Strangeulation: it’s way more than the title of Tech N9ne’s upcoming collabos album.
Strangeulation is a bold statement: “We’re here, we’ve been here and we’re taking over. What you’re doing now, we’ve been doing, and what you’re not doing now, we’re about to do.” From the sound of the music to the way the business is running, Strange has been at the forefront of all it all and is going to continue to push the boundaries.
Tech N9ne, a bold leader of thought and action, sits alone in the newly-constructed Strangeland Studios and discusses how it feels to be the trendsetter behind the trendsetters, and where Strange is going to take it next.
What do you think of some major players now deciding to go independent and it becoming so vogue to do your own thing as opposed to being part of a major? Recently we’ve seen guys like The-Dream and 50 Cent, who have had great success in majors, make the switch to indie.
I think that everybody wants complete control finally. I always needed it, that’s why I said middle finger to the major labels back then. I wanted to be able to do whatever the hell I wanted other than somebody else telling me “Well I think you should do this.” I got with a partner, Travis O’Guin, that didn’t mind saying “Yeah, do that shit.” You know what I mean? I needed complete control and I think that other people like 50 need that. A lot more people are jumping on board. Macklemore’s been doing it for a long time and it’s long overdue. So it is as well for Tech N9ne. Everything is catching on. Real shit always shines man and I’m not mad at people that start wanting to do it independent and having control over everything and not having to pay 80 or more percent to a label and you get the peanuts. I think everybody’s coming to their senses.
If a major label works for you, you do that. There’s a lot of people that it’s working for. It works for Beyonce, it works for Rihanna, it works for Eminem, it works for a lot of people but it didn’t work for me and we’re making it work for us.
Have you always been so individual, even before all of this?
Yeah. You’ve got to have your own individuality and that’s me all day. I couldn’t claim Strange and be normal or average. I was born that way. It’s not nothing I try to do. It’s just always been me. It’s always been my personality even when I was in grade school. I’ve always been different. I could not be a part of something that keeps me in a box. Nothing can contain me, so I needed a vehicle like Strange. Thank God for Travis O’Guin.
I also saw a lot of the things you guys have been doing with tours is also starting to catch on. Take the video of 2 Chainz in a meet and greet with his biggest fan and just recently ScHoolboy Q offering the meet and greet and VIP package for his tour.
Well when somebody does something and shows everybody that it can be done then people are supposed to jump on board. That’s smart. It’s the educated thing to do, so if they see us doing meet and greets and they see us doing tours and see us hiring street teams in different towns, and they see that working, and you pop up in Forbes, of course they’re going to try it. Makzilla said they all owe money (laughs). I feel like the game is out there you just have to be attentive.
Yeah and Trav’s said many times “It’s not a secret. There’s no secrets here. I can tell you how we do it.”
Totally man. We’re showing you how to do it. You see it happening. When I saw ScHoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown on tour it made me happy, because when we were touring back in the day there wasn’t nobody on the road on the marquees except for Atmosphere and Talib Kweli. Wasn’t a lot of people out, you know what I mean? Just not a lot of people out.
Mostly underground cats.
Yeah, and now everybody’s out, and that’s a wonderful thing because that’s how you’re going to be getting a lot of your money man, because physical product is looking like it’s not going to be anymore because streaming is just cutting everybody’s head off. It’s like the new download, so we have to do other things like tour and merchandise. We’ve been doing collector’s items for years. All our albums.
We always give the fans extra so it’s nothing new to us to give the fans extra. It has to be everybody else jumping on that like “Okay, we have to put this on the packaging and maybe they want to buy it.” We’ve been doing that for years so there’s nothing new to Strange Music. We don’t have to adapt to anything because we started this gangster shit.
How does it feel to be –
The one who spearheads it?
It feels wonderful! It feels wonderful because it takes guts to want to do it yourself and it takes money, and don’t everybody have guts and money. So it’s not for everybody. It’s not for the weak, I’ll tell you that. To be the one who spearheads it, that feels funny inside and I like it! I like being the guy that everybody says “Man I studied your model and I adapted to that, and it’s working.” That’s dope.
I don’t feel that you and Travis are trying to stop anything short of domination.
And I know you both have families and want to make sure that they’re provided for for a very long time, but I also feel that there’s more to it than that when it comes to this.
Me and Travis love music. From back in the day when we were in Junior High school, high school – I didn’t know him back then, but when I met up with him, him listening to the kind of music that he was listening to and how much he felt it, I’m like I’m the same way. If it was about the money 100 percent we would have stopped a long time ago, because we lost a lot of it at the beginning.
