Few rappers embody the independent spirit of hip-hop quite like Tech N9ne. Whether it comes to releasing albums, creating merchandise, or getting clean and sober, Tech likes to do it on his own terms. Next Tuesday, he will drop his newest album All 6’s and 7’s. Boasting features like Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, and B.o.B, the album is the Kansas City native’s most mainstream look to date.
Despite all the big name features, the album is still being released independently through his Strange Music label. That’s why we figured it was the perfect time to chop it up with the mental giant and have him tell us about how he makes the independent hustle work, signing vaginas, and the night he almost overdosed on Ecstasy.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
An abridged version of this feature appears in Complex's June/July 2011 issue.
You’re successful as an independent artist, but you had a number of major label deals in the ‘90s. What was the lesson you learned from those days?
What I found out is, I need complete autonomy. I can’t have nobody looking over my shoulder saying I can’t say this or that. I didn’t like having people that really didn’t know shit about music telling me what to write when I write my life.
[When I had a major label deal] I had a song called “Fuck Your Religion.” And all it was saying was, don’t condemn me to hell because I don’t believe what you believe. Since everybody is telling you this is the right way to go, I went my way. So I’m like “Fuck your religion.” Just with those words, they didn’t want me to do it.
The beautiful thing about being independent and having my own label is I can say whatever the hell I want. Back then, I didn’t have the say-so. What is being an artist if you don’t have 100% say-so in what you’re writing? If you’re writing your life, how do they know your life? I can’t fabricate my life. This is what I’m writing and I get to do whatever the hell I want to do at my own label.
Was that the main problem with that system?
No, no, no, that wasn’t the main problem with that system. It’s that system, period. It’s like, we built fans over here by touring. A lot of those people didn’t know that you had to get on the road, but that’s a major thing when it comes to being an artist. If you want to become the hip-hop president, you’ve got to politic. How do you do that? You’ve got to get on the road.
Tour to these places where people don’t know you and make them know you. A lot of these majors didn’t do that with their artists. They just found that hit, put it on the radio, boom, next thing you know they’re playing Summer Jam. The hit does good, but then after the hit goes away, the artist is gone, dead.
We didn’t know what Bend, Oregon was, but we went and it was a few people there. The next time we came, it was more, and we were selling out. The same thing in Denver, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Now we sell out everywhere we go. Same thing in Amsterdam, Switzerland. And that’s what a lot of the majors didn’t know that they had to do with their artists. Besides, rock and roll artists have been doing it for years. It’s grassroots, back to basics. How are people going to know you if you don’t get out there? It’s common sense.
And then a lot of these major artists don’t even have t-shirts to sell while they’re on tour! We’ve done a lot of the shirt designs for a lot of the guys we took on tour. I don’t want to put them out there like that. [Laughs.] But if you just look at our tours, who we take with us, just say we did the shirts for everybody. These are guys that are already established, like, “What? You don’t have a shirt? You don’t have a money clip? You don’t have g-strings with your face on it? What are you doing?” We started with a shirt and a hat, and now we’re at Wal-Mart.
What are the strangest product you guys have sold?
The boy shorts that we have for the girls with my name on the back, that’s normal to me. But the g-string with my face on it was strange to me. That’s probably the strangest one we have. It’s like a cartoon character of my face and it’s got the Tech N9ne roar on it like, “Rahh!” That’s the last thing a boyfriend wants to see when he’s undressing his girlfriend. And the more we sell them, the more I laugh because those guys have to see my face before they take them off.
I’ve undressed a gang of girls that had them on. And I don’t have to really undress them because they have me sign them. When we have meet and greets we meet with the fans for like an hour every day—a lot of the girls have on the underwear and they want me to sign my face. And it’s right there where the clit is too. That happens all the time, I get that on every tour, every day. And the girls that don’t have the panties want me to sign their vagina, so the next time I come back, my name is a tattoo on their vagina. It’s weird, it’s a beautiful thing.
How many vaginas have you signed?
I don’t know man. It’s thousands man. I’m serious, I’m not blowing this up. You can go to my website—you probably won’t see the vagina pictures—but you’ll see all the other ones. Some girls will have me write my name, A. Yates, on the inside of their thigh, that was a really wonderful one.
I remember this one chick a long time ago, back in Denver, this redhead. She was hot as hell and I signed her inner thigh. But I signed it right after the show and this was right before the tattoo phenomenon started happening.
The next time I came back, she got on my bus after the show, and she was in the back lounge with me. She pulled up her skirt and she said, “Look. You owe me for this.” I’ve written that in a rhyme before. It shocked me that she had my tattoo right there. And I gave her what she told me I owed her. I gave it to her well.
I fucked the shit out of her dude. I got fined for ripping the carpet in the back lounge because I was pushing so hard that my traction made the rug come up. This was years ago and after that, I didn’t see her anymore. Maybe she got a boyfriend or something, but she never came to the show. I lost her. I don’t know her name, but she was a beautiful redhead.
When did first start noticing that you had real fanatical fans?
