When hip-hop live wire Tech N9ne isn't busy co-founding his own record label--the Kansas City-based Strange Music, Inc.--or breaking the SoundScan mark for one-million indie albums sold, or shooting television commercials that lambaste the music industry, or cutting a track for his new LP that features Ice Cube, or inventing his own world-renowned mixed drink (the Caribou Lou), or rockin' shows in out-there villes like Billings,
Montana, or surviving near-fatal tour van crashes, or chowing the finest barbecue K.C. has to offer, he's at home hangin' with his three kids. Is this Midwesterner--part Bacardi-addled ladies man, part Disney-style family man--really the next big thing in rap?
Matt Okie: Now I'm of the opinion that hip-hop, like punk rock before it, has given a musical voice to kids whose impoverished public schools don't have the finances to support music education in the classroom. By this, I mean, a kid doesn't need to know how to read music, or have five-octave pipes, or have regular access to a grand piano to be part of the "game." Does this make hip-hop then--as you see it--a democratizing force within pop music?
Tech N9ne: I think it's wonderful--for real--that you don't have to know how to read music. I've never known how to read music. And, you know, I have a lot of fans, man.
A lot of these guys you see on television, like R. Kelly--you know
what I'm saying--are millionaires, billionaires, and probably
didn't even finish school. I would say so. I wouldn't
want to know any other way, because it's a way that young
people of all creeds can come up out of poverty and do something
positive like music. You know what I mean? I think it's a
wonderful thing that Kanye [West] can get on there and say, "[I'm
a] college dropout," but he's still a millionaire. I
think it's wonderful, man.
MO: How has your mother's love of gospel--and groups like
Mighty Clouds of Joy--influenced your music?
T9: My mom, my aunties having me in the church and all that--it
gave me octaves and harmony. That's why you hear [begins singing]:
"He won't play me on radio..." I learned that, like my mom going [sings scales], "Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do." My mom taught me that, man, and that's from being
in the choir. So without that, we wouldn't have the Tech N9ne
sound. You know what I'm saying? We wouldn't have "The
Industry Is Punks." We wouldn't have [belts dramatically]:
"Tech N9ne! Tech N9ne!" We wouldn't have none
of that if it wasn't for my mom teaching me octaves and harmonies
and playing by ear. That's what Mom taught me. So, us being
in the choir...taught me to hold a note.
MO: Did you learn how to sing before you learned how to rap?
T9: Just a little bit...just a little bit--you know what I
mean? Not as much as [bandmate] Krizz Kaliko has--he was the choir
leader. I was just the one holding the notes. [Sings], "Ahhhh."
MO: So church choirs are really the musical bedrock of the Tech
T9: Totally, totally.
MO: Tell me how you and rapper Black Walt came up with the moniker
"Tech N9ne" as a way to describe your frenetic style
and machine-gun flows.
T9: That's exactly what happened, man. Black Walt already
had a group by the name of Black Mafia. He heard me rap [on this song] I wrote...[called] "The New Breed," my very first
rap...I was the new breed back then. He said, "You have a
name?" I'm like, "No." And he picked up a Guns & Ammo book, and he's looking at it, and
he's like, "AK-47?" I'm like, "Nah, nah." "Uzi?" I'm like, "Nah, nah."
"12-Gauge?" "Nah." And on the back of [the book] was a picture of a Tec-9. He said, "Tech N9ne--because you rap so rapidly...[imitates the sound of machine-gun fire] BRRRAP!"
I'm like, "That's cool." And he said, "That's what your name's going to be till we find something else." But it stuck--you know what I'm saying? And as I got older and wiser, I peeped how we spelled Tech N9ne, and it wasn't like the gun. The gun is spelled, T-e-c. We spelled it, T-e-c-h. Nine being the number of completion--nine months completes a pregnancy; a cat has nine lives; the whole nine yards... It's, like,
my name turned out to mean exactly what I am: technique number nine--the
complete technique of rhyme. It's perfect how that happened,
much love to Black Walt for that.
MO: Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. has said that his "flow"
arose at least partly from an attempt to mimic the bassy vocal stylings
of NBA sportscaster Marv Albert. What are the origins of Tech N9ne's
T9: I would say, Ice Cube. I wanted to be Ice Cube.
