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.
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