Tech N9ne is watching. He’s scouted artists both as a fan and as an executive with a growing roster of talent. He’s watched his popularity further increase with 2013’s Something Else, which debuted at the #4 spot on Billboard magazine’s “Billboard 200” albums chart. That success has been followed up by the Kendrick Lamar and ¡Mayday!-assisted single “Fragile” being embraced by radio. Fans recognize Tech in the streets, and the emcee/executive has seen all of the above culminate with 10,000 preorders of his latest work, Collabos: Strangeulation.
“It’s love that this late in my career, people still want to buy it and hear this music,” Tech says. “It’s not wackeining. I strive to get better, and I still have something to prove, because new people are coming in everyday. I can’t get lax. I can’t say, ‘Ah, I’m cool. They know I can rap, so I can slow my pace.’ Nah, man. I still have to go on every song.”
Things aren’t slowing down, and with the increased amount of fans comes the potential for additional scrutiny. As someone who has described himself as being both “Anghellic” and having an “evil brain, angel heart,” Tech N9ne’s desire to continue creating the provocative content he loves without kowtowing to critics or fly-by-night consumers unfamiliar with his candor presents an interesting set of scenarios. As usual, Tech explains why he welcomes the challenge.
How Tech N9ne Encouraged His Artists To Leave Their Comfort Zones
HipHopDX: You have a real appreciation for Rock, and we know Murs and ¡Mayday! do too. For the rest of the roster, what were the conversations like going into Rock-influenced songs like “Make Waves?”
Tech N9ne: With that one, I just wanted to take Rittz somewhere else. We’ve been on that Rock and Rap thing since we started with Anghellic; it’s like we’ve always been there. I sent Rittz a couple of them, and with “Na Na,” he said, “Yeah, that’s me right there.” “Make Waves” was like that other shit, and he came through. I’ve always known that when I push my artists to do something outside of their comfort zone, they always come through. And I know that beforehand.
DX: How do you gauge the difference between pushing them out of that comfort zone versus having them say, “Hey Tech, I can’t really get down with this one?”
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] I ain’t never sent anybody nothing like that. Let me see… Has anybody ever said, “Tech I can’t do it?” Nah, they ain’t never said that, man. I pretty much know how far to go. I go far on my own albums, but I ain’t about to put that on anybody else. It won’t be too far left, like putting Ces Cru on the song “Nobody Cares.” That’s more like a Trap beat, so it’s gonna take them out of their comfort zone. They can adjust to any musical situation just like me, and I know this, and I’m sure they know this as well. That’s why they accept everything that I send, because they know they can do everything. I’m blessed to have that with me on my roster.
Tech N9ne Explains The Concept Behind “Red Rags”
DX: Let’s get into “Red Rags.” Everyone on that song has a unique experience, but how were you able to speak on those experiences without either glorifying gangbanging or preaching to people?
Tech N9ne: Well, we grew up in a Blood neighborhood. There’s no way around that. When you hear a beat, and it sparks up that old shit that you used to bang to… When I say, “bang,” I mean bang musically [laughs]. We’ve always been taught to represent our hood and our city. That’s just me representing my city and my street. Jay Rock did it as well, along with Kutt Calhoun and Big Scoob—the OG. That’s a part of my life that’s been there for the longest…since the ‘80s. It seeps through from time to time. It seeped through with the very last word when I was on Tha Carter IV. It ain’t like the whole album is just that, but if you listen close enough you might hear something that might remind you of gang culture.
DX: The ‘80s were a lot different for most people west of the Mississippi as far as that’s concerned. How important do you think it is for people to know how it used to be—for better or worse?
Tech N9ne: I don’t think it’s a matter of thinking it’s important people know that. I just think as a man—being a warrior in your heart—sometimes it might seep through. When I speak of that, I speak of the dudes that I grew up with that I love…the guys that I went to school with. From grade school all the way up to high school, those are guys I loved before the colors came from Cali in ’85 or maybe a little bit earlier. When Rock Daddy and Dr. Bop moved from San Diego to our neighborhood—I loved all my niggas that I went to elementary school with and all that shit—I loved them before that shit happened. And I love them after. If they’re in trouble, I’m in trouble with them. There’s no way…
I know gangbanging is a blemish on us as people, but when it comes to the love I have for these guys, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to help them. So it might seep through from time to time. But that’s just my love for these guys. I’m not alienating anyone else though, you know we have love for everybody. But choose a side, that’s what they’re gonna tell you.
That’s with everything. With religion, with gangs: choose a side. It’s the same thing with politics. Choose a side. It’s been there since the beginning of time. Choose a side. Are you conservative, liberal…what are you? Are you Christian, Muslim, Confucianism, Shintoism, Buddhist, Judaism? Choose a side.