MO: So there's a heavy West Coast influence.
T9: Well, not just that...there was BDP [Boogie Down Productions],
that's KRS-One. There was Eric B. and Rakim--you know what
I'm saying?--with all the words and everything. There was
Slick Rick that really did it. Slick Rick really made me
want to rap rapping. Like [imitates Slick Rick's
rhythmic flows]: "Duh-budda-duh-duh...duh-budda-duh-duh..."
Nobody really caught it when Slick Rick was doing it on "Lick
The Balls." [Drops some lines from Slick Rick's "The
Moment I Feared"] "Don't worry 'bout a thing/Just
make sure nobody sees us...we're rich/we're rich
we can have whatever will please us." I was like, Whoa.
I never heard anything like that other than reggae... So I'd
write my raps like "duh-budda-duh-duh," and it turns into "BRRRAP!"
MO: Your flow then is, like, your version of Slick Rick?
T9: Yeah, man. Slick Rick sparked me to really want to bust--you
know what I'm saying?--like that. I started hearing reggae
artists like [imitates dancehall flows], "Come again/Come
again now/what a bye-bye..." Me being in the Midwest:
getting it from the East Coast, getting it from the West Coast,
getting it from down South--I'm a product of musical overload...you
know what I'm shizzlin'? My uncles were really into Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elton John back in the day. Metallica [even]. Everything came: gospel, rock, rap, R&B...and at my shows,
It's like a melting pot; my music is supposed to be for everybody,
and that's why it's irking me a lot that I haven't
got to the rest of the world yet. Because that's my goal...true
indeed, if I am the complete technique of rhyme: that means I am
supposed to belong to everybody. You know what I'm
saying? People say, "Oh, these dirty-ass Juggalos [i.e., hardcore
Insane Clown Posse fans] come to your shows. Why...?"
Juggalos are part of the human body; they're part of everybody.
So they've got to find something in me that they love also.
So [do] the Technicians [i.e., hardcore Tech N9ne fans], so [do]
the Kottonmouth Kings and Queens, so [do] the metalheads...even
people who listen to Citizen Cope and Portishead. It's going
to be like that...Avenged Sevenfold fans coming to my shows.
So it's like...that's my journey, man.
MO: On the video T9X: The Tech N9NE Experience,
hip-hop producer QDIII (music legend Quincy Jones's son) says that
Qwest Records felt that the Be Warned album "sound[ed]
too Kansas City." Now, of course, Qwest meant this as a put-down;
however, anyone who's ever spent any time in K.C. knows it's a great
city. As a lifelong Kansas Citian who frequently rhymes about the
love you have for your hometown, what does "Kansas City" mean to
T9: Kansas City means to me: family, my comfort
zone--you know what I'm shizzlin'?--where I can go visit
my mom, where I can go to family reunions, where I can go eat on
Easter or Christmas at my auntie's house. This is where I'm
supposed to be. Kansas means…my son is there. My children
were born there. Kansas City is what I know--Kansas City is what
I know like the back of my hand. It's everything to me. Yes,
I have a house in L.A., and I [had] been living there for almost
five years. But I [was] never there. I moved back to Kansas City
a year ago, but my wife and my two little girls still live out in
California, 'cause they love it and my wife goes to school
out there. But it's, like, Kansas City is where I'm
supposed to be--it means to me: family and love--and that's
where I'm going to be until I'm gone.
MO: Speaking of Kansas City, the city is perhaps best known for
its barbecue. In your opinion, what is the best place to eat barbecue
in Kansas City? Is it, in fact, Gates Bar-B-Q?
T9: [Laughs] I grew up with Gates. Gates is the most popular, and
they have the best sauce, and they have the best ribs. But it's
this one place called Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue that
wins against Texas every year in the battle of barbecue. It's
between Gates and Fiorella's Jack Stack. I go to both of 'em.
Gates is world-renowned--you know what I'm saying? Jack Stack
is a bit more ritzy, but the food is wonderful, [and] the meat is
wonderful. Even K.C. Masterpiece is wonderful. I don't do
Arthur Bryant's. I know a lot of people know about Arthur
Bryant's also. But they give you a lot of meat; I think that's
why a lot of people go there because they're greedy or whatever.
