Tech N9NE on being a major artist with a loyal fan base while remaining fiercely independent
A fiercely independent artist with a diverse, dedicated and ever expanding cult following, Tech N9NE (due tonight at the Fillmore Auditorium) has a hustle that simply cannot be knocked. Currently in the midst of an 82-date tour in support of his latest album, All 6's and 7's, the rapper has staked his rightful place among the top entertainers in the industry the old-fashioned way, by consistently churning out mind-bending music filled with hardcore lyrics, featuring an impressive list of guests like T-Pain, Weezy, B.o.B., and then taking it straight to the masses.
We caught up with the rapper yesterday and spoke with him about the headlines he's been making recently, got some insight into how he's developed such a devoted following, and found out what we can expect from his show tonight at the Fillmore.
Westword: You've been in the news a little bit lately with a few incidents at your shows. What the hell is going on?
Tech N9NE: [laughs] I don't know. It's like couple quarrels and things like that. I'm usually on my bus until like 11:35, or until I go on, so it's things that go on early in the night. I get the last pieces of it. These are lovers' quarrels; that's what they tell me.
It's opened up a conversation on our blog about violence at hip-hop shows and the genre getting a bad reputation.
Hip-hop had a bad rep since it started, but the thing that they're glad to say is that it's finally happening at our shows after eleven years of being here. We've never had anything happening at our shows. After all these years, we've never had an issue.
With this new album, there's a lot of newcomers that make it to my shows. My MC, every night, he asks who has never been to a Tech N9NE show, and the whole place erupts. There's a melting pot of people who come. You have metal heads that say they don't listen to rap other than me; I hear that every day. You've got gangsta niggas in there, you got Juggalos and Juggaletts in there, you've got college kids in there, you got OGs in there -- it's a melting pot of everybody.
People who are seeing me for the first time might not know that they can't stand in the mosh pit. My guy had to start giving instructions like, "If this is your first show and you have on something clean or you just got your hair done, get out of the mosh pit!"
When that song "Einstein" comes on, people start pushing. The pretty girl that got her hair all done and someone bumps into her and spills water or beer on her, she's ready to go.
But you already had a crazy devout following. So is it the new album that's bringing all the new people?
It's a number of things. It's Lil Wayne saying my name and saying that he wants to work with me. It's the Deftones saying my name, Busta Rhymes saying my name, E-40 and Snoop Dogg, too. It's also the album charting on Billboard at number four, under Lady Gaga. You've got this independent guy with no video and no radio charting with these majors. People are hearing that it's one of the best albums they'll hear all year, so they come to the show. And we want that. They just have to follow instructions.
Are you bridging the gap between the worlds of being independent and signed to a major?
I think anything can be done, even if you're independent. Good music is gonna shine no matter what. That's the only reason why these guys work with me. I've been independent since we started and always working my way up while covering my body of work, and I've enjoyed it.
These guys supporting me is good, because it shows that real shit will always shine. It's out of respect and love that I got all those features on an independent label. It lets everyone know that if you do great music -- good music, gigantic music -- people of the same caliber will recognize it.
I've always been a major artist. Even on an independent label, I've always been a major talent when it comes to shows and music. I've been underground, but I was always a major artist, baby. And that's why these major artists got with my major independent ass.
It seems like when the major labels were focusing on traditional methods in music, you were doing the indie thing. Now, everyone is doing the "indie" thing.
The majors even wanna know what we're doing, but all they need to do is go back to the basics. You go in and record, and you hit the road. You wanna be the hip-hop president, you gotta go out there and politic. How do we do it? We're touring. We make fans; we make fans that never go away. A lot of these major artists pop on the scene with their hit song that's all over the radio because their label paid a bunch of money to put it there, and then you see them do Summer Jam, and they're reaching for another single.
I don't have to do that. I've got songs for days. They're listening to songs that I recorded in 1994. I'm still performing songs I did in '95 or '96. That's what these labels are missing. Wayne does it the right way; he knows how to get out there and tour. We tour like a rock band, baby. We're doing 82 shows in 85 days, and we're only on show 31. I did fifteen shows in Canada, met up with the rest of the guys, and we're gonna keep pushing.
It's so wonderful to see people move to something I've done in '98, like "Einstein." To see them move to something like "He's a Mental Giant" and have that same reaction, that lets me know that longevity is still happening and I'm still growing. I'm getting younger and younger. I'll be forty years old November 8th, and I feel like I'm nineteen up there, for real. The kids that come to the shows are getting younger, too! These kids are, like, sixteen and seventeen. I'm like, "Where are y'all coming from?" What am I saying? Whatever I'm saying is good.
Break down the science behind the album's title All 6's and 7's.
The title comes from playing craps. They say when a person is at sixes and sevens, they have to be confused to put all their money on one thing like rolling blind. It means a state of confusion and disarray. That's where the world is right now, and that's where I am also, mentally, spiritually. I think it fits perfectly.
With an album that's labeled a state of confusion and disarray, I can go anywhere musically. I can go with a song with the Deftones and then jump to "Fuck Food" with Wayne and T-Pain and jump right back up here with Mint Condition with "The Boogieman." It's everywhere; it's all over the place. The first song on the album is called "Technicians," and it's a dubstep track. It's my canvas, and I can go anywhere and paint what I want. And I did.
You have a pretty wild live show. What can we expect from this go-around?
You're gonna see an all new lineup. What's different about this show is I've never done a show where it's just me. Usually I'll do three songs, and then Krizz Kaliko will come on, and I'll take a break. This time, it's me for an hour and 35 minutes. It's been hard on my throat, but it's been good. In Canada, the first fifteen shows, my voice was cracking every night.
Friday is gonna be so boisterous and so energetic, there's not a weakest link on this tour, J.Rocc, Mayday! -- everybody gets you warmed up. It's like a wild-ass rollercoaster ride. This tour has songs from every album. I think this is my best ride I've been on.