“It was seven years ago and I was in the car and he was on a guest verse. I can’t remember who the other guy was, but like the first verse comes and it’s like forgettable. But like then this voice just comes in and like owns the track and completely grabs you and like won’t let you go. And that was sweet.”
This is what Peter Kotas, a Wayne State senior and rock band guitarist, said when describing the first time he heard the voice of rapper Tech N9ne.
“If we’re just talking music, I can’t necessarily talk about it, but if we’re talking about him as a person then it’s the crazy make up — it’s the insane T-shirt designs he’s got,” Kotas said. “He just has like a whole style that when you combine it with the music, I feel like you get a real full picture of him.”
Despite bursting onto the music scene in the late 90s, now more than ever, the youth are discovering the voice of this 41-year-old Kansas City native and being captivated by his rapid fire flow, witty lyrics and face paint.
Aaron Yates is better known by his stage name Tech N9ne, but he’s not named after the gun — it refers to his fast flow and the number nine he believes to be the number of completion in ancient numerology. The name isn’t the only thing that can be misleading about this rapper. You may not hear him often on the radio or see his music videos constantly on rotation on TV, but when it comes to money, he makes the same if not more than your favorite artist.
This year, Forbes Magazine listed Tech N9ne 18th on their hip-hop cash kings feature, ahead of notable hip-hop businessmen and mainstream artists like 50 Cent, Rick Ross and J. Cole. His secret to success is ownership. The Midwest emcee is the co-founder of independent music label Strange Music, which according to Billboard, has released the most albums of any rap label this year. He also co-owns a merchandising company that sells everything from women’s underwear to jewelry, and manages those assets while juggling a ridiculous tour schedule. Tech’s work ethic helped him break the record for the most continuous rap tour, performing 90 shows in 99 days during his 2012 “Hostile Takeover Tour.”
The South End’s Daniel Dumas caught up with the self made hip-hop mogul to take a peek inside the mind of one of rap’s most polarizing figures and get an update on his latest tour entitled the “Something Else Tour” named after his 13th solo album, which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and featured the highest first week sales of his career.
DANIEL DUMAS: Let’s dive into your current tour life. You’re currently on the “Something Else Tour” following the release of one of your most critically acclaimed albums in “Something Else.” Has the success of your 13th studio album made this tour experience different for you in any way? What has the response been like city to city?
TECH N9NE: Way more new fans man. And they are getting younger, which is crazy because as I grow older, they get younger. It’s so crazy to see all the young ones their dancing to all the music. This means that I’m going to be here for a very long time. The parents that used to come back in the day, it’s their children.
DUMAS: Now you’ve built a reputation for being a ferocious tourer. You have your Strange Music label mates accompanying you on this tour (Prozak, Mayday, Stevie Stone), when you’re considering an artist to sign or sign a new artist…do they already have to come with that level of tour work ethic or do they go through a training? How do they keep up with you?
N9NE: We just throw them in there man. All these artist that I got, I seek them out at their shows. I saw Stevie Stone perform for years before we signed him. I seen Rich perform in Nashville on a day off. I saw Mayday, down in Orlando, open up for me. So I know what they can do, because I’ve seen them in the act. I look for that, being able to tour, I look for lyricism and I look for depth. All of them have those things.
DUMAS: Your Detroit concert date is Oct. 17, 2013, live at The Fillmore. After so much touring, I’m sure you’ve gauged your fan base everywhere you go. What can you tell us about your Detroit Tech N9ne fan base?
N9NE: I’ll tell you like I tell everybody man. When I go to Denmark, when I go to Poland or when I go Amsterdam. All around the world it’s the same song. Even if they speak a different language, when my music comes on, they sing it. So it’s like all of my fans are connected as one mind, body and soul man. It’s a beautiful thing, technicians all over the world, as one and in Detroit.
DUMAS: You present a unique visual experience when you perform live, with face paint, high energy, etc. Tell us what kind of experience you’re trying to offer the people when you perform?
N9NE: This experience on the “Something Else Tour” is a little bit different stage performance because it’s ultra lyrical man. The reason I know that is because I’m ultra nervous up there because it’s so intricate man. When they come they’re going to get a lot of lyrics and not just that though but we’re a really, really, really active on stage while saying all those intricate lyrics. And we do them perfectly. Like in Chicago it was a flawless victory. I tell them that at the end, ‘flawless victory’ that means I did the whole hour and 30 without a stumble. And I totally come alive, because the Technicians, they know the lyrics. (Begins rapping lyrics of “So Dope´ from “Something Else” album)
‘Wanna sit beside a sick and seductive sinner, see something so sinister, seeking Sookie, something like a centipede, slitherin, she searching for synergy.’