Tech N9ne Explains Preserving Rap’s Hardcore, Militant Sound
DX: Here’s a quote: “Companies kill my culture / Suckas sit on they sofa / See the soul of a soldier / I’ma go to Zach de la Rocha…” What were you getting at specifically with those bars?
Tech N9ne: When I say “Companies kill my culture,” these record labels are putting out bullshit. They’re putting imagery out there that probably won’t last six months. Companies kill my culture, and then suckas sit on their sofa and just let it happen. Mothafuckas just accept whatever they see on TV as what’s good or as the new style. A lot of big record labels put imagery out there to be the “in” thing, and we’re looking at it like, “Oh my God. What’s happening?”
DX: Oh yeah…
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] So that’s what I’m saying. “See the soul of a soldier,” that’s me. “I’ma go Zach de la Rocha,” and awake that rebel sound. That’s the rebel music from when Public Enemy and N.W.A was reigning—that hard shit. I’m a fan of the hardcore shit, so that’s what I’m talking about. Not that punk shit. Is that what you got from it when I said it?
DX: I definitely got that from the first two lines. When you brought up Zach, it was like, “Oh, he’s taking it back to Rage Against the Machine?”
Tech N9ne: Oh yeah, man. Me and my wife were big fans of Rage and just that movement. Even B.D.P., Public Enemy, N.W.A, Eric B & Rakim, Paris…the rebel sound. This is music with substance and power behind it. When you hear songs I do like “Straight Out The Gate” with Serj Tankian and stuff like that, it’s loud, boisterous and mean. It’s militant and powerful. That’s what I’m talking about bringing back.
Don’t get me wrong, man. I love to dance. I was a dancer. I understand what this music is for, but it’s a lot more out there musically. We all love to dance, and we all love to have fun. I’m an advocate of that shit, but sometimes it can be overrun with bullshit. We get a kick out of listening to the bullshit. We don’t bash anybody. It’s like, “Get your money,” we understand that. I’m a Hip Hop and music consumer, so I understand what these things are for. But let’s not discount the guys that are really pushing to make a difference as well.
How Tech N9ne’s Spirituality Surfaces On “Collabos: Strangeulation”
DX: True. The last Collabos project, Gates Mixed Plate, was a bit lighter. You were quoted as saying you were “trying to rejoice.” What was behind the decision to go where you did this time around, particularly on “Fear,” where you talk about your mother?
Tech N9ne: I didn’t have time to plan. I don’t have time to plan anymore. I just have a wonderful producer by the name of Seven presenting these beats. I told him I always wanted to do a song called “Fear.” I’m a big Slick Rick fan. I always wanted to quote Slick Rick, saying, “This was the moment I feared.” I always wanted to say that in a song and talk about things that I feared, and it just came that way…personal things
It was about a reoccurring dream about falling, landing, feeling it, tasting the blood, smelling the concrete and feeling my bones crush. My fear is of that déjà vu. Instead of just a dream, I’m gonna actually be there, and that’s fuckin’ fear. I don’t want that.
The thing about my mom and her forgetting who I am for a split second, it was my fear that she’s forgetting me totally. The last verse is me praying for my sick mother and nothing’s listening is my fear, because I pray every night and day for her. My fear is that the things I read in the Bible or whatever about a higher power…my fear is that it might not be real. That’s a fear because I want my mom better. I want to believe there’s power in prayer like they say.
These things just come to me, and I say, “Seven, I want to do a song called fear.” Then I work out in my head, “This is what I fear.” And that beautiful song came out.
DX: That last line…
Tech N9ne: I don’t know how people are gonna feel about that last line, but I said, “For those thinking that his holy name I denounce,” it’s like, “If you think I’m trying to denounce his name, then stop.” I’m saying, “No I’m not.” But, [sings Erykah Badu] “Most intellects do not believe in God, but they fear us just the same.” As you get older, wiser and start thinking more, you start questioning a lot too. We were taught to have faith in God, and that’s why I started that third verse off like that.
I choose my words carefully, because I knew I had the stigma of being a devil worshiper with the face paint and spiked, red hair. I already had that black eye on me. From me to be from the Midwest—the middle of the map with Kansas City and the Bible belt, where we are Christian… I was raised Christian in the Baptist Church. I’m gonna speak on my spirituality. My mom married a Muslim when I was 12…me going to Jumu’ah at the mosque and everything and praying to Mecca. It’s like religion is me because of the way I was raised. I’m gonna express that, and you hear it in songs like “Fear.”