We really want to do good music that people appreciate. Travis said to me “These e-mails I get about people almost killing themselves and Strange Music helped them makes it all worth it.” He said that to me and I’m like I know man. It does. When you hear stories like Jazmin Rojas and how much of a Technician she was and it got her through her last days and all that kind of thing, it just makes it worth it. To really do music that people feel man. Travis is the same way with music and we are going to do the best we can do to make a mark in this shit and we’re doing it.
Some people say we’ve made our mark, naw, we’re still making that mark that Strange Music’s going to be everywhere my nigga. EVERYWHERE. It’s happening. It’s spreading. Overseas, it’s over in Africa, it’s everywhere. It’s in Dubai, it’s in Abu Dhabi man. It’s down south now. It took a while for down south and it’s down south now. It’s undeniable and our work is not done. That’s why we have to keep on doing elite shit because it’s still time to show out. The more people that watch, you don’t lay back. You keep pouring it on, like “Nigga, we the hardest at it!” We rapping like we ain’t got no money. We rapping like we ain’t got no food in the refrigerator. We rapping like there ain’t no tomorrow. When we on that stage, we performing like we’re not going to have this tomorrow. We have to show everybody that we are the hilts of this shit. Once the world knows that we’re the hilt of this shit we’re going to keep on letting them know that we’re the hilt. I shouldn’t be getting doper at 42 man, but we’re rapping like we’re starving.
It kind of freaks me out sometimes.
Yeah man…me too. Me too, but we are starving. We’re starving to get people to understand that this is from the heart and it’s pure and you gotta have this. You gotta have this. It’s not just the bullshit you hear every day. You gotta have this.
What about hopefully having a positive effect on how the business is run? Is that ever something that makes you proud?
When I talk to people in NY or LA, and I don’t understand it a lot of times because in KC we’re kind of in this bubble, and it’s starting to become less of a bubble because you have people coming through here all the time, but when you hear other people say things that are completely normal to us like it’s just fucking crazy, it leaves an impression.
Yeah man. We got majors calling us all the time man, asking our advice and shit. Travis keeps me posted. A lot of people have their ear to the street when it comes to Strange Music, that are working at major labels. Quiet is kept that some of their employees want to come over here.
Do you know how crazy that is? I grew up around here and growing up my backyard was a cow farm, literally. For people to want to leave NY and LA to come work in the entertainment business in Kansas City? Do you know how crazy that is?
Yeah man. This is what I hear from people on the inside of these major labels when I go to LA and NY. They say “I want to do something I love and that I believe in.” Not just pushing everything to everybody. “I have to work this artist that I don’t feel.” They want to do something that they believe in man and that they love. Why do you think that Richie Abbott is over here now from Warner? Why do you think that Violet Brown is over here?
These are people that could do just fine anywhere else and could totally work anywhere else.
Yeah, so it’s like more people that want to come this way, and rightly so, because everything that they have to push they don’t believe in. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, I won’t say their names, but it’s a lot of people that are not happy with their jobs at the majors and they call us and they say, or we see them face to face and they say, “Man, please…get me out of this fucking place.” It’s like “Damn! It’s like that?” I didn’t know! I didn’t know man. Over here at Strange we sign things that we believe in.
I think that’s a lot of the core element that keeps us pushing.
The motherfuckers we signed wasn’t the “cool” thing to do! Like what I mean by that, it wasn’t because Stevie Stone, the buzz was just so humongous that the whole world was on it before we signed him. Like, “Okay we gotta get him, because he has 800 thousand people on him already.” These are people that we built up, that we worked toward getting them there.
We build our artists up. We find them and they’re already artists. CES Cru, Stevie Stone, ¡MAYDAY! – I’ve got so many, but these people are all wonderful artists. They didn’t need to be developed, they just needed to be exposed to other people and that’s what we’re doing when we’re putting them on tour and we’re doing merchandise for them and we try to book them for other shows and stuff like that. A lot of these major labels that just sign a motherfucker that they heard was blowing up in Atlanta or blowing up in Houston or wherever. Next thing you know they’ve got one hit and they’re gone. Like “Damn, what happened?” This motherfucker got picked up and got this many millions. You better get in while you can and get that money. I ain’t mad at nobody for getting their money, but us, we’re trying to build something that lasts forever.