Way before I named my fans Technicians around 2000, I remember going to Lawrence, Kansas—almost 45 minutes from my hometown, Kansas City—and there were people camping outside. I was like, “I’m going to go out here and talk to these people.” People would ask me, “Is that you on the front of that shirt with a hatchet?” I was like, “Nah, we don’t sell that.” I went out there and asked these people “What is that on your shirt?” And they’d say “This is Hatchet gear.” And I’d ask, “What is that?” And they’d be like, “We’re Juggalos and Juggalettes.” This was the first time I realized the Juggalos and Juggalettes were at my shows.
I didn’t know there was another following, following me. I’d be like, “What the fuck is that?” And they’d be like, “You don’t know? We’re ICP fans. We love your music.” That’s when I started noticing the Juggalos were there with the earlier Technicians before they were even Technicians. If you were at my first show in Kansas City, and you’re still hear today, you’d be an original Technician. But I realized in 2000 that there were already people following me. It was the Technicians, the Juggalos, mixed with the Kottonmouth Kings and Queens, Metalheads, and all that shit.
When you first started to notice you had fans that are really obsessed, how did you deal with that?
I’m taken back by it every day. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. No one has to give a damn about my story. When I have 7,000 people plus at Red Rock just for a show of mine, I think it’s wonderful to get that many people to come see you. Me, being backstage when my guy is saying, “Introducing the number one independent artist in the motherfucking world: Tech N9ne.” And all 7,000 of those people are screaming and yelling, I’m shaking my head like, “I can’t believe this is my fucking job.”
I’m such a fuck-up. I’m such a clusterfuck. It blows my mind every day when people ask me to sign their autographs.That’s why I tell the girls, I don’t think I’m worthy of tears when they break down. I’m going into McDonalds to order something, and a little girl will start crying and jumping, and I’m like, “Don’t cry, just give me a hug. I’m not worth the tears.” It floors me every day. I always feel like I’m this really humble dude inside of this body, inside of the mind of this fucking psychotic emcee.
CLICK NEXT TO SEE TECH N9NE DISCUSS HIS EXTENSIVE DRUG USE
Why do you still see yourself as a fuck-up?
Well, that’s my personal life when I say I’m a fuck-up. For instance, me and my wife have been separated for over eight years. We’re cool as fuck now, but we separated because I’m a fuck-up. I’ve fucked up a lot of shit in my life and I rap about it. A lot of it was self-inflicted pain: Getting on drugs, almost dying, doing 15 X pills in one night, almost dying from dehydration.
I’ve been clean for over four years, but my body still misses it. When bitches are around doing Molly it just makes my body tingle. I have to turn away because my body can feel it. Do you know what Molly is? It’s pure MDMA, the pure shit that they make ecstasy with. It’s not cut with anything. Molly is fucking wonderful man. Some of these stripper chicks be having it. I be like, “Ughhhh! Don’t pull it out around me.” I’ve been good for four years though man.
That’s why I say in my personal life I’m a fuck-up, but my business life is a wonderful thing. I make beautiful things happen with my fuck-ups because I write them. That’s how I made my fans.
What kind of drugs were you into?
Ecstasy, acid, Adderall, GHB, which is a date-rape drug. I never did any coke because my nose had bad sinuses. I went to a gang of coke parties, but I never did it. I never shot anything else. I hated needles before I started getting tattoos so I’ve never shot any heroin or anything. Thank God. Never smoked any crack. But those were my drugs. Ecstasy was my favorite. I did acid every once in a while, mushrooms every once in a while. GHB on top of all that, so I’d be swerving a little bit. It kind of makes you woozy and shit. But that was about it.
And I stopped smoking weed in 1998. I was in a group called Smoke-a-lot Regime with Yukmouth. Anybody would stop smoking after they smoked a whole summer with Yuk and that’s what I did. I moved to L.A. in ‘97 and that whole summer I was recording with Yukmouth, and it was blunt after blunt every day. 20 blunts a day turned into 40 blunts a day. I just got really sick one day like, “Fuck that weed.” I stopped smoking weed before the drug shit even hit me really hard. When I stopped smoking weed, I started doing harder drugs.
How did you first get on to using Ecstasy?
I did my first pill in ‘98. It was given to me by this beautiful black stripper at a movie theater. She said, “Come with me, and we’re going to go to a movie, but we’re going to meet these guys to get this pill real quick.” And I was like, “Okay, whatever.” And we pulled up in this parking lot out in Overland Park and these guys got out, we got it, and we went to the movies.
It was me, her, and her homegirl. And we sat down in the very front, because no one was in there. She said, “Go outside, and drink some water. In 30 minutes you’re going to feel like you have to shit, but it’s going to feel good, and then your dick is going to get hard.” And I was like, “Okay.”
So I took it, and the movie came on, and I started squirming like, “Fuck.” And then I put her hand on my dick like, “You’re right.” And she was like, “Yeah.” I remember doing her the whole night at her friend's house, in the mirror in the bathroom, doggystyle. I remember how she was so in ecstasy that her mouth was wide open.
