The highest-selling indie hip-hop artist of all-time, TECH N9NE’s music has featured in TV, film, and video games. His breakneck, chopper rapping style, lyrics that examine his own personal demons, and legions of global Strange Music fans have firmly established his status as one of the masters of the genre. His Hostile Takeover Tour of 2012 still holds the record for the longest continuous tour in rap history; and, his shows have been described as relentless parties, from start to finish. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth, of Nuclear Blast, we had the great pleasure of chatting with TECH about everything from his musical background, fans, and shows to Strange Music, his love of all styles of music, and the many talented musicians he’s collaborated with to date.
SR: How are you going, Tech?
T9: I’m kickin’ it like a donkey. Do you know how hard that is?
SR: (Laughs) I can only imagine.
T9: So you’re like Beck (sings) ‘I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me’, only spelt differently?
SR: Yeah, it’s my theme song.
SR: I heard that you pretty much thought of beats and rhythm all the time as a kid and that a girl called Lola Morris paved the way for you. What was that like and what kind of a kid were you?
T9: My mother and her mother and her sisters and brothers raised me to be a Christian. I went to church every day of the week, whether it was the sewing circle on Monday or choir on Tuesday…whether it was the church meeting on Wednesday, you know what I’m saying? Every day it was something at church. My mum married a moslem when I was 12 and we moved in with him. I started studying Islam and had to pray to Mecca, and they wanted to change my name to Khalifa but I did not. I ran away from home at 17 and took all that knowledge I had from Christianity and Islam and it made me more curious about other beliefs, like Shintoism and Taoism and Buddhism and Judaism, and even Dianetics – everything. And I just took my own way and was, ‘Yeah, I’m going to start Strange Music’ (laughs loudly).
SR: I guess that interest in the esoteric was behind your using the Rod of Asclepius. When did you design that and what does it mean to you?
T9: Oh! Yahtzee! Thank you! Nobody’s ever asked me this, baby girl! Nobody’s ever asked me this! They’re just like, ‘We love the Strange Music logo’ and this, that, and the other, and I’m like, ‘Thank you’. But they never ask me how I came with it. Every time we used to go around to the hospital, we’d see the snake around the stick and that’s the Rod of Asclepius, you know? It symbolises medicine, the practice of medicine. So, I told Travis that I wanted to use the snake and the bat because I was a Doors fan. I told him I wanted it to be a snake and a bat, but nobody really knew where I got the snake from. They just knew that I wanted the snake to be the ‘S’ and the bat wings to be the ‘M’, for Strange Music. But they didn’t know the depth of it, you know what I’m saying? I’d paid attention and had read up on all the Greek mythology about the Rod of Asclepius symbolising medicine. And the wings of the bat making the ‘M’? The bat is the nocturnal creature. I always knew that with my music, I was the medicine to navigate through the darkness. I’m the king of darkness, but I’m the medicine to get through it. Because when I give you my darkness, it lessens yours; because, when you look at me I’m on a pedestal…because I’m automatically on a stage and people are looking up at me. But when I tell you my problems and my woes, it brings me down to a level playing field with regular people; and I am a regular person – I just have an abnormal job. But that don’t mean that I’m better than anybody. That means that I can talk to you on the level of a human being, and that’s where we connect. So, I took that being that I am the medicine that can navigate through the darkness. That is Tech N9ne. And it worked and it’s working and it’s helping people. I had this dream of wanting to be a psychiatrist when I was in school, but I went into rap. But it turns out that I’m my fans’ psychiatrist and that makes me feel so good. I got both my dreams: to be a rapper and a psychiatrist.
SR: Music’s the best therapy anyway.