Every night I have to do that perfectly and when I get through it, I’m ultra hype!
DUMAS: Is there anything special to you about performing in a city, such as Detroit, with so much prestigious musical history?
N9NE: Oh yea man, you know what I’m sizzling? It’s like the spirit of Proof is always there man. It’s always a thing on your brain when you’re performing to do it perfectly. There’s such a wonderful and talented spirit in the room as soon as you enter Detroit. I did a song with him (Proof) back in the day, called “she devil” and when you feel that in the room you want to do your best.
Music: “Something Else” Album, Message & Symbolism
DUMAS: Let’s get into some music. It seems like your music career went to a higher trajectory after you were featured on the Lil Wayne “Carter 4” Interlude with Andre 3000 & in your new album we see the fruits with all the big name features on this project. I saw that you mentioned that a lot of your dreams came true on this album through the collaborations you acquired. Describe what it’s like for you to see some of your dream collaborations come true, with people like Cee-Lo Green, B.O.B, Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar?
N9NE: I’ll tell you like this man. It’s validation that I’ve been doing the right thing all these years. No matter how many times they’ve said ‘oh he’s a devil worshipper’ they’re wrong. It’s validation that everybody is feeling that, when I can get all those people you just named on my album out of love. And I get Serj Tankian of System of A Down, and I get a track with The Doors. Yes man a lot of dreams were answered on this album. On my 13th solo album and it feels so good to my soul man because I’m doing the right thing lyrically, musically and content wise. It’s a high level of respect from my peers and it feels wonderful.”
DUMAS: One of my favorite tracks is Fragile featuring Kendrick Lamar, Mayday & Kendall Morgan. How is your relationship with Kendrick & how did this collaboration come about?
N9NE: "We signed Jay Rock some years back, you know TDE (and Strange Music) did a joint venture you know what I’m saying? And Kendrick was Jay Rock’s hype man on that tour we took them out on and so we spent the whole tour with them and that’s my little homie man, you know what I’m sizzling? TDE has been family with us for a long time. I knew that when I did my verse for fragile that it was intricate. (Begins rapping the lyrics of ‘Fragile’ from the “Something Else” album)
‘N9na be giving the remedy and why? Critics are really the enemy and I. Can’t stand the way they slam today’s gifted, effin incredible, get fanned away with grands to pay’
It’s talking about critics who don’t really pay attention before they say things. And I knew that whoever came after me was going to have to be a murder, so I called Kendrick because it’s been noticed by everybody that he’s a murder lyrically. And he did it."
DUMAS: From what I’ve observed and what I find most interesting about you is that you seem to have a great appreciation for symbolism. For example we see the Something Else Tour graphic art, we see you with flames on your head, as a demon, with a heart with wings. Do you think the symbolism you put out there through album art, music videos, tour posters, seem to create a misinterpretation of the core message your trying to communicate?
N9NE: "Oh of course, because I’m into horror movies. I don’t do hardcore rap but I’m into horror movies so it’s a lot of my things like the Tech N9ne symbol, the bar code cross and the nine on the side, is going to make people say ‘what is that, is he trying to say religion is for sale now?’ The nine is the number of completion; yes I do these things to arouse suspicion. When I named my label Stanger Music, it’s because I’m a big The Doors fan and I’m a big lover of Jim Morrison’s music. So yes I wanted a snake and a bat for my symbol, but you know how many people think it’s an ‘s’ and ‘m’ for sadomasochism? And I laugh at them because I would never hail Satan, never in a million years. My mama would kill me. And where do you learn how to do that in the hood? I grew up in a blood neighborhood, where do you learn how to worship the devil in the hood? So a lot of my symbolism makes you ask questions, so that’s why I do it.
I was raised in the church and when I express my spirituality sometimes it’s a little dark but what in the bible is not dark? Like the book of revelations, the Holy Ghost, and Christ returning, like it’s all a scary story, it’s pretty dark, so why wouldn’t I be the king of darkness? I grew up in the church, my uncles are ministers. My mother is Jesus Christ. She’s the nicest thing you’d ever meet so if God and Jesus are supposed to be the greatest characters then that’s my mom. She’s the most tormented on the planet to me…the reason I did the K.O.D album in 2009 was because my mom was damn near about to die from pancreatitis, on top of pancreatitis she always had epilepsy all her life, seizures of the worst kind. Then later on in life, lupus, and recently diabetes due to weight. And the album was just me saying ‘please God show me something’ and I don’t even know how I got on that, but I get super emotional when I start talking about my angel being tormented here on the earth.”