When they speak of The Grateful Dead and stuff like that, Jerry Garcia, that lasts forever. Pink Floyd lasts forever. The Doors are going to last forever. Even in hip hop, 2Pac will last forever, Biggie will last forever. Wu Tang will last forever. Jay Z will last forever. Ice Cube will last forever. Tech N9ne is going to last forever. Strange Music will last forever in people’s hearts. Even if this motherfucker blew up and we were all in it and we all died, the music is going to live brother, because we do that shit that doesn’t go away. You can revisit albums with Strange Music, like “Wow, I remember when I was in the front row at this show and Skatterman and Snug Brim came out and they did ‘Block Party’ and I was right there: Mo’ wisky, mo’ weed, real sticky, no seeds!” Or anybody. “Oh my God I was in the mosh pit when Tech N9ne did ‘Einstein’. I want to go back to Anghellic.” “Oh my goodness I remember ‘Slither’ was in Alpha Dog in that sex scene. It was crazy because it was like they were on shrooms! I want to watch that but I want to listen to ‘Slither’!” You know what I mean?
This music’s going to last forever man and that’s what we’re in it for, me and Travis, to make shit that people really want to love and not ashamed to love. That’s what they say about the Juggalos. It’s like, Juggalos ain’t ashamed to love me. What we have in common? Our face paint. Maybe some sorrow. I don’t know. They’re not ashamed to claim Technician and I ain’t mad at them. My music is for everybody. I’m a misfit as well. How people say about Juggalos, they talk shit, because we’re different and we’re not normal. That’s why people try to tear us down. I’m Technician Number One and the whole human race are supposed to be Technicians and that doesn’t alienate anybody. That doesn’t alienate gays, that doesn’t alienate Juggalos, that doesn’t alienate hipsters, it doesn’t alienate whoever, – EDM listeners, it doesn’t alienate metal heads. It doesn’t alienate college motherfuckers. It doesn’t alienate motherfuckers with deformities. It doesn’t alienate anybody. It’s for everybody. So for anybody to come to me and say “You need to let Juggalos go, they’re holding you back.” I’m not letting nobody go. That’s discrimination. That’s prejudice.
In terms of being a black man, you’ve always been quite the anomaly. I’m sure you either felt it or heard it like “This guy…”
Yeah! Forever, since I started wearing my hair wild. They were like “What the fuck is that?! Who this nigga man?”
I’ve never seen anything like you looked back in the day.
No doubt. I’ve always been Strange man. I didn’t get it from anybody. It came from me being in high school, being a muh-fucka that they called a pretty boy. So when I started rapping, I had curly hair and a curly box and shit like that. I was a dancer. Chicks were automatically attracted to me because I was a dancer. I was talented or whatever. When I started rapping all the girls would say “Oh Aaron is so cute! Now he raps!” I was like Damn! I wanted them to listen to my music! “Listen to what I’m saying though!” So I took my curly box and I combed it out and I straightened it and I started wearing my hair like Danny Brown has his now, but it was a lot more hair you know?
I walked down the street. I wasn’t used to being a misfit so I walked down the street. I was probably 18 or 19 and I was standing with my auntie at the time at French Village right by the landing and I said “I’m going to walk up Troost.” I walk up and down Troost, 63rd and Troost, and I’m going to see what people say. I had to get used to it because everybody was laughing : “Blahhhhhahahahah! Look at this nigga!” It was so embarrassing and I did it over and over and over to get used to it. I just laughed with them after awhile, because I had to go from being a pretty boy dancer dude to this nigga that looked like he stuck his finger in an electrical socket. I had to get used to it and I got used to it.
I wanted to be different. I didn’t want to look like everybody at my school. All my niggas that danced, we all wore the silk outfits and the hammer pants and shit. Despite that I came out of living in a blood neighborhood, I was the dancer nigga and the talented guy in the blood neighborhood and all my blood niggas loved me. So I had to fuck myself up for people to listen to me. I went to school the next day. Even the principal – at Southwest High School – we had to go to the auditorium in the morning and we had to sit down in the morning and get a lecture before we went to class. So the whole school be in that motherfucker, you know what I’m saying? I walked in late with my hair like that and everybody looked back and started laughing and the principal was like “Mr. Yates, you cannot come to school being a distraction like that! You have to do something with that hair!” I was like This is me, what do you mean? “That’s not you Mr. Yates!” Yes it is! It’s the new me! I kept wearing it like that, you know what I mean? If you see old pictures of me it was like Danny Brown to the 20th power, just like “Boom.” That was my thing: a cat that could rap fast with the wild hair man.
