’s getting bigger and bigger. That’s so crazy to get Shazam numbers. Even in Kansas City. C’mon, dude: You can’t even ride down the highway to go to work to not see a Tech N9ne billboard in Kansas City. And the Shazam numbers are crazy! They don’t know! Do you know how weird that is? Dracula, man. The blood is spreading. It’s being infected with beautiful music, dude. This is the virus that people really want.

You have your own lane. Do you even want to be traditionally famous? Do you want to go on Hot 97 and do the whole rigmarole?
If I didn’t have to do press, I would not. But what I’ve always wanted is world domination. I want everybody to know my name because I feel like I give so much of my heart and my soul in my music. 

tech n9ne

It sounds like you just want all the doors open. Is there anything that you’ve said no to right now?
Um… I don’t want to do porno. I don’t really want to do movies, but I tried. I don’t feel like acting is my thing; I think music is my strong area. I did The Devil’s Carnival, and I feel weird as fuck. But they think I’m good at it. Rob Pryor is writing a movie for me right now and he wants me to read the script, and I’m like, “Ah, fuck. OK, I’ll try it.” But if I suck, I didn’t say that I was good at it. But they say that I killed it, so I just want to know that the people around me aren’t sucking me off and telling me this because I really don’t want to act.

There’s a lot of things I don’t want to do. I understand sponsorships. I do. I understand motherfuckers say, “OK, if you do this, we’ll pay for the bus.” I understand how that works. But I cannot be corny and having the shit in my hand, like that. I’m not going to do it. I’ll do whatever I have to do: I’ll put the logos up on a trashcan onstage or whatever, but I’m not gonna like, “Hey, buy Crest! Hey, y’all, y’all buy Crest, all right.” I’m not going to fucking do that, dude.

Did it hurt your feelings that the mainstream wasn’t open to you?
Fuck yes! Fuck yes, man! Because I always felt like I was better than everybody, man. I don’t fucking like barriers. Yes, you start on the street level, but if it’s good, it’s going to reach everybody and that’s what was happening. How you gonna not take chances with our shit and you do [on] these replicas? You put these replicas on the radio. You put these replicas on video. And that’s what our kids turn into. Fuck that — put innovators on the fucking radio, so our kids aren’t listening to that shit and there will be an Eminem, there will be a Kendrick Lamar.

Yes, I was mad that motherfuckers wouldn’t let me in. Why do you think I got song like, “Breaking Into Colored Houses” [“B.I.T.C.H.”]? I was trying to use T-Pain to get me into these niggas’ houses that thought that I was a devil worshipper all these years. There was a bad rumor starting in early-2000, late-’99: Because of my imagery, they feel that I look like a devil. I don’t know what the fucking devil looks like.

Can you tell me some of the things these venues have said to you like, “We’re not covering Tech.”
I don’t want to say any names. [They’ll say] my facepaint probably won’t work well with urban. And I don’t give a fuck. I look more like my ancestors than you, motherfuckers! So I feel like a song like “Aw Yeah” should be able to be played where they play urban shit. Because I’ve got rhythm like a motherfucker, blues is in there. Just because I got on facepaint and I don’t have on my fucking gold chains and my fucking gold in my mouth — which, I do have a grill that Paul Wall made me, but I don’t have it on, motherfucker, somebody stole it — but it’s like, I don’t look like that, that don’t mean you can’t play my shit!

What was the closest you came to quitting? What year?
Whatever year that my [2008] Killer album came out. I was ready. “Why You Ain’t Call Me” and all that kind of shit is on there. “If I Could Cry Maybe One Good Time” is on there. “I Love You but Fuck You” is on there. Aw, man; I was ready, man. I was ready because if you feel like there’s no ceilings, but there’s ceilings and they’re made out of steel and you can’t get through, that’s fucked up, man. But then you find something that can fucking blow that fucking steel ceiling apart. Like love for music and no barriers.

Everybody’s saying there’s barriers, fuck that — no there’s not. Me and [System of a Down singer] Serj Tankian’s gonna do a song. Ain’t no motherfuckin’ barriers. Me and Mint Condition gonna do a song. Ain’t no barriers. Fuck that. We’re gonna redo Richie Havens’ “Freedom” and put Eminem on it, dude. We’re going to praise Richie Havens like, “Thank you for making such wonderful music. Richie Havens, rest in peace.” And to have his daughter send me an email last week saying that she was skeptical at first, and heard it and she loves loved it and her father would have fuckin’ loved it and he would have participated — almost made me burst into tears.

You replayed it — it wasn’t a sample?
No, we replayed it. My engineer Ben played the guitar.

Do you have to clear that then?
Yes, man. They took everything. They left us 19 percent… but they didn’t have to leave us shit. Eminem did it like, “Fuck it! I don’t give a fuck about that. Let’s do it!” That’s love, dude. That’s a fucking victory!

You always talk about your guest lists like they’re bucket lists, almost. Is there anywhere to go from here?
On this next album, The Storm. Because my first album I ever did, before I even thought of Strange Music, when I was with Midwestside Records back in Kansas City in the mid-Nineties, this album we independently put out was called The Calm Before the Storm. So now I came up with this idea last week and I call Travis like, “Yo, Travis, I know our new album ain’t come out yet but I got the new title: It’s called The Storm, after all these years.” Now the storm’s gonna come.

So, yeah, I’m gonna go for Gary Clark Jr. I just hope that he knows about me and he would love to do something with me because I can’t wait to see what we’d create. Yes, I’m gonna go for Jay Z again. Yes, I’m gonna go for Lana Del Rey. Yes, I’ve been talking about getting Alanis for a couple years and we have mutual friends. Yes, I’m talking to Brett of Shinedown. I’m still going, brother. I’m trying to do music, bro. I don’t give a fuck who it is, if it’s beautiful. Yes, I want to work with Rick Rubin. Yes, I want to work with Trent Reznor. Yes, I want to work with Madlib. Yes, I want to get with all these wonderful people. Collie Buddz, Marsha Ambrosius. I just want to go, man. I’m gonna keep on making music.

In This Article: Tech N9ne

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