Tech N9ne certainly isn’t a household name. He isn’t necessarily a big name in the realm of hip-hop either, but thanks to appearing at festivals like Rock the Bells and touring on his own, he’s been able to sell over a million records and build a solid, dedicated fanbase. As he prepares to drop his newest album, The Ollie Gates Mixed Plate, named after a restaurant in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, he told Mixtape Daily about the unconventional road he took to get here.
“Being involved in all of those major labels in the past, nobody knew really how to do me, how to put me,” Tech said. “But who knows how to do me better than anybody: me.”
He and his business partner, Travis O’Guin, formed their independent Strange Music label in 1999. Since then, they have enjoyed complete autonomy to do whatever they wanted with their music and their appearance.
That’s also meant that he’s been able to go on tour to places where no one knew who he was. Tech said that they would play small-town shows with only 10 people in the audience, and he would still perform. When they came back the next time, there would be 30 people, and 200 people the following time.
“If you want to be the hip-hop president, you’ve got to get out there and politic,” reasoned the rapper who won the Left Field Woodie Award from mtvU last year.
Tech estimated that he does about 200 shows per year, a schedule that’s more typical of a rock band. All the money they make on tour is pumped back into Strange Music as they sign other artists to the label. They’ve also built a huge $1.2 million facility in Kansas City.
He isn’t surprised that other artists have started to go independent and tour heavily to support themselves. In the digital world, artists have had to find new ways to sell their music to the people. Meanwhile, he said major labels are failing because they don’t take the time to build their artists’ fanbase.
“We have that core fanbase that’s always going to be there, so whether we put out CDs, whether it’s going to be on iTunes or whatever, our fans are always going to be there,” Tech N9ne said. “A lot of these major cats don’t even have that. A lot of these major cats have sold over a million copies, but can’t get 1,000 people to come see them. … That ain’t for us, though.”