Tech N9ne is not a household name. He will probably never date a Kardashian or end up dancing with Ellen. But since the early 1990s, the Kansas City rapper has been delivering some of hip-hop’s most poetic and well-developed rhymes as well as destroying stages around the world.
Nobody can beat his live show. Nobody.
Quietly, without the help of a big corporate music business machine, Tech N9ne has sold almost 2 million records in the U.S., and he did it his way by building an empire on talent, determination and truth. He will be bringing his unique act to the Howard Theater on May 19.
Tech N9ne discussed his love of The Doors, his thoughts on violence in rap and the difference between himself and Kanye West.
Question: You’re known as the king of underground hip-hop.
Answer: That’s what they say.
Q: What is the difference between what you do and what Kanye does?
A: They have a bigger machine. I’m independent. I use my own money. For everything.
Q: Have you ever been tempted to sign with the big machine or a label?
A: We’re becoming the big machine. We’re multiplying. We’ve built the empire. We don’t need any help. We would have sold out by now for money if that’s what we wanted to do. But the object is to make beautiful music for people to have forever. Music that stays — not just becomes a ringtone. Longevity.
Q: Is your label Strange Music named after The Doors?
A: Yes. When it came to music growing up, it wasn’t just gospel and R&B. My uncle brought rock ‘n’ roll to me when I was younger, and I loved it. I was open to all music.
My backpack is signed by three members of The Doors. I did a song with Robby Kreiger, John Desmore and Ray Manzarek. I made my dream come true. We play it every night as our warm-up song before we hit the stage. That’s a milestone for me. I wish Jim [Morrison] could have been there. But we got the actual reels, and you can here Jim singing, “Strange days have found us.”
Q: How’s the tour going?
A: Going really wonderful, man. So much love out here with sold-out shows. I felt it in the air when we were in New Zealand and Australia right before this domestic tour started. There has always been love, but this time it’s an overabundance. It’s like a brand-new life, man. More people are coming. More energy. More tears during the meet-and-greets from fans saying, “Thanks, Tech, your music saved my life.”
Q: How have you and your music progressed in the past decade?
A: I’ve been clean off drugs almost 10 years now. I gave up my Ecstasy, my acid, my ‘shrooms, my GHB. I think that I’ve gotten more polished lyrically. I think I was good back then and had weird stories to tell. I still do. But when I tell drug stories, I have to dig back into my memory and go, “I forgot that one.”
When I listen now, it’s ultra [lyrical] and crispy. No slurring and right on point. I stopped smoking weed in 1998. Every once in a while, I still have me a drink, though.
Q: What is your pre-show ritual?
A: I take my liquid Vitamin B12. I put it up under my tongue for 30 seconds, then I swallow it. About 30 minutes later, I get this jolt of tingles all over me. Gives me this wonderful feeling. Makes me feel like I’m on Ecstasy. I get painted. We do our prayer, and then I go out there and murder it.
Q: Violence is part of hip-hop. Do you worry about getting shot?
A: We are blessed to not have violence at our shows. People come to our shows and act a clown. When you do music, you have no control who comes to your shows. I’m sure they have fights at Miley Cyrus shows.
Violence can happen anywhere. Look at the day after Thanksgiving: Black Friday. Every year, people [are] fighting at Wal-Mart over an Xbox. Our show is a melting pot. All different types of people come together. There may be some collisions on the floor, but it ain’t bad.
Q: Tell us about your new CD, “Special Effects.”
A: This is the best album you have ever heard from Tech N9ne when it comes to the beats — when it comes to the lyrics and when it comes to the song concepts. It is full of collaborations with Eminem, Corey Taylor [from Slipnot], Lil’ Wayne and E40. This CD was a team effort to make something epic.