Images Ari Michelson

Aaron “Tech N9ne” Yates has consistently been one of hip-hop’s most successful artists over the last decade, yet casual rap heads wouldn’t even know it. For those who rely on radio and video outlets for their musical education, Tech N9ne and his Strange Music record label are mysteries. The Kansas City, Missouri native’s die-hard, and niche, following knows the deal, though; with lyrical dexterity and a diverse ear for beats (sounds ranging from Southern bounce to aggressive rock), Tech’s music and one-of-a-kind live performances have earned the veteran underground infamy.

This years marks the 10-year anniversary of Strange Music, the hugely successful independent label started by Tech and his business partner, and SM CEO/President, Travis O’Guin. The former acts as both the company’s flagship artist and vice president. Together, Tech and O’Guin have built the brand into a $15-million-a-year earning, 200-plus shows-for-every-12-months performing powerhouse. Its fan base, largely comprised of White kids with no qualms admitting to their minimal rap love outside of SM, is an anomaly, much like Strange Music as a whole. But that’s what make the company and its music so special.

On July 27, Tech N9ne’s third “collabos” project, The Gates Mixed Plate, will hit stores, complete with guest shots from his labelmates (Kutt Calhoun, Krizz Kaliko, Big Scoob), as well as Glasses Malone and Jay Rock. XXL spent some time in Kansas City recently for an in-depth feature, included in the fresh-on-stands July/August 2010 issue. As we celebrate the Indie Kings throughout this week, here’s outtakes from our sitdown for that feature, where Tech discusses his place in hip-hop and why folks such as Asher Roth and Clipse want to be down.

A lot of people tend to sleep on it for so long, but it’s such good, pure, accessible hip-hop music. Why do you think that is?

Tech N9ne: That’s crazy. If you’d seen it on television constantly or heard it on the radio… if Ebro and them were playing it on Hot 97, you know, like, “Tech N9ne is dope! Oh ,shit, Tech N9ne did something with Red Café!” If I had those features… It’s a weird thing to see it happening under everybody’s nose. At first, I used to have a chip on my shoulder, like, “Muthafuckas don’t know that I’m hard!” As I’ve gotten older, though, I’m now like, “I’m building this shit up to something massive.”

When did you realize that?

Tech N9ne: I started seeing my crowds grow from seven people to 7,000, from 7,000 to 15,000, from 15,000 to 20,000, to 60,000 over in Denmark. I started seeing it, and I’m still seeing it everyday. What really fucked me up, though, was my first time in Amsterdam last year. Sold-out show, somewhere around the Red Light District. I’m sitting backstage, and I just heard the whole place going “KC-MO…OHHH!” That’s our chant. They did it for like five minutes straight. I’m like, “I can’t believe this is my muthafuckin’ job.”

Your fans are, and this is a compliment, rabid. Does it bug you out how intense Strange Music fans are?

Tech N9ne: See, the crazy thing about me, man, I feel like I’m a normal guy. But, maybe I’m a little abnormal when it comes to talent or something. But I feel l can just go to a show with a female, or I can just go to the club. It reminds me, when people are behind me singing the songs in my ear, and when I come out everybody’s waiting out there for autographs and shit. So the security has to take me up under the mall to get out. Shit like that. I’m like, “Damn, how am I Michael Jackson already and I’m not on TV?” It blows my mind, man. Once again, I just write my life. Jim Carrey, when he was The Riddler in [Batman Forever], and he got like $25 million, was doing an interview and they asked him something like, “Were you surprised when they called you and offered you all this money?” He was like, “No. I’ve been planning this all my life.” That’s how I feel.

The majority of your fans come from outside of hip-hop. Do you ever consider ways to win over the traditional hip-hop heads?

Tech N9ne: I will not change what I am for no amount of money or just kudos for my peers. I do music. It shouldn’t matter if I really love Slipknot and System of a Down, or that I sing [Lynyrd Skynyrd’s] “Freebird” because it’s one of my favorite songs that I’ll sing to a bitch. I have all this success, yes, but I really want my people back, because I feel like what they’re missing is the greatest show on Earth. I can say that being the clown. Like Geto Boys say, “We ain’t kissin’ no muthafuckin’ ass to be accepted.” But I want my people back, and they’re finding out slowly but surely. If it’s gonna take MTV to come on here, which they did when they started playing “Leave Me Alone” [last year] and everybody’s like, “I saw your video on MTV Jams!” And I’m saying, “Yeah, me too, finally.” Or, I saw you on BET being a judge on 106 & Park Freestyle Fridays; I’m like, “Yeah, they don’t know I’m gonna be sittin’ up on the couch real soon.”