Then I met the ecstasy chick, the chick that really sold us it. This white chick named Michelle, she really put it on me drug-wise, like, “Here, try another one, try another one, try another one. This is a red devil, try this one.” And she’s the one I did it with every day. That was in ‘98 so by 2001, I’d built up to where I had to take three.
Before it even hit the black community I was on that shit. Before Mac Dre was ever talking about doing it, I was already saying thizzle shit. They used to call me Malcolm X. No disrespect—because I love Malcolm X—but they were calling me Malcolm X for a different reason. I’d come in the strip club with 60 X pills, just put one on my tongue, and put it in all the bitches' mouths, one by one, to get high with me. I started a lot of strippers on that shit back in the day. I didn’t sell it, I just bought it with my money. Sometimes people would just give it to me because of who I was and I’d just share it with beautiful women.
Some of the strippers didn’t even know me and I said, “Open your mouth.” And I’d give them an X-pill, and they took it because of who I was. And they’re still on it. It makes me feel bad. I’ve seen a lot of them and they’re not doing too well. Not all of them though, just a couple of them are still fucked up. It’s like, “Damn, look what I started.” They’ll tell people, “Tech gave me my first pill.” And I’ll be like, “Aw shit. Sorry.” But they’re still happy. I just don’t want nobody to die. I did it hardcore. Nobody would ever do it as hardcore as I did.
You mentioned the time you almost died from drugs. What happened?
I was partying in L.A. in 2001. Once you take an ecstasy, you don’t want it to ever come down. So if you start at three o'clock and you’re rolling at seven o'clock, they come down at nine and you take three more. We were doing it hardcore. We were popping three, tripplestacks. We were really trying to feel it because we had been doing it since the late ‘90s.
We had just opened up for Cypress Hill in Glen Helen at Blockbuster Theater. I met Tommy Lee backstage and he said he liked one of my songs. I didn’t even know he knew me. I met Keith Murray backstage. We were just partying. It was wonderful and we went on stage early because we were the opening act. So we got off stage at like seven and we were ready to go.
We were ready to get in our cars and drive back to Sunset to party. We were staying at The Grafton on Sunset. It takes like an hour to get back from San Bernardino—so when we got back to Sunset it was packed. We had already taken three and it was seven. When we got to Sunset—like and hour or two later—you’re going to be on Sunset for a while, so we popped three more. That’s already six. By the time we got to The Grafton, it was probably like 11. We popped three more and we just kept going.
And then one comes and you take some more. I remember Kutt Calhoun wandered off, because when you’re on that shit you kind of lose direction of where you are. Kutt Calhoun said he was walking up Sunset trying to find The Grafton for like two hours. [Laughs.]
So that night when you took the 15, you ended up in the hospital I assume?
No, I didn’t. I nursed myself back. I knew if you drank too much water it’d swell your brain and you’d die. So I drank a lot of orange juice and water here and there. I couldn’t sleep. It’s hard to explain. It’s like you close your eyes and you just get real dizzy. It’s like a fucking bumble bee in your head that makes you dizzy and you can’t close your eyes for real.
And that happened for a long time, where I couldn’t stand up without almost falling. But drinking that orange juice brought me back, and water here and there, just trying to eat, and I did it myself, because if my wife found out I was that high, that she was married to an addict, she would’ve left me.
But the black girl who turned me onto the ecstasy ended up telling my wife about our affair and everything. So my wife found out I was on drug and that was one of the biggest reasons we separated. The black girl fell in love with me and she thought by telling my wife, it would make me leave her so she could be with me, but she didn’t know that it would make me say, “Fuck you, you dumb ass bitch. You weren’t supposed to tell. You knew what the fuck it was; We were creeping." Eventually, she got ran out of town and moved to Florida. I didn’t do it. People that loved me did it, I think.
How did you finally get clean?
My kids man. I remember my young little girl Rainbow, she couldn’t be more than three at the time...I don’t fucking know...she was looking at me and it felt like she knew that I was high man. I was like, “Man, I cannot die on this drug.” And my business was getting way more important and I had to be here. My partner Travis got us a lot of money and it would have just been a waste. I recall getting in the deal and somebody said they had to make sure they weren’t about to do a deal with a drug addict that was going to kill himself. And a lot of my fans were like, “Yeah, we’re going to lose him like we lost Jim Morrison.” I was hearing shit like that. I wrote songs about it, and I got off of that shit, and I didn’t turn back.
Was there any kind of intervention or anything like that?
Hell nah. I did it myself. I’m a to myself type of dude. I don’t need no psychiatrist. I don’t need nobody to be in my ear telling me, ���You can’t do this or that.” I’ve got to do it on my own man. I’m a strong individual and I did it without rehab and I did it without all that shit. I didn’t need nobody really in my ear. But my partner Travis, he’d speak to me every once in a while like, “You know what we’ve got something to do.” And that’s all it took, for real. I been totally clean ever since.