I’ve always been Strange man. When the drugs came into play, ecstasy, shrooms and the acid and the GHB and the weed and everything and the liquor, and I started going to raves and shit, I colored my hair the color of my neighborhood: red. I thought in my head I’d be the biggest blood in the world if I had a red crown on my head: King Blood. My girlfriend at the time made a crown on my head, you know what I’m saying? I went back to the hood and they was like “Nigga hell naw! You colored your hair nigga? You look like Eve!” (Laughs) Man, it’s red though! “We don’t care man. Niggas don’t color they hair.” I’m like Well I do. I was doing my drugs and just doing my Absolute Power and Anghellic and just being me man. I’m still being me. I’m still being Dr. Strange man. Even without my hair, when I burnt out all my hair with all that dyeing. The things that are still in my head are Strange as fuck, and it’s going to be ’til the end of me.
There’s always a story behind the story that everybody knows.
You never heard that story before?
No, but whenever you look at someone’s history, it’s just that people are always built for their journey. You might be like “Why does 2Pac rap about all this stuff?” and then you’re like “Oh, well his mom was a Black Panther.” I’ve never heard the journey that you took up until becoming Tech N9ne.
We were talking about Strange’s effect on the industry:“Fragile” is on the radio now. This seems like a perfect entry for you guys into that realm because it’s kind of like what Strange Music does. It’s nothing like anything on the radio, but it’s really comfortable and awesome to listen to.
It’s a victory man.
I’m happy for that being a fan of you. I’m like “That’s perfect for Tech.”
Oh totally! You get a middle finger song to fake journalists on the radio? You know what I’m saying? Somebody said on Twitter yesterday, or the day before yesterday, “Tech went mainstream. Boo hoo. *Tears*” I said Why? Because my ultra-real song is being played finally after 20-something odd years? Shut up, please. Personally I think a middle finger to fake journalists being played everywhere, video and radio, is a victory, and it has substance, something that’s not really on the radio right now.
That’s what I’m saying man, because you could listen to the radio and hear everything that sounds pretty similar, and then this song comes on and you’re like “What is that?”
It’s music man, from the beautiful guitar to the drums that ¡MAYDAY! and them did, to the beautiful voices of Wrekonize and Bernz and then Kendall Morgan just sealing the deal man. Then these treacherous emcees.
It’s an anomaly amongst everything else.
Yeah man, there’s nothing like it, and the fact that it’s top 40 now and I get to say I didn’t have to tuck my tail and do what everybody else is doing on the radio to get that shit played like that and for people to adore it as well.
Because the spins are increasing in a lot of markets.
Yeah man, and the fact that I didn’t have to conform, and I would never have conformed, but the fact that we got that off and we’re getting that off, and it’s real music and real rapping – and don’t get me wrong, rapping comes in different styles, you know what I mean? Me being a lyricist, I would say “That’s some real rapping going on right there.” Not to discount anything else that’s not up to the bar on that regard.
But elite skills are employed on that record.
Yeah man, the fact that we’re getting that off. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful collaborative effort and Kendrick Lamar being on it and being able to speak on it at the hilt of his career doesn’t hurt it either. If he was wack people would say “Oh my God he shouldn’t of been on there with Tech.” But he had the ability to compete without fucking trying his hardest because he’s already an elite emcee. That’s why I called on him. I don’t call on anybody that can’t do it.
I can’t really listen to that song and say “Tech got him” or “Kendrick got him.”
Nah! We both did wonderfully.
What’s that doing for the company? Are you feeling the effects of that new found exposure?
Oh yeah! You got some people that don’t want that to happen, you know the radio shit, but we’ve been trying to get it on radio for years. When I first did “Industry Is Punks” that’s me crying about it. “He won’t play me on radio because they be on punk shit daily on. Industry’s a shady one.” Because they won’t let me express myself on the radio! That was me crying about it! “No playyyy, radiooo.” They wouldn’t let me play it. “Don’t nobody want to deal with a nigga that got it together and really want to think his own thoughts. Everybody wanna do what everybody else doing, the copycat is what they been taught.” It’s like I’m telling you like “Why ain’t y’all playing this? This is the real shit over here!” But too real for the fucking radio – and we still got a “fuck you” song off on the radio, it’s “Fragile”. They couldn’t show in the video when Kendrick said “Stop” he got his fingers up! They couldn’t show that on no video. “Drop” he throws up his fingers again! It’s a fuck you song and it’s being played because Kendall Morgan’s wonderful voice, Wrek and Bernz’ wonderful voices and beat. Kendrick Lamar’s wonderful verse and his wonderful talent and Tech N9ne’s wonderful talent. A collaborative effort that’s undeniable.