Tech N9ne Says He’s Still Fighting A Devil Worshiper Stigma
DX: It’s interesting you bring that up. HipHopDX interviewed Stevie Stone last year, and he was saying “The Baptism” would end any doubts about your spirituality for good because you rebuked the devil on your first bar and said, “Jesus, I am your servant.” What kind of progress have you seen on that front?
Tech N9ne: I just need more people to hear “The Baptism.” That’s all. Then they’ll get it. A lot of people heard it, and it’s loud and clear. But the whole world ain’t heard it, and I’m still pushing for Stevie [Stone] to be worldwide. We’re gonna just keep pushing, and the more people hear “The Baptism,” the more that will disappear. But it hasn’t disappeared yet, because I’m still talking about it. We started this major thing in 2001 with Anghellic, and I’ve been talking about it since then [laughs]. So yeah, it’s lessening, but even everybody all over the world ain’t up on Tech N9ne.
The Shazam numbers were flabbergasting when it came to “Fragile” being on the radio. People were like, “Who is this?” and I’m thinking, “Wow! That many people in that area where I sell out shows don’t know Tech N9ne?” I was just hip to the Shazam numbers when we started doing this radio thing. Shazam was new to me. I know what Shazam is, but to be #1 on Shazam in Denver, #1 in Shazam in Salt Lake City? I sell out these places with 4,000 people every time I come, so I’m like, “What?” So that lets me know that everybody don’t know.
Yeah, on “The Baptism” I said a lot. I’m going in on Lucifer on that. That’s how I was raised. I was taught to be a soldier for Christ…a soldier for God. That’s what I am. But I want to be 100% sure that what I’m fighting for is real. That’s all. I’m 99%, and I said it on “Show Me A God.” I’m on there crying to God like, “Please, my momma is dying on me! Show me a God…she worshiped you since I was a little baby! What the fuck?”
DX: That’s a very vulnerable place to come from artistically.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, I’m sure everybody’s there. But to hear me say it…the dude with painted face, and I look different than all the black folks. It’s like, “Ah, this nigga’s crazy [laughs].”
The Evolution Of Tech N9ne’s Sound & Dichotomous Musical Approach
DX: You talked about your chemistry with Seven. At the same time, you’ve had success working with fairly big name producers like Rick Rock, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Traxter. What criteria do you use to pick the producers you work with?
Tech N9ne: He’s just proactive. He’s right there, and he’s like, “I got some ideas!” If J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League was right there, they’d be giving me stuff too. When I was in their area, and they played me some beats, I was like, “Yes. That’s me right there.” When Drumma Boy and B.o.B. played me stuff, it was like, “Yes. I can do that right there.” Seven’s right there, and he’s proactive. He happens to be so versatile, that no beat sounds the same or even similar. “Make Waves” sounds nothing like “The Calling.” And “The Calling” sounds nothing like “American Horror Story” or “Red Rags.”
Feel me on that; this doesn’t happen. No producer has ever been able to satisfy me like that. Even with Seven back in the day, I would just get certain songs from him. Now it’s like, “Whoa…it’s turning into a whole project.” That’s crazy. That’s talent. But that’s not to say Scoop Deville can’t land something, because he has. That’s not to say Fredwreck can’t land something, because he has. It’s just that Seven is right there, proactive, and he’s super versatile. I love it, and I’m blessed to have that.
DX: When you voice internal conflicts on songs like “Fear,” and raise questions, how much do you think people interpret that as you being conflicted versus making a declarative statement?
Tech N9ne: [Laughs] I think that it’s mixed, man. I think some people understand what All 6’s & 7’s mean—a state of confusion and disarray. A lot of my fans are there with me, and they understand that. But the average person will probably be like, “What the hell this nigga talkin’ about?” You’re gonna have that. But if you sit down and listen, you’ll get that there’s confusion and there’s a battle within. “Evil Brain Angel Heart” is there. But when a black dude says, “Evil brain” or evil anything, they think devil. So you walk a fine line. I’m just the kind of guy to speak my heart and my brain—whatever’s there—whether it be about me partying with bitches, my spirituality, infidelity, lyrics or whatever.
I’m just a clusterfuck that’s gonna spew it all. I don’t think that everybody gets it. If everybody got it, those Shazam numbers wouldn’t be that humongous. So hopefully they will get it in time. I’m here though. The blessing is I’m still doing music, and people still want to hear it. This is the most that I’ve sold preorders on any release that I’ve ever had, and this is a Collabos disk, not a solo. Even my solos haven’t sold this many [preorders]. I think I signed 10,000 preorders. I told myself I would never do 7,000 again, and I did 7,200 before I left Kansas City. Then they sent two more boxes out, followed by another box the other day. We sold out of all of them.