T9: Yes! Man, I mean if I didn’t have music, I would die. Even though it’s free right now to listen to music, it can change your day. When you’ve had a bad day at work and you listen to a piece of music from any artist that you love, it’s like, you know, (sings) ‘Waitin’ on the world to change!’ it makes you feel wonderful. It don’t matter if it’s rap, pop, blues, r&b, or jazz. Beautiful music can change you. I learned that back in the day when I was in my teens, when I was a fan of WC and the Maad Circle. There was an album called Ain’t a Damn Thang Changed, and Coolio and Mr Calhoun — Willy Calhoun – they had this song called Get On Up on that Funk (sings) and maybe you’ll feel better. I got the funk inside me. Dude, it made me feel better when things were going bad. Music can pull you out of that funk, man, you know what I’m saying? Get on up on that funk and maybe you’ll feel better – WC knew back then, dude. I took that and I started making music to make people feel better, even if it was my woes.
SR: You played sell out shows down here in Australia and New Zealand last year. Speaking of getting down to your fans’ level, I heard that you were really moved by the emotional outpouring you experienced at the meet and greets. What are some of the most gratifying things your fans have told you about what your music means to them?
T9: When people have a wreck in a truck and fly through a window shield and hit a tree and hit their head and are declared in a vegetable state by the hospital… and somebody says that there’s this place in Atlanta that does musical healing. What does this guy listen to? Their brothers and sisters say they listen to Tech N9ne. So they fly them to Atlanta and the nurse that they have happens to be a Tech N9ne fan and this person plays Fragile and then they start moving again. Then they play Dysfunctional and it brings them all the way back over time from a vegetable state to where those people come back. Then they graduate from high school. Wow! I had to read that. I had to read it. This guy was in a vegetable state and he came all the way back because Dysfunctional made him start singing the song – something in his brain was not damaged. He could sing the song and learn to talk again and rap again, and he graduated, after they thought he wasn’t going to make it! Oh my God! And I got to see him on the last tour and bring him and his brother on stage. And they danced with me on stage to Dysfunctional! I could’ve cried, dude! I’m here for a purpose! You know what I mean? That’s a real story!
SR: That’s amazing. Speaking of your other achievements, I’ll talk stats now. You’re the biggest-selling independent hip hop artist of all time, you hold the record for having the longest continual tour in rap history, your music’s been featured on film, TV, and in video games. Despite all that, I’ve read that you talk about still having a chip on your shoulder about having something to prove. Why is that so?
T9: Because I learnt that it’s never enough, man, you know? When you have that much talent and all these people are paying attention. But you see things on television and more people are paying attention to that, that means you have more to prove. I’m like, ‘No, I’ve got so much to say.’ When I was at the Grammys and I saw my brother Kendrick up there killin’ it and everyone stood up and clapped for him, I’m like, ‘Wow! That’s beautiful!’ But still, I have a lot to say. And I’m scary to people because I paint my face. I’m not gonna fuckin’ conform and look like anybody else. I’m gonna look like me and do this, and still do that same thing that my brother Kendrick is doing. I feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because people judge you because you’re different. That’s the problem with our world: people judge you because you’re different, because you’re not like them. And if you’re more like them, you’ll appeal to more people and that makes sense. And if you don’t look like them, they can’t connect with you. But that’s not true, you know? They can still connect with me, even though I look like my ancestors in Africa, you know what I’m saying, with my painted face? So, it’s like I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder because them motherfuckers ain’t really trippin’ offa Tech N9ne, but they’re going to, because I’m never going to stop. I’m gonna keep pounding them and pounding them. I’m gonna get that Dr Dre beat, I’m gonna get that Metallica song, I’m gonna get that Lana Del Ray song. I’m gonna keep on pounding them and pounding them. And it don’t matter that I look like a witch doctor because it’s beautiful music. I feel like I’ve got that to prove to the world, even though I finally got that Eminem feature I’ve wanted for ten years, and I finally got that Corey Taylor Slipknot feature I’ve been wanting for ten years, and I finally got that song with T.I because I’ve been a fan for so many year,s and 2 Chainz came through and did that for nothin’, you know what I’m sayin’, because he loves what I do, and all these people came through, you know what I mean? I still got somethin’ to prove. I still got somethin’ to prove because they look at me as the weirdo. But I have wonderful music and I will not have to look like anybody else to break through, you know what I’m saying? I’m talking about to the point where motherfuckers like Taylor Swift is kinda like, ‘I need that darkness clown, and I don’t look at clowns as bad because I love clowns’ to where Lana Del Ray…I won’t be lookin’ for her no more. She’ll come to me and say, ‘I need that darkness clown’ or ‘I need that party clown’…or Rhianna comes to me and says, ‘Tech N9ne, I need what you did on Planet Rock 2K’, you know what I mean? There’s gonna be a day. There’s gonna be a day. And that’s why I have a chip on my shoulder.