Looking back how validated do you feel that you never changed your name or who you are? I know that early on you had a lot of voices telling you that it’d be easier for you to break through if you were just “Tech” because they didn’t think that BET or MTV wanted to put on a guy named after a gun.
It’s like this, like I said back then in 2001, or maybe in the late 90′s, I got Tech N9ne streaming through my veins. There’s no way I can cut it in half or nothing. Yeah people call me “Tech” but that’s not going to show in the video. Yeah people call me “N9ne” or “Nina” but it’s not going to be “Tecca Nina” on the video, it’s going to be “Tech Motherfucking N9ne,” you know what I’m saying? With “Motherfucking” in parentheses. (Laughs) But I would never ever change my name to soften it for anybody.
Yes, Tec-9 is a gun. It’s menacing. “Known for its menacing looks” that’s what it says about a Tec-9 when you look it up, “Known for its menacing look,” and I guess my look is pretty menacing when I’m on stage, but I haven’t jammed up like they do. Only time I jam up is when I do that style (spits stuttering flow). That’s why I used to do that style long ago. Like on “Keep On Keepin’ On”: “It’ll neva be another Tecca Nina when I quit.” That’s me jamming up. That’s my jam up style. Now everybody does it. “Versace Versace Versace.” Now everybody does it, but I was doing it back in the day.
But my name is forever man, I’m not going to ever change it. The only time I’m going to change my name is when we do K.A.B.O.S.H. Where I grew up, Wayne Minor will be my name.
What do you think this next year is going to bring?
This next year is going to bring all the old fans back and more new fans because they’re going to adapt and realize that the shit they’re listening to on the radio that’s Strange is pure and not their everyday radio bullshit that they’re used to listening to. Not to say that everything on the radio’s bullshit, because sometimes on the radio I turn some shit up when I hear it.
I think it’s going to bring more and more followers because we won’t stop. We’re not going to stop and we’re not going to conform. We’re not. I just did Wild ‘N Out, it was way different for me. They just told me that “Fragile” is top 40, that’s way different for me and anybody at Strange. We’re seeing new life again. The butterfly effect: new life. That’s what a butterfly means, it means new life, so every year is the butterfly effect – we have new life. A song that we put together gives us new life all the time.
Now we have a new album, a collaborative effort called Strangeulation that’s going to create more fans and it’s all Strange artists. These songs that are on it are going to touch somebody. That’s the thing about Tech N9ne that’s so nerve-wracking to some people, because I’m everything: I’m rock, I’m dark, I’m sexual, I’m emotional, I’m everything. I’m gangster. I’m psychotic. In all my music I have all these stages. Some people like the sexual music, the women. Some people like the gangster shit, roughnecks. Some people love the dark shit, the misfits like myself. The people that have darker lifestyles, they might like more theatrical shit. They gravitate towards the dark shit. Some people love metal and rock and roll and that part of me and the fact that I named the label Strange after The Doors. Some people appreciate that shit, there’s some people who don’t give a fuck about that shit.
That’s the reason why Tech N9ne didn’t work on major labels, because they had no idea where to put me because major labels, they need to put you in a box. “Okay, this is what he does, we’re going to pitch him to these people.” It happens to spread and they’re like “We never did know that Kenny G would be massive like this.” There’s certain things that you can’t pinpoint and Tech N9ne has always been one of them. Thank God for Strange Music. Thank God for The Doors inspiring me to tell Travis O’Guin that I wanted it to be a Snake and the Bat, I wanted the S to be a snake and the bat wings to be the M. He put it everywhere and as long as he’s going to push it, I’m going to push it harder and harder everyday. Thank God for it man because the things that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis weren’t certain about in ’93 or Quincy Jones and Qwest and Warner wasn’t certain about in ’97 and Interscope in ’99 wasn’t sure what to do and JCOR, me and Travis O’Guin showed them motherfuckers what to do and still got in Forbes two years in a row and we’re going to keep making the Forbes list. Because we’re not done.
We’re not done. We’re not complacent, we’re not happy where we are because we want the moon. We want the world and we want it now, like Jim Morrison said, and the reason why we want it is because we want to make a mark and say “We knew what the fuck we were doing late ninety nine and two thousand when we were putting this shit together. We knew we had something special and we’re not going to stop until everybody acknowledges that shit.” Straight up.
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TECH N9NE COLLABOS - STRANGEULATION
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