DUMAS: What is the message you’re trying to communicate through your music?
N9NE: The message that I’m trying to create and give to the people, and you’re going to laugh but I’m going to say this. Tech N9ne is the person that you look at and say “here’s what not to do.” I did all those songs about me being on drugs, on mushrooms and acid. I told those stories to tell you yea I made it but don’t try this at home. Tech N9ne is the perfect directional book on what not to do but when it comes to my work ethic and my business follow me. But as far as my stories, just hear them and enjoy them because if you try them, you might not make it.
Personal Journey: The Independent Artist
DUMAS: Switching gears to your personal journey. As an independent artist, you’ve created yourself into a hip-hop mogul do you think you’ve laid out the blueprint up and coming artists and current artist can learn from to increase success in music?
N9NE: "Yea we did. Wasn’t nobody doing it like we were doing it when we started in the late 90s. Nobody was touring like we were touring except for Atmosphere and maybe Talib Kweli or something. Over the years I see more people becoming independent (artist) I see more people hitting the road. I was loving to see A.S.A.P Rocky and Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q on tour all over the world like that, those young guys. A lot more people are touring now and I love it because I love music.
(Laughing) it means that you don’t need all that bull crap that the majors (labels) are charging all that money for. We use our own money man. And we put together a really good product. We don’t have anyone telling us what to say, what to do or what not to do. We have complete autonomy man so when I see my name on the Forbes list for a second time and it’s more money being made this year, It makes me smile and think we’re doing the right thing. Don’t let them put me on TV or the radio finally or I’m going to be a monster.
We out to snatch these artist that labels are sitting on. They want to have them drop mixtapes and so on, I’m like no we got to go. Because the way you politic in hip-hop is you hit that road. You can do all the mixtapes you want to and only your fans are gonna know. And you can spread them to the core D-Jays yea that’s cool, but hitting that road is like no other because they get to see you and feel you and touch you, noting can beat that merchandise that you can sell after your show. And people want to wear your shirt because you did so well, and you’re a nice person. People want to know who you are.
A lot of people get to know who you are if you’re inside out, but a lot of people aren’t inside out like me, a lot of people aren’t inside out like Eminem, a lot of people aren’t inside out like Kanye. There’s only a few of us."
DUMAS: What do you know about yourself now that you wish you knew when your first started your career?
N9NE: I wish, that I knew to rap what I know from the beginning. I didn’t find that out until 1997 when I signed with Quincy Jones and he gave me that jewel he said ‘Rap what you know and people will forever feel you’ and so I paid attention and started writing my life since I was a young guy and that was all I knew. And I tapped into people’s emotions and I started to gather fans quickly. And you can’t change anything but I wish I knew the game when I was in my early twenties, but it didn’t happen until 97 when I was in L.A inside the home of Quincy Jones.
DUMAS: After the recent success of this album, if your were to write a book, what would this chapter of your life be called?
N9NE: (laughing) So many people talked so bad about us over the years, calling me a devil worshipper, even my people. But since the B.E.T Cypher and since, Lil Wayne and Andre 3000, “Tha Carter 4,” a lot more people have been paying attention. And to the people who were really mean, we would title it “We Good Now.”
DUMAS: Your next album is entitled "special effects” it will follow your forthcoming nine song rock and roll EP called “therapy” due Nov. 5. What are you planning for “Special Effects” to top “Something Else”?
N9NE: I don’t know yet, I just came up with the title. On “Something Else” we let people know musically we’re monsters and so now it’s time to start playing with it. And on this next project it will still be depth, it will still be meaningful but it’s time to start playing with the music like we got this, it’s child’s play. We were born to do this, that’s how I came up with special effects. At this moment I don’t have any beats for it. Around Christmas or early next year I’ll start gathering beats for it. My rock project, Therapy comes out Nov. 5. I’m going to shoot for the stars again on this one, I already had Jim Morrison on my last one and he’s not even alive. I’m going to go further, I just know I have to out do “Something Else” and that’s going to be hard to do my dawg.
DUMAS: And lastly man, this November you’ll be 42, how much longer can you go in this game?
N9NE: I’m 41 and look at “Something Else” listen to that man, that doesn’t sound like slowing down. All I have to be is alive man and I’m going to keep writing and showing up for my fans. So I’ll be here for a while. If I stop this, my fans will be really hurt, they breathe me man. If I took a break, or stopped rap for some years, they would be crushed, I have to keep going man, I have to keep spreading this.