After over 20 years in the game, Tech N9ne’s constant touring and incredible music output has landed him as the top independent artist in Hip Hop today. Releasing 16 albums in as many years through his independent record label Strange Music, Tech has left a mammoth-sized, genre-fusing imprint on the music industry. We caught up with him ahead of his upcoming Australian tour and he had a lot to say, discussing his birthing struggles as an independent artist, how upcoming rappers help him stay sharp and what we can expect from his new album, The Storm, dropping in December. Check it out below.
Tech N9ne! It’s great to be talking with you man.
Hey how you doing brother?
Yeah good man. Firstly, thanks for taking the time to speak. I’m a long time listener and the one thing I’ve admired most, apart from the music itself, is your ability to stay independent and still enjoy such a successful music career. Being someone who released their first album before the internet was widespread, how hard was it to start off independently and remain independent throughout your career?
Super hard man because you have to use your own money and you have to be ready to take a loss if you take a loss. You have to be ready to get back up and have tough skin to keep getting up if you believe in the product you’re pushing, and we always believed in the product that we pushed. I was the first artist on this Strange Music thing. We started this thing and now look at us, we got like 14 artists. It just kept building and building and building and we never stopped, but you have to have that tough skin if you truly believe in your product and I always believed that I had something special, and I do. I realise it, and I’ve always realised it and that’s why we kept going. But it’s just a blessing to have a partner like Travis O’Guin who was the money behind it and believed equally because the artist is always gonna believe that they have somethin’ even if they’re wack! But this was not that. This was something special.
Do you think that you would have enjoyed the same success as you have if you had signed to a major label at the beginning of your career?
I did [sign with a major label], that’s what made me start my own venture. I had my first record deal in 1993 with Perspective Records, then I got signed with Quincy Jones in ’97 to Qwest Records and Warner. Then in ’99 or 98’ I think it was Interscope and JCOR, and after that I was done. That’s when I met Travis. I had the major label thing, I did that. But then I met Travis and then the independence came, because I did not like what I went through with the majors. So I had that already before Strange [Music]. But I always had the name Strange Music in my head because I’ve been a Doors fan for so many years and I had always told myself that if I had my own label I would always call it Strange because [of the Doors album titled] “Strange Days”, people are strange. So when I met Travis and he got me out of all those commitments I was in, he was like “What do you think the label should be called?”, I said “Strange Music!” I didn’t hesitate. There were no other names involved. Nothing. Not Psycho Records, not Dysfunctional Records or Dysfunctional Entertainment; it was Strange Music straight off the top because I always held onto it. So because of the things I went through with the majors, that really made me want my own label.
Leading on from that, have you recognised a more recent change from the label-centred mindset to independent freedom, something that’s been revitalised recently by artists such as Chance the Rapper.
I know for a fact that it’s all about freedom. That’s what I needed because with the majors, they wanted me to do what was going on. When I signed in ’93, that’s right when “Proteck Ya Neck” came out. So they wanted us to sound like that but I said “No. That’s not me. That’s the East Coast, I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I’m the Mid-West and I don’t sound like that. That’s dope but that aint me and I’m not going to clone that.” They wanted me to sound like the people they had working for them, saying “You need to do that son, you need to do that!” So when I signed with Quincy in ’97, his people wanted me to do popcorn music. They wanted me to do soft music and I didn’t wanna do soft music. I wanted to make hard music and really go, so that didn’t agree. I knew I needed to get somewhere where I could have complete control, complete autonomy. My ideas; when I wanted to drop and when I didn’t want to drop, when I wanted so say what I wanted to say, what pictures I wanted to use, what T-Shirts we were gonna put out first, what hat design. I needed complete autonomy. And my business partner Travis, he was crude enough to take over that, to take my ideas and put them everywhere and capitalise on them, make them bigger and build other ideas off of them. It was just beautiful to let go off the wheel and they would just show me pictures: “Do you like this this?” Yes. “Do you like this this?” No. “Do you like this this?” Yes. “Ok let’s do that”. Easy.
Turning the focus towards your music now…your musical style is so unique from your delivery to the genres you experiment with and use in your music. What motivates you to experiment with your sound? Is it other artists that inspire you or has there always been an internal motivation to do something different and always change it up?
I’ve always said that life inspires me to do what I do. And it does. But I do keep raw MCs around me so I can stay on my toes. Everybody that’s on our label can go and if you slouch, everybody’s gonna know. I aint gonna slouch ever homie, because I got real ones around me. What do they call it? Friendly competition? Because it’s like you gotta rap next to CES Cru. You gotta rap next to Rittz. You gotta rap next to Krizz [Kaliko]. You gotta rap next to Eminem…he aint on our label but he did a song with us. You gotta rap next to that? Everybody can’t rap next to that; I don’t care who you are. You’ve gotta be someone that can really go. I keep real MCs around me… Slaughterhouse that’s my family. What Funk Volume was, they’ve scattered now, but that’s my family. Chino XL, that’s my family. Pharoahe Monch, that was my family. KRS-One, that’s my family. Ice Cube, that’s my family. Kendrick Lamar that’s my family you know that for a fact! All the lyricists are together and there’s some that I aint met yet. I can’t wait to meet Chance the Rapper… I love what he does. I can’t wait to meet J. Cole… I love what he does.
