After a half-hour long conversation about everything from major label success and becoming an independent billionaire to the settled opinion on his latest album Something Else and what he considers his best project to date, the typically boisterous mental giant made sure to personally see me out of his tour bus – which doubles as his traveling home, bedroom and living room. Considering he double-checked to ensure there weren’t any fans lurking within 50 feet, his rationale was obvious. However, what struck me was what he said upon opening the door to the drizzling Detroit streets.
“Where are we?”
As he thought, I paused, wondering if he was joking or legitimately didn’t know which venue he was rocking later that night. Before I could react, he looked up at the brick-encrusted side of the Fillmore – which has no indication of anything other than sturdy craftsmanship and said, “The Fillmore. Used to be The State Theater.”
As I confirmed, said my peace and walked away, I realized that was the first time he had been outside that day. It was 2:30PM. As a traveling one man show, he lives and breaths touring, letting the music lead his direction. His schedule isn’t dictated by an alarm clock. It’s dictated by interviews with people he doesn’t know, coming into his living space and fans at meet & greets, lurking outside his bus. Then, after interacting in character all afternoon and performing throughout the night, his day ends half-way through the AM, driving off to another city to start it all over again. Tech N9ne is more than an artist. He lives and breathes his music.
To understand how someone can single-handedly fulfill their own destiny and turn a penchant for creation into Forbes-level success with only an independent rap career, soak up some game as we proudly present Smoking Sessions with Tech N9ne.
TSS: All good business models have goals and lately you’ve been crossing off quite a few.
Tech N9ne: Totally.
TSS: Your ninth studio album Something Else scored your second highest Billboard debut to date. You made Forbes hip-hop list two years in a row. You’re about to embark on your third tour this year. You’ve been across the world and back.
With those same accolades, many artists might become complacent.
Tech N9ne: Not me.
TSS: What drives Tech N9ne?
Tech N9ne: I have to tread every piece of this Earth before I go, brother. I still haven’t been to Hawaii. I still haven’t been to Japan, or China. I haven’t been to Abu Dhabi, or Dubai. I still haven’t been to Turkey. Budapest. Africa. There’s like too many places I have to go, to get everybody to know my story. My music. And, we’re not there yet, you know what I’m sizzlin?
We just built a four million dollar studio and now, it’s brand new. We call it Strange Land and we’re taking the steps to get better and better at this music, to keep on spreading it. When I went to Spain, I had four-five days off. I ate seafood paihia everyday and I love it. But, nooobody knew who I was. I didn’t like that shit. I don’t like that shit. I have a lot more work to spread this Tech N9ne thing. Tech N9ne’s not on TV and radio, you know what I’m saying? We’ve been doing this thing on the streets and on tour.
What drives me is that I want everybody to…I want global domination. Global dominance, is what I want.
TSS: That’s setting the bar pretty high, which I guess is what you should be doing.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, if you’re going to do it, you might as go all the way.
TSS: You’ve been rapping professionally for over two decades and touring just as long, presumably. How do refine your craft at this point in your career?
Tech N9ne: I feel like Dracula, man. I feel like Vlad III, man. I feel like I’ve seen the rise and fall of a lot of MCs, over the years. And, I’ve been a student…and I’m still on the incline. The way that I rap, I guess, I wanna’ say it’s timeless, because when you listen to some of my older stuff, it’s still good.
TSS: Oh yeah.
Tech N9ne: Don’t get me wrong, when I listen to an Eric B and Rakim album, Paid In Full, it’s still good. Or, when I listen to a BDP album, it’s still good. There’s something about Tech N9ne that has the word longevity right next to it.
I was listening to the Snow song I did, the song I did with her, it’s called “You’re Welcome”. The way that I was rapping, it doesn’t sound like anybody. Maybe that’s it, I don’t know, man. I’m blessed to have…I’m blessed to be a fan of music. Because, I know what I want to hear out of an MC, or an artist, period. And, that’s what I go for. I want to hear something elite. If the beat is slower, I want to hear something laid back. I want to adjust to the beat, to the situation. So, if the beats are changing – rhythm is my thing – then I’m going to adjust to that rhythmic situation.
TSS: It’s adapting to what’s coming at you.
Tech N9ne: Yeah.
TSS: Not even to what’s current, whatever comes your way, at any given time.
Tech N9ne: No, not what’s current. Because, what’s current, I’ve passed it already. It’s like, a lot of the beats that are on the radio right now, I did it back on MLK. So, my beat selection now, for Something Else, it’s “Straight Out The Gate” with Serj Tankian and stuff like that. Fred Wreck, coming with the Doors track. It’s like, something else, man.
