While mainstream audiences first heard of Krizz Kaliko, Tech N9ne, and Strange Music in the last few months, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been grinding for years. Not just grinding, though. They’ve become one of the most powerful forces in independent music. Tech is certainly at the head of the beast, highlighted by his many albums and spot on Lil Wayne’s wish list of guest collaborations. But labelmate and fellow Kansas City native Krizz has been by his side for nearly a decade, crafting himself a comfortable niche within the well-oiled machine that is Strange Music.

Now, however, it’s time to cut the umbilical chord. Yesterday, Kaliko released his third solo LP, Shock Treatment, and is preparing to shine on his own while still riding alongside Tech. XXLMag.com caught up with the spitter following his Spotlight Ustream interview last week to discuss the art of performance, his relationship with Tech, breaking out on his own and more.

XXLMag.com: So how did you and Tech first link up?

Krizz Kaliko: We linked up through a mutual friend, DJ IcyRoc. IcyRoc and Tech had a group called Nnutthouze back in the day, and Tech went to go get his record deals and stuff—he kind of was going by himself. In his absence, I kind of became IcyRoc’s new protégé. When Tech returned to Kansas City, he went back to do music with IcyRoc. [Tech] knew that I sang, so he was like, “You gotta sing something for me, Krizz.” Then I paid him to get on a song and I was just rapping and he was like, “I had to take a second look at my verse! I didn’t know you rapped, man. This dude is bussin’.” I didn’t know what I was gonna do—whether I was gonna put an album out or what—I just wanted Tech N9ne on a song. Then he asked me to help him with one song, and I helped him [once], and he came back and said, “Hey, man, help me with this song.” [What I did] was a big old operatic sound on the hook even though it was over this West Coast driven beat. He was like, “Man, that’s dope. It’s tight that you try different things.” One song turned into two, turned into two albums, three albums—here we are, 10 albums later. It was during his album Anghellic that we first linked up.

How many albums have y'all done together?

The other day someone asked me how many albums have I done with Strange Music, and it was 20! Tech has always been the blueprint, Travis [O'Guinn] is the business, Krizz Kaliko is the glue. I make sure that they got monster hooks—and they know that I can do it and do it quickly. I’m always tryna balance out my home life and my son; he’s four. Let me knock this [hook] out, I’ma pick him up from daycare, give him some food, tuck him in, and then I’ll come right back [to the studio]. Trying to be a father and trying to be a super elite artist, and I think I’ve found a good balance.

You’ve done 20 Strange Music albums. How many solo projects have you worked on?

This [current album] will be my third. My first was called Vitiligo, which is the skin disorder that I have. That was another thing—when I met Tech, he was like, “You really need to put that out there. I’m so weird that we can get you off easily.” He had died his hair and then was spiking it, and to have me on board, we was just a spectacle. We got on stage and just murdered it. We are entertainers. Not just rappers, not just singers. We are super entertaining up there, and that’s one thing that I haven’t seen in hip-hop in a long time. Me, Tech and Kutt Calhoun—three dudes, three mics, just killin’ everybody on the roster of whatever show it may be.

You guys did Rock The Bells in 2009 and y'all definitely put on a good show.

I think we the hungriest, man. Even though we’ve had some success. We’re not where we’re tryna get on. In our world, we’re on.

Right. So you don’t feel like you’re already on because you have a crazy following?

I don’t feel like we’re on because we haven’t reached where I’m tryna go to. I expect a lot, man. A lot of people have been asking us, “Do you feel the pressure?” Nah, man. We’ve been doing this for years. Everybody’s just now really getting on to it, as far as the media, but we’ve had a core fan base of hundreds of thousands of kids for several years now. I have high, high expectations for myself, for Tech N9ne, for the whole label. So when I say I’m not on—yeah, a lot of people know about Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko—but it’s not enough. I wonder sometimes, in my crazy ass brain, is it ever gonna be enough? I travel around the world and I hear what everybody’s listening to and I want everybody to come into our world. I have a piece of this, a piece of that, a piece of rock, a piece of reggae, a piece of hip-hop, a piece of R&B, and I’m trying to fuse it all into one. I call it the Funkra: funk, rap, rock, R&B, reggae and opera. You can’t put a name on what we do. It’s not backpack. It’s not radio. It’s everything. You don’t have to even know our music to become a fan—once you see a show, it’s like a virus.

A lot of your fans are gained during shows.

Absolutely. Everything we got is from our performance. You gotta think about it. The media is just now getting onto us in mass quantity. There’s no other way that we could have built a fan base but the shows, word of mouth and Internet. But everything goes back to the music; we are super perfectionists. A dude asked me, “Do you feel pressure?” I said, nah. Because we’ve been doing this, we’ve been holding ourselves to this high standard even when we had seven people in the crowd—we were ringing our socks out after shows. You gotta entertain. Every third dude is a rapper. Tech said to me what his stepfather said to him: What do you have that somebody else doesn’t have? And you gotta pose that question to yourself. Unless you’re Jay-Z or Gucci or 50 or Drake or someone like that, nobody just wants to see you rap. Just standing there. You have to entertain. For some people it takes a few hours of work to produce what these tickets go for. I don’t wanna waste anybody’s money. I’ve been on stage with double pneumonia before and still giving it to ‘em. Eventually, I missed four shows in a row from pneumonia—but I only missed then, the day my son was born, and the day I got married. I was back the next day.

How many shows do you have a year?

About 230.

Wow. And that’s been the case for how long?

At least the last five years. We’re on the road about two-thirds of the year right now. The album came out yesterday, the tour starts today, ends on Halloween; and then I go back out on a solo tour with Brother Lynch Hung from November 3 to December 3.

Where do you guys get the wildest reactions?

Denver, Colorado; Spokane, Washington; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Hartford, Connecticut; Cleveland, Ohio; Fargo, North Dakota. You know what I’m sayin’? We went places that people didn’t go, man. There’s people in Fargo. There’s people in Butte, Montana. I even referenced it in a song just so they would get a shout out. I did that specifically to let people know that we go to all of these little places and that’s kind of how we built this thing. That’s why we’ve been able to build this without TV and radio. We try to touch every corner of the globe—we just started going to Europe. We’ve performed in everything from barbeque restaurants to amphitheaters. That’s why we’re gonna be able to take over the world.

Your sound has obviously developed since you first met Tech. How does that come through on this project?

What they can expect from this is that every song sounds like a hit. There’s two songs I kind of got personal on at the end—one called “In My Dreams” and the other called “Standby.” “Standby” is a metaphor for me waiting to be the most popular person in hip-hop. I want it to be the most popular hip-hop. I hesitantly say that I want to be—I think everybody wants to be popular, [but] I think it’s hard to accept everything that comes with that. But I want everybody to hear my music. Whether they like it or not, I want everybody in the world to have heard it. So what they can expect is the same elite music. Hooks are my specialty—to me, the beat and the hook are the most important part of a song, so Krizz Kaliko fans know that the hooks are gonna be one hundred. I think people sometimes see me as a singer that raps, instead of the other way around. I’m both. On my first album, I rapped a lot more; now, whatever the music tells me to do, I just do it. I used to second-guess myself a lot. Tech said, “Man, I got you with me for a reason. Everything you write is dope, you understand?” I can never get that out of my head now. I’m not trying to be pompous or anything like that, but I feel like everything I write is dope, and I think it comes across in the music. —Adam Fleischer