You finally snagged that long-coveted Eminem feature on your last album, how good did it feel when that verse finally came through?
Man! I’ve been trying to to that for over a decade! Jesus, I couldn’t believe he said yes. And he didn’t wana charge me? He loves what I do and is a fan of what I do? Like what? Not this murderer. I’m a murderer too but this is a murderer… the only person I ever checked for when they come out, like “Oh ok I gotta do this and I gotta move like this because he moves like that.”
Yeah the double flow, quadruple flow even, on his verse on Special Effects was insane.
Yeah not too many people scare me dog! I do me! [proceeds to rap a lively flow to himself] But there’s not too many [that scare me]. Like the people I named they can really go, and I aint even gone to the underground yet. Twisted Insane is with me, Snow Tha Product is with me, T Nutty is with me, Brotha Lynch Hung is with me. Who is it [that scares me]? I don’t know man I probably haven’t met him yet. We are all connected so you have to keep that lyricism going because they’re all listening. [laughs] Audio push is with me. It’s like this is the legion of doom! And I am the king of darkness! [chuckles to himself]
Your last album, Special Effects, was one of your most personal yet, was it difficult to express some of more emotional content on there or did these events in your life empower your ability to create?
It’s never hard for me to express whatever I’m going through in my life… I’m writing it no matter who’s mad about it. If it’s going on in my life then I’m writing about it. There’s a certain thing that’s going on with my youngest that I can’t write about because I don’t want the world to know how much it’s hurting but it’s something that I just have to hold for the wishes of my loved ones, but I rarely hold anything. Since it’s my youngest I hold it. I think I kinda held it.. I think I might’ve said it on one song, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t hold anything man I don’t know…but I try to be mindful of my loved ones, because I’m inside out.
Is that a hard line to walk between keeping some of your personal life out of the music and expressing it all, and not upsetting certain people that you don’t want to?
It’s not a hard line to walk because I usually expose anything, but I’m trying to be better at it because I’ve had loved ones say “Don’t talk about me. If it’s not good don’t talk about me.” And I’m like “OK damn, alright I’ll try.” [laughs]
Talking about your next album, The Storm, what artists can we expect to be on there and what direction are you going in compared to your last album?
Because Special Effects was so humungous, I don’t have as many features on this one, but I kept those features in mind because I knew what I had to top or attempt to top. On Special Effects I did “Wither” with Corey Taylor of Slipknot right? So on the new album I knew the metal feature had to be mind blowing. So I got Korn; Jonathan Davis on “Starting To Turn”. Oh my goodness, really wonderful. I got a lot of dreams out on this album; I finally got to work with Gary Clark Jr. as I’ve been wanting for a long time on a song with me and Gary Clark Jr. and Krizz Kaliko called “No Gun Control”. I did an amazing feat and I got Boyz II Men on a weed song. [laughs]
Yeah it’s called “Buddah” homie, about weed. It’s wonderful, incredible… who’s gonna think to do that? Tech N9ne? Yeah. I got another dream off on this album, a song with a young lady from a group called Floetry that I’ve been trying to work with for over a decade named Marsha Ambrosius. Finally got it because of Kon Artis of D12, he did the beat. [He] came to Kansas City, Mr Porter came, [they] did the beat right there in front of me. He had the hook up with Marsha Ambrosius, got me hooked up and told me “What do you feel for this beat?” I said, “I’m really sad now man, everything is going on in my personal life and I’d rather be anywhere but here. Anywhere but here right now.” Next thing you know Marsha Ambrosius is singing “Anywhere but here” … oh my god!
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve got more people on the album but it’s not many, that’s just to name a few.
Lastly I wanted to ask, with new Australian tour, what can fans expect to hear? Any new material? Oldies? I’ve always wanted to hear your verse from Worldwide Choppers live…
Everything. New material, oldies… we service the whole fanbase from the old to the new to the in between. And as Stevie Stone would say, by the way he’s coming out with us for the first time which is gonna be an out of this world party, he says “we’re gonna leave it on the floor” and to me that means we kill everything.
I think that just about raps it up! Thanks for chatting and I really look forward to seeing you on Saturday night in Perth.
Let’s go. Thank you brother.
Tech N9ne starts his Australian tour this Saturday in Perth. Full dates and ticket details below.
Get tickets here.