Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne has become one of independent hip-hop’s all time greatest success stories. An independent in every sense of the word, He’s spent the past decade out-selling, out-drawing and outlasting almost all of his major label and mainstream contemporaries off the strength of his inhuman work ethic and main event caliber live show. We spoke to Tech last fall in between his EP releases to discuss the secrets to connecting with an ever-expanding cult following and the keys to successful live performances.
Congrats on Boiling Point!
Aww man, it’s great, right? I just dropped an EP E.B.A.H. in September, and right behind it, here comes Boiling Point, and I’m back in the studio working on my LP for March so we’re moving my friend. E.B.A.H. was a lighter EP and so I had to connect Boiling Point to it because I had so much to say and the darker half has to come out.
What is it about the EP format that you feel lends itself to your music so well?
Well, I was supposed to be doing my album, but decided we shouldn’t rush it, so I wanted to give something to hold [the fans] over. I give my heart to them no matter what, and I talk about a lot of stuff on these EPs, so the fact that I have more stuff to speak about makes me so happy. I come from the heart all the time.
Because an EP is typically shorter and not within the confines of an album, do you feel more creative freedom with that format?
Well, with this one, my producer Seven did all the tracks. He sent me seven tracks and I chose six of them. I listened to them, and I knew what I wanted, and when I finished those six I told him I needed one that let people know how I feel right now and I want to call it “Alone.” I know I got a song called “Lonely” and I know I got a song called “Leave Me Alone,” but now I feel ultra alone, about being singular in the studio and singular in my bed and singular on my tour bus about the dangers out there and so they try to keep me bottled up. And Seven — boom! — gave me all seven of them.
Beginning-to-end, given your vast arsenal of styles and prolific output, is there an average amount of time it takes you to finish a song?
I like to do an hour a verse. If I got three verses, I like an hour a verse. But, I don’t get it, so I usually do all three verses in an hour. That’s comfortable. If it’s triple-time, it might take me a little bit longer. Some rhymes take me 30 minutes. But, I like the first thing that comes to my brain and I’ll write it and see if I can rhyme it. I’m usually writing in the studio. Ten minutes will go by, I’ll walk around the room, see a letter on the wall that will inspire me, and I’ll sit down and write again.
Through your entire career, you’ve been very collaboration-friendly. What’s important to you about reaching out to work with other artists?
It’s important that I show my ass every time. You do what the beat requires you to do and you go as hard as you can every time. I’m always going to try to stand out. It’s going to be hella-schizophrenic so it stands out.
You also place a lot of emphasis of visuals. In an age where the visual element of music is on the decline thanks to the rise of digital media, what’s creatively satisfying to you?
I’m still sticking to the script. People still want collector’s items, so we put it all into the artwork. If you see the Boiling Point artwork, I had to clean that shit out of my ass for hours. It was all over me, over my clothes, over my mouth and everything. That’s not a computer trick, that’s somebody actually pouring that on me. It symbolizes how think and runny my darkness is within me. That’s how I picture my evil, it can get on anything, so be careful. I’ll go the extra mile, and that’s just for the EP, so for my album art, we’re going all the way out.
Being you’ve developed such a strong reputation for your live show, what’s the secret to connecting with a crowd?
Studying the old school. Studying Run-DMC. Study Public Enemy. Study NWA. Study Busy Bee. Study KRS-ONE. I did that, and I used to be a dancer, so this is entertainment. Some people like to see a guy hold his nuts and rap, but when they come to our show, they’re going to be involved. We take the old and the new, whatever the new may be. Our bodies tell us to do it no matter how weird it looks.
With all of your different flows, are they the result of being inspired by beats or do you come up with the flows and then seek out beats to match them up with?
The beats create the flows. You have to ride the beat. I can’t just write a rap and put it on a beat like we used to do when we were young. I like to make a song. I want to make the lyrics, the tone and the style feel like the music. A lot of artists today are just rhyming and can put it on any beat. I can’t do that. I tailor my rhymes to the beat.
With how devoted your fan base is and how prolific your output is, do you have one song you’re particularly proud of that you wish more people knew about?
Yeah, a song called “Can’t Shake It” on Killer. It’s just me rapping over a simple beat talking about myself and how I can’t change. It’s melodic. I wish more people knew it. It’s so beautiful, it’s two verses and didn’t have a lot of low end. It’s a perfect masterpiece of a song I wish everybody knew.
What’s your ritual when preparing for a live show?
I don’t do anything, man. I chill. I conserve my energy because when the music comes on, my body just GOES even if it’s tired. I have some slow music playing, like classical or opera. It’s a calm before the storm.
Wow, so you never do any vocal warm-ups or anything?
Well, actually when I’m backstage, and I’ve never told anybody this, I test my voice with the theme music from Raising Arizona. (Tech does a perfect vocalization of the theme music) With that, I get low or higher, but if it’s scratchy that means my voice isn’t always there. That’s some hillbilly shit, but it works.