The Presidents [Bill Clinton in 1994, ex-presidential candidate
Ted Kennedy in 1982] go to Gates. I'm thinking: it's
because Gates is, pretty much, the best, but Fiorella's Jack
Stack, man...they're, like, neck and neck.
When you come--you know what I'm saying?--you'll go
to both of 'em, and you'll see which one you like most...[but]
Fiorella's got these beef ribs, man, that can't be touched
--these prime-rib ribs or something--brontosaurus-burger
MO: If I'm not mistaken, you were raised by a Christian mother
and a Muslim stepfather. And I know that you sometimes perform dressed
in gospel-style choir robes and/or with a white cross painted on
your forehead. Besides the obvious Christian imagery, what role
does religion play in your music?
Everything. I'm a walking Bible [points to the words "Liberate
Me" tattooed on his arms--"Liberate" on the underside of his right
forearm; "Me" on the underside of his left]. "Liberate Me," that's
me talking to God. That's when I wanted to die back then. That's
a weak statement, because I couldn't deal with life and nobody understood
me. But it reminds me of how bad it was then and how good it's gotten
since then... My angel wings [points to a tattoo of angel wings
on the underside of his right wrist] right here. The day we almost
died, March 23, '05 [points to the inscription 3-23-05 also tattooed
on the underside of his right wrist] in the van wreck coming out
of Billings, Montana...you know what I'm shizzlin'? I have "sacrifice"
across my chest [pulls up his T-shirt to reveal the word "sacrifice"
tattooed across his upper chest]--I just got that last year at Hart
and Huntington [über-hip Vegas tattoo parlour].
I sacrifice everything for my music. I lost my wife to this music.
I lose time from my kids for this music. Everybody I love feels
like I stay away on purpose; they don't understand that my
role is to be in ten places at one time. I sacrifice all my love
for this music, and I expect to get it to the rest of the world,
so I can show my loved ones that this is what I've
I've got the number nine on the back of me [pats the Roman
numeral "IX" tattooed on the back of his neck]. I have
"love" down here [indicates that the word "love"
is tattooed across his crotch beneath his red basketball shorts],
but only chicks can see it that get inside my pants. It's
"love" backwards, though. It's e-v-o-l. It's
evil--you know what I'm saying? I warn 'em; I try to
let 'em know it feels like love, but it's evil.
You know...I'm just a walking Bible. I come out with
the robe, and people think it's just theatrics or whatever.
But I'm an angel-slash-demon, man. What makes me a demon is
"lust"--I'm girl-crazy, and that's why I
couldn't keep my wife. You know what I'm saying? The
lust demon lives within me, but my heart loves big. I know
a lot of demons come to my shows, as well as angels [do]...lot
MO: Which is a concept you employed on your 2001 album Anghellic,
right? With the word "hell" built into "angelic"...
T9: Yeah, Ang-hell-ic, you know? Before there was an album,
that was me explaining how I am--I'm an angel in hell--my
own hell at that. [I mean] I know a lot of devil worshippers
come to shows because they feel my darkness...my pain, but never
have I ever worshipped Satan. I've always believed
there is a God, and I hope for a Higher Power...
I came to Arizona a while back on Halloween, and, uh...the
opening act was...I forgot...they had a song called "You
Don't Wanna Mess Around With Evil"...I forgot, man,
what the name of that group was, but they [were] a big, big group
of Satan-worshippers, and they said, "We understand that you're
not one of us, but we love your music." And what I do, man,
is that I let the demons know [that] I represent "holy"
when I first come out [on stage]. Like, if Christ is supposed to
be the ultimate good--that's what I am mostly. Lust
is my demon; that ain't a big demon...to me. That demon
can't conquer what's in my heart--you know what I'm
shizzlin'? That demon's in my dick--you know what I'm
saying? [Laughs] In my brain--you know what I'm saying? So
it's, like, my heart is huge. So when I come out with that
robe, man--that's letting the demons know and the angels know--that
we've got something in common...that I'm here for
"love," for the love of music. This is the
ultimate good, so this is what I'm gonna wear, and I'm
gonna have two devil-bitches come take [the robe] off before I really
start doin' it [performing]. So it has a significance. People
think I'm just trying to freak people out. No--that's
truly me; I'm ang-hell-ic: an angel in hell.