They said, “See Me” with B.o.B. and Wiz Khalifa sounded like a radio record. That’s ‘cause I got it from a aggin that does radio hits. Drumma Boy and B.o.B. You know, B.o.B. is my homie. ‘Send me some more beats….Oh, I like this one!’ You know what I’m sayin’? So, naturally it’s going to feel like something you’re used to. I guess that’s good. I don’t know. I do it, because I feel it.
TSS: Three months since the release, the dust has settled on Something Else. Where do you feel your latest LP – your ninth – stacks up against the rest of your studio albums?
Tech N9ne: It’s the best. It was hard to beat Everready, in my opinion, you know what I mean? I feel like All 6s & 7s was good, but this killed it. The content. The overall story behind it. The concept. The features are humongous, again. And, they’re going to keep on getting bigger and bigger.
TSS: That’s definitely been a trend.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, it’s going to bend genres. It’s going to keep changing, man. I think all my fans agree that this is the best work. Now, you’ve still got some fans that are like ‘Aw, I still like Anghellic,’ but that’s ‘cause they’re stuck in a time warp. But, I ain’t mad.
TSS: Some fans are going to be like that, no matter what.
Tech N9ne: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I think it’s the best, man. I strive to be the best everytime I come out.
TSS: Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Tech N9ne: No….not at all. Yeah. Yes, there is.
Tech N9ne: I wouldn’t have taken “Party The Pain Away” off to put it on…to do whatever we did with it. I wouldn’t have taken “It Feels Like Heaven” off. But, it was too long. I had to extract songs. I had to put ‘em on iTunes or something. “Party The Pain Away” is beautiful, man. I would’ve kept those on there
TSS: So, you’re still constrained by time limits, because of the hard copies. Wow. I personally still burn CDs for myself over making playlists on my phone, so I run into that all the time. You’re dealing with that same issue of battling the 1:19 mark?
Tech N9ne: Yes, man. I hate it. Because, I’m putting together a canvass. You’re supposed to be able to put whatever you want on your canvass. But, you’re restricted. You’re restricted by 79 minutes. Really, anything after 76, I think, or 73 or 74 – could be defective. But, I push it all the time. Like, 80.
They wanted me to shorten the album and just do 14 songs. But, I got three levels on here. I want there to be some music on here. I want to get my point across. I’m creating a story, that’s going to last forever. It’s hard having those time restrictions.
I’m a Hip-Hop head and yes, I have music in my bones. That’s what keeps me going. But, if I can’t express myself like I want, then that’s when I’m like, “Nah.”
TSS: Especially at this point, when every other aspect of your career has been successfully achieved on your own steam. Being constrained on that creative front is probably really frustrating.
Tech N9ne: Yeah. Tech N9ne doing 12 songs and that’s it? Or, 10 songs. Kanye and them can do that thing and that’s cool, that’s tight. But, I’m telling a story. I don’t just have songs that I choose, that are hot. This is me. This is my baby.
When I say “Straight Out The Gate” and ‘let’s get Serj’ and he loves it, what comes after that has to be amazing as well, you know I’m saying? All the way down to the last song. It has to be cohesive.
TSS: Eleven years ago on “The Industry Is Punks” – which was the focus of one of my very first TSS pieces, back in like 2007 – you basically guaranteed you would be “running the race” against major labels. Now, you’ve got an independently released album contending against major releases like Robin Thicke & Jay-Z and you’ve legitimized your claims. How does it feel to be able to back up bold ass statements you made over ten years ago?
Tech N9ne: (Laughs) Ahh, man. I think about it all the time, brother. Because…OK, my parents are really religious. And in the Bible, it says, “Though you think, though it is.” My mom married a Muslim when I was 12. I studied Islam from 12 to 17, before I ran away from home. The Koran says ‘Be and it is.’ Be that and it will be, you know what I’m saying? I learned that.
So, if I feel it and I speak it into existence, it will be. I was felt like I was going to be this. One thing that Islam always taught me was to be able to back up everything you say. No nonsense. Somebody’s going to ask you, ‘What do you mean by that?’ And if you don’t have an answer, you’re going to sound like a fucking idiot.
So, I’ve always been able to back up what I say. Whether I have an emotion, like I’m upset – I’ll tell you why. Or, if I feel a certain way about a certain thing, I’m going to be able to tell you why. Because, that’s what Islam taught me. So, when I said that back that then, I already knew this was going to be me. That was me on drugs. But, it was still me. The only thing that changed in me, is that I’ve been clean for over a decade almost.