SR: Speaking of all the people you’ve worked with, you’ve got your Collabos series, which has been enormously popular. You’ve worked with a range of artists, including Snoop, Eminem, Jay Rock and Kendrick. Who have been some of your favourite collaborators and who else would you like to get involved in that series that you haven’t so far?
T9: Lana Del Ray, Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry, Metallica, Trent Reznor, Gary Clark Jr… I did something with CeeLo already – he’s my brother, you know what I’m sayin’? I want Outkast bad. I tried to get Outkast on this new album, but the beat I was trying to get was from Kraftwerk, and they said no. So, I’m going to try again with Outkast on the next one maybe. There’s so many of them I can’t think. Oh, Collie Buddz. It goes on forever. Oh, Twenty One Pilots, dude – I’m such a fan. I’m trying to get them on this album, you know? Time is running out, you know? I had a beat and everything; I’ve just got to write the song. I’m finishing one tonight. I want to say, ‘Here you go, brothers. If you like it, let’s go.’ There’s so many people that I want to work with, man. I love beautiful music. Lenny Kravitz, dude. I have one on this album I wish I could just send to him, but I don’t know how to get to him. Maybe he’s a fan, I don’t know. I don’t know who’s paying attention. I know a lot of people are paying attention but I’m forever going to have that chip, you know? Like, I’ve got to keep on; and it’s not just that I need features from people to solidify me in the industry. No. I work with people that I love the music of, you know what I’m saying? I don’t care what people think. It’s like if I love it, hopefully my fans will love it with me.
SR: I’ve also heard you praising Scarface’s work, especially on Deeply Rooted. Could you possibly pick a list of your favourite hip hop artists or rappers of all time?
T9: That’s the hardest question every time, because I’m a dancer. I was a dancer before I was a rapper, you know what I mean? So, I like some music that some hardcore MCs might not like. They might not agree with me. Before I was a rapper, I was breakdancing and pop lockin’, you know what I’m saying? To MC Hammer and all that. I was doing Michael Jackson on the corner when I was younger for money. With rhythm came rhyme, so when it comes to music, I’m going to say things that people might not agree with. I understand what Young Thug is for, I understand what Gucci Mane is for, I understand what Rae Sremmurd is for. I understand all this music and I love music, no matter what. Motherfucker ain’t gotta rap like me to be an MC, you know what I’m sayin’? If you move the crowd… Lil Jon moves the crowd, dude! You know what I’m sayin’? If you move the crowd, move the crowd! I’ve seen Travis Scott move the crowd. I’ve seen Tory Lanez move the crowd. I’ve seen all these people move crowds, dude! It’s about music and making people move. There’s money out here for everybody.
You can say, ‘Okay, this is what I like. I like hardcore hip hop, I love real hip hop, I love Black Thought of the Roots, I love Erykah Badu’, you know what I’m saying? Yes! Wonderful! But don’t just discount a motherfucker like Desiigner, you know? (Sings) I got broads in Atlanta…twistin’ dope, lean,and the Fanta, credit cards and the scammers’. Somehow, somebody’s payin’ attention to that! It’s the number one song in the country! If that ain’t what you like, that don’t mean you have to torch it. We dancin’ to that shit. We turn up to that shit in the club. Nigga, when you in a club, you ain’t tryin’ to listen to (sings) ‘Give me one good tiiiime’ by Tech N9ne. (Sings again) ‘If I could cry maybe one good tiiiiime’.. Nigga! No one’s gonna hear that in a club! You gonna hear (sings) ‘This is the endin’ from the N9ne, grindin’ bitches from behind’, you know? You’re gonna hear that, nigga, you know? You don’t want to hear ‘I’m tryin’ to kill myself’, you know?… Suicide Letters from Tech N9ne… There’s a time and place for everything. We love music, baby, you know what I mean? That’s what it should be about and that’s why Tech N9ne’s sitting here talking to you right now – ‘cause I represent music, no matter what genre. They’re like, ‘Okay, white people gonna listen to rock ‘n’ roll and white people gonna listen to R&B and rap, and these other people are gonna listen to that.’ No, motherfucker, let’s all integrate, ‘cause we all need each other to help each other up. And that’s why Strange Music is still here. I hope I answered your question.