How Tech N9ne’s Fanbase Grew With “Collabos: Stragulation” & “Fragile”
DX: You’re going to have your arm in a sling again…
Tech N9ne: I know! It’s nothing else but my shoulder, but what I tell myself is, “These are people that have already bought this. This is 10,000 people that you’ve already sold that to.” That’s love, man. So I stopped crying about it. We’ve said we’re getting too popular to where we’re doing 10,000 after I said I wasn’t doing 7,000. Next it’s gonna be 20,000, and I can’t do 20,000 dog…I’m sorry [laughs]. I’m sure I could, but I barely had time to do the ones I did. That’s why I’m doing them on the tour as well as on my downtime when I’m not in the studio in Kansas City doing the album. It’s love that this late in my career, people still want to buy it and hear this music. It’s not wackeining. I strive to get better, and I still have something to prove, because new people are coming in everyday. I can’t get lax. I can’t say, “Ah, I’m cool. They know I can rap, so I can slow my pace.” Nah, man. I still have to go on every song.
I was listening to Strageulation the other day, and on every song I’m going. Even on “Na Na,” I’m rhyming. I have to though, because everybody in my clique are real emcees. They’re gonna outshine you. Ces Cru will outshine you if you slack. Krizz Kaliko, Rittz, Stevie Stone, ¡Mayday! and Murs will all outshine you if you don’t give your all. It goes on for days. Jay Rock will outshine you if you don’t come with it. These cats are lyricists, so I do it on purpose.
DX: You’ve got a pretty direct approach on tracks like “Why You Ain’t Call Me,” “Message To The Black Man” and “Over It.” Is it detrimental to your purpose to use that direct approach on your intended audience?
Tech N9ne: It’s fucked up, because it can be taken the wrong way. Mothafuckas is calling me a racist just because I said the black people I see out know me, but they’re not at the shows. That’s a promotional issue. That’s not an issue with my fanbase. Maybe that means we’re not promoting to you niggas. They know me, because my shit’s on the radio, but maybe they don’t know about the show. So maybe we’ll go to the radio show and put shit on there so they’ll know.
But when you’re that pure and forthcoming, you risk somebody taking it the wrong way. My quest is to always get all creeds at my shows, and it’s happening. It’s just that it’s been overwhelming how many black folks acknowledge me when I’m in New York or down South. That’s never happened over the years. So I’m like, “How do they know me and not know about the show? We gotta do something.”
So that’s all I’m saying. It’s about adding on to what I have in that melting pot. Being that forthcoming and passionate about something, you’re going to get backlash when it has anything to do with race. You have to be careful, and sometimes keeping it real can go wrong. That’s what’s happening right now.
Why Tech N9ne Says He’ll Never Cater To Radio
DX: You’ve mentioned “Fragile” and the Shazam numbers. Last week, it was at least up to #15 on Rhythmic Radio and the third most added song. What is it about this song that has attracted so many new, mainstream listeners?
Tech N9ne: I think the beat is amazing, thanks to ¡Mayday!, Ralphie and everyone who came together to do this. I think the hook is super infectious. Women and everybody can sing it. I think the singing in the beginning is not regular radio format, but it’s soothing. It feels good, and it’s easy for people to sing thanks to ¡Mayday! There are two murderers on the verses that people recognize as lyrical murderers. The whole song together is collectively a banger.
I didn’t make that song for the radio. I made it for critics that don’t pay attention after they listen to the album once and say, “Nah, it’s wack.” Then they have to apologize later and say, “Yeah, I was wrong.” You have to live with it. I wrote that just to get it out of me, and “Fragile” came forth. That struck me as somebody being fragile, like, “Don’t say nothing to me or I’ll break, and I’ll crack. I’ll crack you in your jaw.” I think the whole song is a victory on the radio, because I didn’t write it… I don’t write music just to go on the radio. I’ve never been that guy.
The fact that something real like that got on the radio and it’s taking over the airwaves is funny to me. It’s like, “Wow!” The middle finger to idiotic critics—not all of them, just some that don’t pay attention… They might say something that doesn’t add up; that song is on the radio. It’s so wonderful to me that I didn’t have to conform. I knew that I would never have to conform for any amount of money. I’m cool, and I do this because I love it. I tour because I love it—not because I have to. I do this music because I love it…not because I have to. I’ve done it. I’m already paid. I do this ‘cause I love it, and now this is happening. It’s another wave coming, and it’s like, “Whoa!” and it’s because of “Fragile.” It’s a beautiful thing.