Tech N9ne: Almost a decade. It’s been like nine years or something like that. Maybe, eight years, I don’t know (laughs). On the new album, on “Fortune Force Field,” I said, “We gon’ win, just a bit of waiting” And we just won, against Caribou Coffee, to do Caribou Lou. I have faith I can make these things happen…if we’re 100% right. Or, righteous. We’ve always been righteous. And, when I say ‘we,’ I mean me and Travis O’Guin. “Guaranteed to be running the race”…yes, because I knew I was going to infect everybody. I knew I had something special. And, I knew, along this path, I’m not going to conform for no amount of money. I knew it. It was already in me.
TSS: That’s an amazing feat to be able to have that type of foresight, and enough belief in yourself to achieve these things. A lot of people would see the levels to this type of success and say, ‘That’s too much work.’ Yet, you’ve brought it all together.
Tech N9ne: It’s called being Moorish. The Moors came here from Africa, and taught everybody how to build things, you know what I mean? Kings, man. So, I’m Moorish. I know how to build things. Strange Music…the snake and the bat, came from my head. All these images…I know how to build things, to get places.
They didn’t give me foreign languages in school and I wanted it. They gave me fucking gym for an hour, so I skipped it. Home economics. I don’t give a fuck about that. Woodshop class. I don’t give a fuck about that. And, I wanted to learn shit. So, I stole the books. I said, ‘OK, I want to learn foreign languages, so I can go to these places.’
Back then, on the Sway & Tech “The Anthem” – I said, “Sway and Tech heard me flow and it’s sealed, now I got Swedish women yelling ‘Tech N9ne vild!’ and it captured people out there. Just that little piece. Then when I went out there, everybody was saying ‘I remember the vild. I remember the vild.’ And, I’m like ‘Yeah, I learned it from QD3, he’s Swedish.’
So, it’s like I learn things, so I can go places. I write rhymes to travel. So, it’s like I’m a natural builder of things. I build ideas that will infect people, because I’m Moorish. I’m a Moor. It’s natural for me to feel like a king, or Godly. I can make something out of nothing, like water and bread, or fish. And, it spreads to thousands of people. Now, I can say, I write this and it will spread to hundreds of thousands of people, or more, these days. That’s Godly, we would like to think, because as men with power, we have God complexes. Like, Eminem has “Rap God.” I feel him. I feel him, because it’s like him, up there, (*Makes a mountain with his hands and motions to the top of it*), you know what I’m sayin’? I feel the God complex. I have one. We have Godly ways, that can touch people. People cry when then see me.
The only reason I don’t think I’m worth the tears that girls cry is because I’m a fuck-up. I’m a clusterfuck.
TSS: It’s all relative.
Tech N9ne: Yeah. But, they’re alike, I guess. They’re like, ‘You’ve got me through so much.’ It feels weird to me. Because, there’s a psycho dude in me that feels like I’m normal. But, my thought process is abnormal. I’m a builder, man. I build things and they spread. When I say “Why you wanna’ try and take my bill ticket, I mean real wicked, I been real livid, I been filled with it, I mean vexed”…I said “try and take my bill ticket.” So, when I say I’m going to create Caribou Lou, we’re going to fight these motherfuckers and we’re going to win. When we put it out, it’s going to take us from millionaires to billionaires. When I put out KC Tea, and everything. There’s so many things I want to build. There’s many ideas, man. So many ideas, to build. And, it feels amazing.
Something Else just came out. Almost three months ago. Still fresh. We’re still on like, our second single. We still have to shoot a video for the single that’s playing right now, “See Me,” with Wiz Khalifa and B.o.B. OK. Then, after that, we have to shoot “Fragile” with Kendall Morgan and Kendrick Lamar and ¡Mayday!. Then, we have to shoot “Believe.” Then, we might have to shoot the one with Trae The Truth and Red Cafe, “With The BS.”
Now, November 5th, Therapy is coming out. As soon as Something Else came out, this Ross Robinson project was right there. ‘These are the days you can do it. Two weeks in LA. Are you cool? I know you just had an album ’ ‘Yes. Come on. This is me on Venice Beach, it’s going to be totally different. And, it is. Building ideas. It’s done already, man. (*Points to back of the bus*) I was listening to the master of it back there. I was like, ‘Wow!’ Just building, man. As it comes. Keep building. Because, if you keep building, something astronomical is going to appear right in front of you.
TSS: That’s impressive. I don’t know many people who can give themselves that type of positive reinforcement. Most people depend on others. You build your own and that’s a unique quality.
Tech N9ne: Yeah, man. But, a builder, like me? To have someone like Travis O’Guin come with capital and say ‘Let’s build these ideas together’? That’s divine (Laughs).
TSS: Right. You can’t put a finger on that shit.