Tech N9ne: "I Would Never Conform for Any Amount of Money"
Photo by Erik Hess
Tech N9ne is the only rapper on the 2013 Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list who wears face paint and has performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos six times. After raking in an impressive $7.5 million over the past twelve months, the Kansas City native appears on the list in between Swizz Beatz and 50 Cent.
How did this happen? Tech N9ne has built his own empire from the ground up with Strange Music, one of the most successful underground record labels. Remaining fiercely independent and uncompromising has earned the rapid-rapping artist a unique place in the hip-hop community, having recently collaborated with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, T-Pain, Cee Lo Green and the Doors. His Something Else tour hits Pop's tonight; we spoke to Tech N9ne about his new EP, Therapy, and what it's like to conquer the world while still being himself.
Drew Ailes: You've recently hit Montana and the Dakotas. How is it out there for hip-hop?
Tech N9ne: Well, Digital Underground's Shock G had a song where he said "all around the world, same song." And it's lucky when it comes to me because all around the world is the same love. Same love I have in Minnesota, I have similar love in Denmark. Love I have in Denmark, same love I have in the Dakotas. The love I have in the Dakotas, same love I have in Australia. All my fans are connected as one mind, body and soul, brother. Even if they can't speak the language, as soon as the music comes on -- when I'm in Poland, if they don't speak English, they speak English at that moment.
Have you found that people in Europe are brasher and honest with artists, letting them know what they like and don't like?
No, I just know that they really love hip-hop all around, a lot more. The reason why I say that is because I can go overseas and go see an EPMD show. I can't really catch that over here in the States. I can go over there and see Slick Rick. I can't really catch that in the States unless it's on Rock the Bells or something. I can go over there and catch M.O.P. like they just came out. They respect real hip-hop; that's all I've observed. But we're lucky and blessed to have that love in the States as well.
You do a lot of shows, averaging over 200 shows a year. Is touring an addiction for you?
It's my habitat. It's mandatory. If you want to be the hip-hop president, you've got to get out there and politick. And how do you politick in hip-hop? You get out there and tour. You sell merchandise. That's what we do, and that's why we're able to chart No. 2 under Jay Z in the rap charts when Jay Z is massive and we have no video and no radio play. That's an amazing feat as an independent artist.
Do you think there was a time five years ago that you could've put out a goofy dance song and hit the mainstream earlier?
[Laughing] I would never conform for any amount of money. I would never take my face paint off for any amount of money just because I scare certain people. That's just the kind of person I am. Yeah, I could've possibly conformed, but that's never been in my makeup. Tech N9ne has always done party tracks like "Caribou Lou," "Planet Rock 2k" and "KCT" and so on, but I do them my way. I don't do it to fit any mold. I think that's why a lot of rock artists and the hip-hop artists respect me, and I love them as well for recognizing real.
You've forged a path by being yourself -- do you find that carries over in your personal life as well? Are you confident going out there and being kind of a weird dude, or are there times it hits you and you sink back and stare at your feet?
No, never that, man. When I walk in a room, it lights up. I get to be me in every situation. I've been to some uptight, really rich parties before, man. It doesn't matter, man. People are people. People have their different conversations. They might be talking about taxes, they might be talking about women -- in that case, I can talk all day. But I'm me in every situation. I'm comfortable in my skin, no matter what. I'm slightly reclusive, but when it comes to me walking into a room like when we did Kuwait and Bahrain for the USO tour a couple years back, they had us doing meet and greets with the soldiers. We'd walk into these rooms and these soldiers would be sitting around the room. I'd just go around the room and shake everybody's hand before we got to talking about everything and anything. I greet people. I do that in every situation because I'm comfortable in my skin, no matter how weird I was as a kid and no matter how weird I am as an adult.