The religion came from my mom. My mom is Jesus Christ,
man. I've never met anybody as pleasant as her, and she's
been going through hell since she's been on this
earth, man. Psychiatric wards. Epilepsy. Lupus. You know what I
mean? And she's such a good woman, man. And it's, like,
I would really--this is crazy to say--but I would love
to see her in another place other than here, earth. I don't
think that me or her really belong down here, but the fans make
me feel like I belong down here with my music, and [putting] all
my pain, and all my pleasures...onto my albums. My fans make
me feel like "Liberate Me" [referring again to his forearm
tattoos] was the wrong idea--you know what I'm saying?--take
me away from here. Because if [God] did, there would be no Tech
So it's all spirituality, man.
MO: I want to talk a little about the van crash. What was the date?
You've got [the date] tattooed on your wrist, right?
T9: March 23, '05. Yeah, two days before my little girl's
MO: At the beginning of your 2006 album Everready: The Religion,
you do a spoken-word track entitled "Enter Everready"
about how you and your crew, while on tour, survived a horrific
van crash that resulted from a patch of black ice on a bridge between
Billings, MT and Spokane, WA. On that track, you say: "The
ambulance--the people that came...said we were all blessed--you
know what I'm saying--to still be alive after flipping
five times, so ever since then we've been celebrating life...kickin'
it hard. Everyday's a party, baby." Is that the Tech
N9ne's mantra: everyday's a party? Is that
the spirit of this music?
T9: Every interview I do, they ask me: "Is there anything
[else] you want to say?" And I always say, "Tell everybody
that's listening or reading...that I said, ‘Celebrate
life.' Because you never know when the people who run this
land that we call home are going to tear it up over money, or blow
it up over money."
Tell the people that you love, you love 'em--even if it's
family member who did you wrong in the past...you know what
I'm saying? Celebrate life like it's your last, 'cause
you never know when you're gonna go. Jim Morrison of The Doors
said, "I know one thing, man. I'm gonna have my kicks
before the whole shit-house goes up in flame." And I always
felt that. I don't want to go right now because I have things
I want to do for my children. We haven't all the amusement
parks yet. I still want to go to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
You know what I mean? I perform there all the time, and I pass it,
and I'm like, "Damn, I don't have time to go."
You know, that's what me and my kids do--we thrill-ride. There
are a lot of things I want to do with my children, like take 'em
to islands and stuff. They've already been to Jamaica without
me--I paid for it--but they go with my wife, while I'm on
tour. So they've seen the islands, but I just want to be there
with 'em. And that's the reason why I don't want
to go now.
But if I happen to have an untimely demise, I can say that I had
a fuckin' blast with my children, man...everytime
I see 'em. And being out here with my fans, man. You know,
recording songs with Tupac, Eminem, KRS-One, Kool G Rap, MC Ren...it
just goes on...Yuk Mouth, E-40. You know what I mean? Finally,
I wanted to be Ice Cube [as a young rapper]...last week, he
gave me a verse for my new album, man. So he's going to be
on my new album. My mentor, for real--he don't even know it.
Ice Cube don't even know it. You know, 'cause I haven't
even talked to him; he just loved the song so much that he did it.
And it's me and Brother Jay from X-Clan--I was a big fan of
X-Clan back in the day--and we're all on the same song.