SR: Absolutely. One of the other reasons I’m talking to you is because you’re coming down here in November with Krizz Kaliko and Stevie Stone. You and Kriss are long-time collaborators. How did you first meet and what have you got planned for these shows?
T9: I met Krizz through DJ Icy Roc in Kansas City, you know? I was doing music with him. Krizz lived right around the corner from him in Citadel homes. They were nice homes. They were nicer than ours (laughs). Their families were better off, you know? But I had talent and I worked my way over there when I was in my teens. I met Krizz some years later, and I told him, ‘I have this record called Absolute Power I’m about to do and I want you to do the whole album with me, brother, ‘cause you can sing.’ I talked to him around 2001, I think. I don’t want to say what year. I went down to an open mic session and saw him singing and doing his spoken word and everything. I’m like, ‘Yes!’ Then I saw him at Icy Roc’s studio and I was like, ‘Bro, I want you to do this whole album with me.’ He was like, ‘Okay, yeah, whatever.’ I said, ‘Here’s this song, here’s this song. Help me with this.’ He’s been with me ever since, and I can’t see me doing a show without him, you know? He’s perfect, he’s my brother, man. You know, I’m sizzlin’. He called me right when I was doing these interviews. He wanted to know what I was doing tonight because he wanted to go out. That’s my bro, man. Like, he knows the code to my big-ass new house. He knows the code to just walk in, dude. That’s my brother.
SR: What can your Aussie fans expect from your November shows? Have you got your set lists worked out?
T9: No, I don’t. I’m working on my album now and I have to put together a show for my domestic tour. After that, we’ll see. I’ll throw together an amazing show for my domestic tour. If that one can hold up and I can say, ‘Yeah, Aussie’s will love this’, I’ll do that same show. But I’m gonna fuckin’ bring it, no matter what, dude, you know what I mean? Right now, I’m trying to finish this album so I haven’t put a new show together since the last tour. Last show, I added Planet Rock 2K to the beginning and took off the big intro and they loved it, man. I have no idea what I’m going to do for Australia and New Zealand, but whatever I do, it’s gonna be elite and it’s gonna be funky. Like James Brown and Ice-T said, whatever you do, it’s just gotta be funky. And it’s going to be. Straight up. They’re gonna expect energy, they’re gonna expect wildness, they’re gonna expect anything goes, almost, you know what I mean? The police are gonna be lookin’ like, ‘What the hell? Should we stop this?’
SR: When do you expect the new album to be released?
T9: It’s supposed to come out September 9th, but I’m working on it still. I hope I can get it out by that time, you know? We’ll see.
SR: Have you got a message you’d like to send out to your Australian fans ahead of the tour?
T9: The message is: together we are a powerful force as one mind, body, and soul. Let no evil enter or attempt to reduce us because of the beliefs we hold. And, with this love, combined with our strength, we ward off pain and stress. Technician I am, wholeheartedly, in life and in death. I’m comin’.
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TECH N9NE AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES: November 2016
Saturday 5th – PERTH – Metro City
Sunday 6th – ADELAIDE – The Gov
Monday 7th – MELBOURNE – Prince Bandroom
Tuesday 8th – MELBOURNE – Prince Bandroom
Friday 11th – BRISBANE – Eatons Hill Hotel
Saturday 12th – SYDNEY – Manning Bar
Sunday 13th – SYDNEY – Manning Bar