It’s extremely difficult for an artist to make their debut on an album that features Daz, Kurupt, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac all in their prime. But with his uncanny rapid-fire, stop-n-go delivery; a self-assessment of all his twisted thoughts; and a dose of the bizarre, Tech N9ne did just that on the Gang Related soundtrack with his standout track “Questions.”
Undoubtedly, the Kansas City, Missouri native was destined for success. More than a decade after his introduction, Tech is now 11 albums deep, has made music for movies (Alpha Dog), became a record label co-owner (Strange Music), was portrayed in a video game (25 To Life), and racked up thousands of frequent-flyer miles around the U.S. and abroad.
Recently, he landed atop the Billboard indie charts with the release of his latest LP, Killer. This self-proclaimed weirdo connected with XXLMag.com and told us how hard he hit this time around by collaborating with vets like Ice Cube and Scarface, what made him maintain through all the years, and just how Suge Knight is “realer than anyone.” Yes, Suge Knight.
Congrats on the success and on a decade of grind in the rap game. What’s the secret to your longevity?
I appreciate that. It’s all that touring, man, and the word is just spreading like a forest fire. To be the number one independent artist, it’s like, What? What did you say? Word? Okay!
With all the talk of the two coasts and then the Dirty, you get twisted faces at the mention of Kansas City. But you continue to carry that city on your back and there's also a load of talent behind you.
I got to! Of course I have been called the “Kansas City King,” but there’s a lot of talent in Kansas City that grinds hard also. On this latest album I put out, you can check my collabos and I showcased a lot of them and there’s a lot more coming out on future projects.
You also have some heavy hitters on this latest album.
Oh my God! What? Ice Cube came through. Shawnna [formerly] from DTP. Scarface came through. Paul Wall. It don’t stop. So many showed me love and this is my best album to date. I say that with every album, but you can’t get no better. I’m a fan of the music and I can’t do anything with it until the beats tell me what to do, you know? When I heard what Killer was bringing, I realized I didn’t know how high I could actually go.
What was your most memorable experience recording this album?
[Laughing] Recording with Scarface. We were at a convention in Austin, Texas and ‘Face said he would do it, so we rolled down there in an hour or two to Houston and he wrote it right there in front of us. We were joking, playing, it was dope. To see him feel the beat right there, a beat I chose; he listened to my first verse and said, ‘Aiight, I got this!’ We watched him write it, lay it down, he cracked jokes and took pictures. It was real being in the studio with an original Geto Boy.
You definitely bridged that gap between eras. You can tell you know your old school because Brother J from the X-Clan is one of the most slept on MCs ever.
Oh yeah, Brother J be going. He throws down and people have definitely slept on him. Lyrically? I’m speechless. He is definitely one of ‘em.
Now, you also dabbled in the video gaming industry, did some films, and then there’s always the music. How do you compare all of these industries?
Well, with the gaming industry, when they did that game “25 To Life,” I guess it was because of my red hair, face paint, yadda, yadda, so it was an image thing, you know what I’m sizzlin’? With the movie industry, they just love my music, so that’s why I did the music for “Alpha Dog,” this, that and the other. Now the rap, this is my heart, my soul. This is what I live and breath. It’s my blood. That’s the difference.
Yeah, the face paint. What’s up with that?
When I was young, I used to fear clowns when I went to [the circus] and all of that. The reason I feared them was because they had painted-on smiles. There was a mystique, because no one knew what went on behind that paint. So when people look at me, they don’t know what the fuck to think because my clown has a frown on. So I became a clown a long time ago because of that mystique.
You recorded your first track, “Questions,” with the Death Row crew in the late '90s. How did you get down with them? The content was unlike anything Death Row came out with in the past. You were from Kansas City. And then there’s Suge…
Damn, that’s crazy! [That was on] the Gang Related soundtrack. You are good! That was ’97, man. As a matter of fact, I just thanked Suge Knight the day before yesterday for putting me on to that because I was the only cat that was not on Death Row when that went down. Shit, he remastered the whole CD so that I could get my song on there. So yeah, he came down to my video shoot the other day for the song, “Like Yeah.” So many people got to know me because that Gang Related album sold three million-plus.
That’s out the ordinary to hear a good story about Suge because all you hear is how wrong he is or about his mistakes.
Suge is a stand up cat, man. All these muthafuckas talking bad about him are just mice. Straight-up mice. They are mice from doing shady shit. He is not the kind of muthafucka who would fuck with you like that unless you did some shady shit. Game recognizes game and man recognizes man. It’s respect all the way around. It’s just punk-ass niggas that are possibly doing something stupid to say something negative about him. Look, at my video shoot, there was no negativity at all. There were all kinds of tribes--Bloods, Crips, everything.
You followed the “Questions” release with your first album, The Calm Before the Storm in ’99. Since then, talk about your growth as an artist and individual.
It’s like this, every time I drop an album, I grow with life. I learn. As I learn, I write more. From then to now, I went through drugs, almost dying. I have been clean for a while now and I know that my music has grown and matured. The music got better since The Storm--twenty times better.