Tech N9ne invades Bakersfield
When Tech N9ne, one of the most successful independent rappers today, hits the stage he transforms. Dressed in ghostly face makeup and a mental patient outfit, he raps his songs in a hard technical style that along with songs like “Am I a Psycho?” and “He’s a Mental Giant” explore the darker more aggressive side of the human mind.
Yet when talking to him just a few hours before a show, he is dressed in ordinary matching black shirt and pants. He talked about the power of music and family, of how misconceptions can be overcome, and what his fans mean to him. It is a stark contrast to the man he becomes onstage.
Tech N9ne sees music and hip-hop as a way of providing, of changing people’s lives. When asked what his fans gave him, he said, “It saved my life. I was nothing. They’re the reason I can take care of my families and do what I do within this music.
“It always hits me when my kids are having their birthday parties and they’re so happy. Without the love of my fans, I wouldn’t be able to provide for my children. That’s my one and only thing in life that I ever wanted to do was to provide for my children.”
Tech started an independent record label called Strange Music with Travis O’Guin, a fan. When asked about signing other artists, he talked of how music provided for them and the feeling of seeing them grow and being a part of their journey.
He said, “Being able to sign people like Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, it is a beautiful feeling to use what I do to put into other artists. I feel like somebody that can bless another person, that’s a big thing to able to see families prosper because you offered yourself. It’s a beautiful feeling for me and Travis to have that power to change people’s lives through our vision and their vision as well.”
Recently, Tech has started to notice something special about the audience while he performs. He said, “I’ve really been paying attention to everybody smiling in the crowd. You know I never really paid attention before because it’s so hard to remember all those lyrics.
“It makes me smile on the inside because they are really enjoying what I’m doing. Everybody’s smiling right now, from people at the front row to people all the way at the top. I can see teeth. That’s a wonderful feeling.”
Despite being named after a gun, Tech N9ne’s subjects go beyond violence and guns. “Tech N9ne is a name I got from a gangster back in 1988, and of course it’s a gangster name, but the way we spell it is different. Technique number nine, the complete technique of rhyme, I’m every MC in one. It straight fits me,” Tech said.
“Just because my name is a gun don’t mean that’s what I talk about. If you know my music, you know I’m not quoting calibers and shit like that.
“I just write my life, and guns are not my life. It was drugs at a point in time. I’ve been clean for more than four years now. It’s sad and it’s all the time because I have a sick mom. It’s party all the time because I’m trying to muffle the sadness. It’s ultra-dark at moments because I have an imagination.”
Fans of Tech’s music call themselves Technicians. Tech explains, “Technicians, ones that love the technical style that Tech N9ne spills. Technicians, they love wordplay. They love what I spit. What I spit is super technical. It’s intricate.”
Tech’s music and imagery has a startling uniqueness that brings to mind themes of religion and mental illness.
These images are inspired by a contradiction, a divided self he feels inside.
“It’s a total conflict in my body. I’ve always been that way,” he said. “From the beginning, I’ve been saying I’m Anghellic, an angel within hell. It’s why I paint half of my face. It’s always been good and evil.
“You’re going to find things that contradict, things like my talking to the lord, then over here I’m like ‘oh my god I’m lustful. That’s a sin.’ That’s the beauty of me, because I’m imperfect.
“Man is imperfect. So I don’t care if it’s a conflict within in me. I love that it’s a conflict. It makes for beautiful music.”
Starting his career in Kansas City, Tech found it hard to get people to understand his take on rap music and hip-hop.
“It was hard for a brother, a black guy, painting his face coming out in a Bishop’s robe. Nobody got it. It was totally hard.”
But Tech still treasures his beginnings.
“That’s why it makes [it] now all the better, all the obstacles I had in the past. Getting known in Kansas City felt beautiful because it starts out at home. It started at home way back in the day; the people that caught on were the first Technicians. It was a beautiful thing to see people gravitate toward me.”
Tech’s unique imagery has been labeled “from the devil” and he has been called a cult leader, even to the point of being compared to people like Jim Jones. A comparison Tech calls a “major insult.”
He said, on these labels, “What people don’t understand, they try to destroy. Then they can’t control it either. So they try to tear it down. They threw at me, ‘Oh that’s devil worship shit. That’s white people shit.’ That doesn’t matter cause real shit will always shine, and that’s what happening right now. I think that a lot of people really eat their words now.
“I just think that they are called fans, not fanatics, but fans. It’s a lot of love and I love it.
“And it’s not devilish and it’s not a cult. If they want to call it a cult then so be it. It’s a following of people that love me.”
( This edition of The Renegade Rip Podcast has the entire interview with Tech N9ne. Click here to hear it.)