I've done so much, man; I'm thirty-six years old. So
if I happen to have an untimely demise--and I don't think
I ever will. A fortune teller back in the day...told me in Dallas
that I was going to die of old age, in bed, asleep. I pretty much
believe that, even thought the gang shit follows me. My block is
a Blood block, and I can't shake that as a...man. I've
been blessed with people who come to the shows, and they don't
want to shoot. They can wear blue or whatever and still love my
music. But if I happen to have an untimely demise, like, I trip
and fall and bust my head open, or I'm in a car wreck...because
I know I won't die by the hands of another man, that'll
never happen. But, lately, I've been like, "Damn, what
if I say I'm never gonna die by the hands of another man,
but what if [I die] by the hands of a woman?" Because I'm
so into women, and hearts are always involved, and crimes of passion
But my journey is incomplete [if I die an untimely death], because
I want my story [to get out] to the whole world, while I'm
here. Not when I'm gone--you know what I'm saying? You
will never see a funeral with me. I will never let people come see
me laying down, because I'm always standing up. So they're
gonna burn me, man. I'm not gonna have no funeral service,
or they have to do my hair up and paint me and stuff. But--and I'm
staying on the subject--if I happen to go, I will say that I had
my kicks before the whole shit-house went up in flame. So, yeah,
we're gonna celebrate life like it's our last. Everyday...and
we do that with these shows. It's like a big party for me;
it's a sold-out party tonight. That's a blessing that
I get to tell my stories, whether it be about a psycho-bitch, whether
it be about this ring [motions to a ring on his hand], whether it
be about how we party, or Caribou Lou. It's a party for Paul
Wall and Ill Bill, too. I told them at the beginning of the tour,
like, just think of it as...people are paying to come party
with you. It's a job, but...we do music. We're blessed
to "soothe the savage beast." And that's what
God gave me, and I'm having my kicks, and the shit-house is
going up in flame as we speak, because we've got soldiers
over in Iraq still. So here we go, man. But we're gonna party
in the midst of the pain like novocaine. You know what I'm
saying? They used to shoot with novocaine, so you could suffer peacefully--you
know what I'm shizzlin'? So it's that. They over
there fighting for us, loving our music. The soldiers come over
here; they come up and say, "I was over in Iraq, we was banging
your music." I hear it everywhere I go. Let me go over there.
My boys be like, "Hell, no--we ain't going over there."
I'm like, "I'll go by myself." Celebrate
life, man. I mean it.
MO: On the track "Caribou Lou," you rhyme about a pineapple-juice
cocktail whose ingredients include Malibu Rum and Bacardi 151. How
did "one-fifty-one rum" come to be the unofficial liquor
of Tech N9ne?
T9: ...in Kansas City, Missouri...they have Hurricanes,
and I think 151 is in that. And a Hurricane is a really nice drink.
It's fruity--you know what I'm saying? And my people
that I was with at the time brought E-40 in to do a concert, and
they were drinking Slurricanes or Hurricanes or whatever they call
'em. And the next day, we were at our club, saying we need
to come up with a drink of our own with 151...[because 151]
that's a kick. So it's like we were messing
around at the bar with my boy Diamond Shields...who put my first
MO: So you guys literally invented the drink Caribou Lou?
T9: Yes--we did, man. We were at the bar and took some 151 and
tried to lighten it up with some Malibu, then put pineapple juice
in it. So I was like, "We need a name for it." And it
was Malibu, so it was...like something you'd drink in
the Carribean. And I was, like, "Hold up." I'm
a big movie buff and cartoons--you know what I'm saying?--I
do that. Me and my boy T Will and Diamond, we were just right there,
and I was like: "Caribou Lou." I was like, "Woody
Woodpecker, man--it had this pirate. He was really mean. He had
a peg leg, and his name was Caribou Lou. And whenever anybody said
his name [uttered in a high-pitched, cartoonish voice] ‘Caribou
Lou!', everybody would run like [makes a speedy, sound-effect
noise]: Pyoo-o-o-o-m! Just like Pepé Le Pew--you
know what I'm saying? He was mean, but he was a cartoon. So
it was a "soft" drink, but it was hard at the same time.
T Will's the only one who knew what I was talking about...like
[uttered again in a high-pitch voice] "Caribou Lou! Pyoo-o-o-o-m!
That's a mean motherfucker..." It tastes so wonderful,
but that 151 and that Malibu will hit you after two. And the next
thing you know the chicks are out of their clothes and everybody's
loud. I made some last night when I was in Farmington, New Mexico,
and after a while, people just started talking louder. It's
the Caribou Lou, man.
MO: A beverage to celebrate life.
T9: Yeah, man. All day: it's a party favor, dude.
That's my contribution to the world.
