Veteran rapper Tech N9ne might not be planning to keep on performing and touring for a lot longer, but that doesn’t mean that he intends to disappear from the world of hip hop or that he’s putting his career on the shelf.
And it definitely doesn’t mean that he’s turning out the lights on his own music in the immediate future.
“I want to show fans that I’m still hungry and that we’re still trying to build Strange Music,” he said of his record label to Beatstars back in June. “I’m not complacent, I’m not content with this level of success. Even though we’ve reached a higher height, you know what I’m sayin’? Forbes list, keep hittin’ it, we’re going higher. We want to go higher in the next four years, because in four years, woof.”
Woof? Does that mean Tech N9ne is leaving the hip-hop stage in just a handful of years? Not exactly.
“I got a label. I got 14 artists, or more now. It’s work I gotta do,” he said.
There’s no question that he’s been working for a long time. He started getting serious about his music in his hometown of Kansas City way back at the beginning of the ’90s. He was known as Aaron Yates back then, before a fellow rapper compared his rapid-fire rhymes to the sound of a semi-automatic handgun and gave him his professional name. He got some big breaks when he was featured on the soundtrack of the film Gang Related and on the all-star hit “The Anthem” by Sway & King Tech.
It was at the end of the decade, though, that he set his sights on being a true hip-hop entrepreneur, thereby setting the path for the work he’ll be doing when he stops being an active rapper himself.
In 1999, Tech N9ne and business partner Travis O’Guin founded the hip-hop record label Strange Music. The venture drew upon O’Guin’s business skills and Tech N9ne’s reputation in the industry as its backbone, but maybe more importantly, it provided focus for Tech N9ne, who had so far been dividing his energies between several different label deals.
Early on, Tech N9ne aimed at being provocative, but he sometimes sparked controversy unintentionally. That was the case when his 2001 horrorcore album Anghellic raised some eyebrows among his more religious fans with its title and content. The problem was, the complainers were missing the point.
“Before there was an album, that was me explaining how I am — I’m an angel in hell — my own hell at that,” he clarified in 2008, showing that he was still trying to shake the controversy the better part of a decade later. “I’ve always believed there is a God, and I hope for a Higher Power.”
Another decade on, and Tech N9ne is still grappling with the issue, but now he’s sincerely trying to figure out how the world has changed around him.
He recently reached out to fans to ask why rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who is using imagery that Tech N9ne thinks is just as provocative, isn’t being subjected to the same kind of criticism he was when Anghellic came out.
“How is he not shunned by the black folks that turned their back on me in 2001 due to my imagery being satanic in their eyes?” Tech N9ne asked on Instagram. “Not that I want this young brotha to be shunned, I just wanna understand...Help me out y’all! I ask with love in my heart and never hate!”
Maybe it’s questions like that that are making Tech N9ne think about retirement. In four years, he’ll be 50 years old, and that might be the time to let Strange Music’s stable of young rappers do the performing for him. It might also be time to turn his attention to other opportunities, such as building up Bou Lou, the beer brand he launched in partnership with Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Company.
But in the meantime, that’s all speculation. The show on November 27 at the Clyde Theatre is part of the Independent Grind Tour, a series of shows that kicked off in October in Kansas City (of course) and wraps up at the beginning of December in Sioux City. Tech N9ne himself is the tour headliner, but he’s bringing along Futuristic, Dizzy Wright, and Strange Music artist Krizz Kaliko, as well. He’ll be bringing plenty of Bou Lou, too.
The tour is a tidy encapsulation of Tech N9ne’s past (expect to hear plenty of tracks from the entirety of his career), present, and future. He’s got plans, and he’s got history, but he’s also got a drive to stay behind the mic for now. He’s still working hard, and he doesn’t want any confusion about why he’s not willing to slow down just yet.
“The fans,” he says. “If they weren’t here, I wouldn’t have nobody to show off for.”
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July 27 • The Clyde