Multifaceted Kansas City tongue twister Tech N9ne has spent two decades turning his underground hustle into an empire. Quietly, his Strange Music imprint has grown into one of the biggest selling independent hip-hop labels in the world. It seems like the rest of the rap world is catching up with Tech’s just released All 6’s and 7’s, which features collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, B.O.B., T-Pain, Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes. Hive sat down to Tech to talk about his love of the Doors, his first rhyme and his unexpected, but welcomed, Juggalo fanbase.
How did you first get into hip-hop?
I used to be a dancer. I used to break dance, pop-lock, all that. When MC Hammer came out, I was wearing parachute pants and patent leather shoes and a high top fade with a blonde streak in it like Kwame [laughs]. With rhythm, came rhyme. I wrote my first rhyme in ’85 when I was in 7th grade, and ever since then I’ve been taking a pen and pad and a dictionary with me.
Did you build a local following pretty quickly back then?
Oh yeah, my following’s been here. When I first spit my first rhyme in public on my school bus, I had an audience.
Do you remember the rhyme?
Yeah, “D-o-n-t-e-z.” That’s my middle name, Dontez. “D-o-n-t-e-z-z / devastating beatbox that’s who I be / and when I rock the m-i-c the party people jump / and I walk into a party guaranteed to bump [shifts into a faster, double time flow] nonstop [unintelligable] / when the money dog’s rapping / emcee rappers want to copy / when you hear the vicious freestyle through your bones / it’s D-o-n-t-e-z-z because he stands alone.” Or something like that; it was weird. People were like, “Whoa, that don’t sound like nothing I’ve heard!”
So you were kicking that faster, chop flow early then. What inspired you to rap that?
Slick Rick, I think, [on “The Moment I Feared”]; “Don’t worry about a thing just make sure nobody sees us / we’re rich, we’re rich we can have whatever will please us.” That was where I heard that style [hums cadence]. I thought it was dope; it reminded me of a [Jamaican] toast, and I just started putting it together like [hums cadence, doubled up this time].
And now you have all the international rappers kicking a similar style on your song “Worldwide Choppers.”
Yeah, I found that out by going overseas and meeting these guys that bust like Uso [from Denmark] and [Turkish rapper] Ceza. That’s why I had them make “Worldwide Choppers,” to let people know that it was more than me. I ain’t a selfish guy, like, “I want the whole crown to myself! I am the chopper!” No, there’s been choppers before me, people been flipping the tongue for years. Like Twista; that’s a master at choppin. Busta Rhymes is cold blooded at it.
It’s crazy how they’re both still doing it too. There’s a real longevity to people who rap that way.
Didn’t I tell you that we’re all vampires? My name is Vlad, vampiré Nosferatu. Busta Rhymes has been around for centuries. He’s one of the original vampires. C’mon, Leaders of the New School?! That was years ago. You know he’s gotta be a vampire.
Your crew Nnutthowze had a deal back in the early ’90s but you didn’t release much music until the end of that decade. What were you doing in the time between?
I got my deal with Perspective [Records] in ’93, and we spent the summer of ’93 in L.A. recording and it didn’t work. So we came back to Kansas City the end of that summer, and they kept us on the label until ’95, not doing nothing with us. In that time span, Nnutthowze was born. I started listening to stuff outside of our rap world like the Doors and Diamanda Galás and Portishead and Lenny Kravitz; listening to all types of music and letting it soak in and bleed into our rap music. That’s what Nnutthowze was about and I miss it, but I can feel it seeping through Tech N9ne every time I do an album. It’s in me for life.
What drew you to music outside of hip-hop?
My family’s [taste has] always been diverse. My uncles listened to rock and roll like Led Zeppelin. We had MTV, so I saw Adam Ant and Boy George and Def Leppard. I was connected to the Doors, man. I was really into Jim Morrison. And even though he died the year I was born, he inspired me to do something really great — to come up with the idea for a record label called Strange Music. They had a song called “People Are Strange” that had a dark circus feel to it. I loved it. I used to fear clowns when I was younger but as I got older I grew fond of clowns and started painting my face, becoming the mystique of the clown.
It seems like the face paint thing helped you cross over to the Juggalo community. I went to a show recently and it was deep with Insane Clown Posse fans.
I didn’t know what a Juggalo was when I was [first] painting my face. The Juggalos didn’t start coming in until after I dropped my Anghelic album. Before that it was all Technicians in Kansas City.
What did you think the first time you encountered the Juggalos?
I was at home with my wife and I was watching MTV, and there was two clowns on there! I had been painting my face since 1994, right after the Perspective [deal]. I was living with my wife’s mom and her because I had no money, and something came on TV about two clowns that got dropped off Disney. I’m like, “Baby look! More clowns!” It was ICP. I had no idea. I was a weirdo and I wanted to know that there were other motherfuckers out there like me. So, 2000 came, and the Juggalos started popping up at my shows and we’ve been together ever since. They voted me to go on tour with ICP back in the day on the Wicked Wonka Tour, then they voted me to be at the Gatherings. It’s crazy how the Juggalos opened me up to their world.
And then on the other side, it seems like the mainstream hip-hop world is starting to embrace you as of late, with Lil Wayne mentioning you as one of his favorites, not to mention all the high profile collabs on the new record.
Tech N9ne belongs to everybody! Lyrically, I have every type of skill and it’s not a surprise that the mainstream would accept me. I’ve always been a pro; it’s just I’ve been doing it independently and trying to match major dollars. It’s a hard task but we’ve been doing a good job of connecting with people in that circle. So it’s not a surprise that the Juggalos love me, that the mainstream loves me, that the rock world loves me. That’s how I planned to do this, to belong to everybody. I’m one big fucking clusterfuck and it’s beautiful.
All 6’s and 7’s is out now on Strange Music.