...right before this tour in Kansas City, I was on my way to
finish my new album, Killer. I actually did the last song
the day before the tour. And I was sitting with Travis [O'Guin,
CEO of Strange Music], and I was like, "Man, do you know my
contribution to the world is a drink?" Everybody
knows about Caribou Lou. It was in the Alpha Dog movie,
so it's spread out even more--you know what I mean? I said,
"Damn, my contribution...is a drink that has, like, two
liquors in it, and people love it." But that ain't my
only contribution. My contribution is actually my life...on
these records, and it's pure, and it's not fabricated,
and it's not nobody else's life; it's my life,
as it progresses--as it gets better. But Caribou Lou is one of those
things that I've contributed.
And much love to T Will for coming up with it, with me. And much
love to Diamond Shields for having the tools at his bar to come
up with it--you know what I'm saying?
MO: What bar was this at? Is it in Kansas City?
T9: Yeah, Diamond owned a bar called The Palace.
MO: Is it still there?
T9: No, no, no, no. No, no, no--one of them things: a girl got
shot on Valentine's Day. Somebody was shooting at the club,
and she was in the bathroom, and [the bullets] went through the
wall and hit her. Her brains blown out. I'm glad I didn't
see it; I was in the DJ booth. And the girl lost her life...so
after that, the bar went downhill. It was on 25th and Prospect.
It was in a bad spot, but we had it for a while. And that's
where Caribou Lou was created.
MO: In the song "Slacker," you rhyme that you're
"a product of Reaganomics." What does it mean to be
a product of Reaganomics in the year 2008?
T9: What I meant is, like, when Reagonomics hit--if you recall--a
lot of after-school activities were taken away...so that left
a lot of young people on the street. You know what I'm shizzlin'?
[Then in] '85, crack hit...so if we were on the streets,
instead of in school, that's what we were doing. Also, I found
that Reaganomics let a lot of people out of psychiatric wards at
the time, which is why you [saw] all the homeless walking around
the streets, talking to themselves and shit...
We're the product of drugs...[we're] slackers.
That's what I think Reagonomics did, because whenever you
take school activities away, street activities are going to take
their place. So that's what happened...maybe me and Scooby
and Short Nitty and T Will and Doc and all the Rogue Dog Villains
would've been in school doing something, rather than being
on the street and having those guys from L.A....move onto our block
with the Blood gang shit. Maybe if we were in school afterwards,
instead of on the block, it wouldn't have hit us.
MO: Your new album, Killer [which arrives in stores July
1, 2008], features you sprawled out à la Michael Jackson
[think: Thriller album art] on the cover. Of course, instead
of wearing a white suit like Michael, you're wearing a white
straitjacket. In what ways is the new album a tribute to Thriller's
T9: The reason I chose Thriller is because they've
always called me the Michael Jackson of rap. Like I always do things
on this level--I'm talking about stature, not his
personal life. I don't go to court; I don't get in trouble
(and knock on wood)...I just wanted to say that this music is
going to be that stature. Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson--
MO: You've got a Quincy Jones connection, don't you?
T9: Yeah, totally. Quincy Jones actually signed me in '97.
So that--even more--pushed me to do it.
MO: Did most of the tracks that were originally slated to appear
on Be Warned [unreleased QDIII/Quincy Jones Tech N9ne album]
end up on the outtakes/B-sides album Vintage Tech?
T9: Some of 'em did. It's like a lot of that stuff
is just still sitting. But [some of it] leaked--a lot of people
have "The Virus" and a lot of the cuts that were on
Be Warned at the time. It leaked a long time ago, so
Be Warned is no more.
Killer is all new stuff, man. Because I didn't want
to give my fans stuff from Everready that I didn't
use...every album changes for me. This is my life I'm
writing, and it's supposed to sound different every time.
You know what I'm saying? Anghellic doesn't
sound like Absolute Power. Absolute Power doesn't
sound like Vintage Tech. Vintage Tech
sound like MLK [Misery Loves Kompany] and Everready.
Everready doesn't sound nothing like Killer.
Killer is bigger. And I didn't think it could get
any bigger than [Everready]. And it did, man. I just wanted
to use Michael Jackson's stature then...in the '80s.
Killer is going to be the big thing in rap.
MO: Do you think this could be the album that finally propels you
into the stratosphere?
T9: I think so; it's happening. All the sold-out shows...it's
growing rapidly, man.
"Psychumentary" Photo Courtesy of Joshua Hoffine
Marquee Theatre (Tempe, AZ) Photo Courtesy of Brian Finck