Tech N9ne: Still breaking new ground
For the Independent Powerhouse Tour 2016, rapper Tech N9ne (Aaron Dontez Yates) has recruited Strange Music acts such as Ces Cru, Stevie Stone, ¡Mayday!, Rittz, Krizz Kaliko to accompany him on the tour that wraps up in St. Louis on May 28. The Kansas City rapper has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Revolt TV, Skee TV, MTV Jams, and BET’s 106 & Park in the past two years. Last year, he had the biggest radio hit of his career with “Hood Go Crazy,” a song that features 2 Chainz and B.O.B. He phoned us from a Myrtle Beach tour stop.
You began rapping at an early age. What inspired you to start writing rhymes?
I used to be a dancer. I did breakdancing and even MC Hammer dancing. Whatever had to do with music, I was in it. With rhythm came rhymes. I wrote my first rhyme in seventh grade. I loved music so much that I wanted to do it. My teachers would say, “Mr. Yates, if you know your schoolwork like you know that music, you’d be an A student. Now look at me. My last years in school, I wanted my rhymes to be smarter so that’s when I started getting on honor roll. I waited until the end of my school years to buckle down and start doing my work.
Vocabulary is pretty important if you want to be a rapper.
Look at Eminem. He could be a professor. So could I. So could Kendrick Lamar. So could Jay-Z. Look at the top rappers. The guys who are around after all these years have the brain capacity.
How’d you develop your unique style?
It came from Slick Rick. I know that sounds funny. He does not chop. There was a song called “Lick the Balls.” I think it was on The Great Adventures of Slick Rick album. I liked that toasty reggae style. I started writing my rhymes like that. I started doubling up and tripling. That’s how I did it.
Would you listen to dancehall reggae?
Oh yeah. It was within rap. You couldn’t be somewhere where they were playing rap where they weren’t playing reggae as well. I was always peeping the toasting style. Then, out of the blue, this little guy named Twista popped up on TV. It was like, “Whoa, a fast rapper.” He blew it up. In the Midwest, it was something we were doing before we knew about each other. I’m sure Bone Thugs was doing it before they knew about Twista or me. When they were popping, nobody knew me. When Jay-Z was doing the style back then, I was doing it as well. Brotha Lynch came along flippin’ in a different way. We connected with him because it was dark and so wonderful. I signed him years later. We’ve been in the trenches for years. I wrote my first rhyme in 1985 and nobody was rapping like that. I always talk fast as well so I did the style that best suited me.
Did Kansas City have a good scene?
There was always a big hip-hop scene. I hear new names all the time. Sometimes, I go out still and listen to see what people are doing in KC. We did it years ago and have been building ever since. We’ve gone all over the world, but I stay rooted in my city.
Talk about last year’s Special Effects. What did you try to do differently with the album?
I was trying to prove to the industry that I can do anything as an independent. If I set out to do a song with Eminem, I did it. If I set out to do a song with Corey Taylor from Slipknot, I did it. If I set out to a song with 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne and B.o.B. and all these people, I did it. I was trying to show the industry that talent still exists and people still respect it. I wanted to show that I could lock these songs down and get them cleared.
I like songs like “Lacrimosa.” Is that a live choir singing?
Yes. There’s nine people. If you get the album and look at the DVD, you’ll see them in the studio doing it. We found them here in Kansas City. My producer said he had this choir and they could recreate something for me. My mom had just died from Lupus. It was time to talk about it. Lacrimosa is Latin for weeping. It was perfect for me. On this tour, the song we play before we come out on stage is “Lacrimosa.” It gets us pumped up.
People say hip-hop is dead but it seems like a great time for it.
It’s just people hating on the youngsters like Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug and 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne and Drake. They hating on the youngsters. The youngsters are going to do what they do now. When you have people like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and all these wonderful MCs, it’s out here for all of us. You can choose any style you like. Just because the masses gravitate toward the simplistic stuff, doesn’t mean to have to hate on them. They keep this shit going and we’re going to keep this going as well with innovative lyrics. There are Rich Homie Quan songs we love and dance to. There are Young Thug songs that I love and dance to and sing along to. I can’t do that like they do that and they can’t do that like I do that.
You recently released a remix of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” for Dr. Dre’s “The Pharmacy” on Beats 1 radio. Talk about your approach to the tune.
It got sent to me. Xzibit and Dr. Dre were sitting somewhere going through beats. Xzibit said, “Send this one to Tech N9ne.” How did he know that I would murder that? I did and I’m proud of it. Dre loved it and wanted to do shoot a video but when I was out there for the Grammys, he was busy so we couldn’t do it. Maybe one day, I don’t know.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten your due?
No. I’m still trying to break new ground, all these albums later. I’m writing about it right now with a song called “The Needle.” I’ve done all this stuff. “Fragile” went for a long time and “Hood Go Crazy” did even better than that. From that I did Summer Jam with all the urban cats. I did Rock on the Range and I did Rockfest in Kansas City for the first time and Aftershock with Rob Zombie. It was the most people I’ve been in front of. I haven’t seen those 70,000 people when it comes to sales. I haven’t seen the needle move. Maybe it is but I don’t know it. It’s a time when music is free [and it] feels like the needle isn’t moving. I said back in 2011, “Who do I catch now?” I caught all the metal heads and urbanites and I even did EDM on that album with Excision and we popped up in Kansas City and did a surprise show. But the needle is still where it was in 2001. Here we are in 2015. It feels like it’s stagnant. We performed in front of Jimmy Kimmel. Where’s the needle? What the fuck is going on? That’s what’s going to keep me hungry because I still have something to prove.