Interview by Black Dog Bone
How did you and Tech N9ne decide to create the new sound for his next album?
When we first started working on the album I sent Tech some beats. Tech told me, “No, no, that’s not it.” I’m like, “What do you want to do then?” Cause they were really weird beats. He said he had an idea. The first idea he had was like the rocking chair idea. He wanted me to record a rocking chair sound and create the pattern off of that. When he said that my mind just started clicking. I’m like, “Ahhh! If you wanna do that, then we could do this on this other song, and this other thing on this other song.”
It opened a door for you. And you’re a genius in the studio. You can get what Tech wants.
Yeah, it all came together once he said that. I knew exactly what we had to do on this album, and I knew what this album could be.
When I listened to your music I thought you were a much older person. When I met you I was so surprised to see this skinny young person!
I’m actually 31, but I’m just little. I’ve been doin this for like 15 years.
So how are you putting these tracks together?
I just record stuff and just work with it. I’ll chop it up in a sampler and EQ it in different ways. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ll have an idea for something and it won’t come out right. And other times it’s like perfect.
I feel like you and Tech are making a major breakthrough. Like a new sound is being born.
Yeah, like when Kanye made “808’s and Heartbreaks”. Everybody started copying that sound after that. I feel like this album could be like that, like changing Hip Hop for the time being.
Not just in Hip Hop, but in music. When I listen to a lot of music out there in any genre, everyone sounds the same.
Everyone is just copying everyone else. It’s like all carbon copies of a particular song. I know what you mean.
And the producers all buy the same software to get their sounds. The feeling is the same. When you create these sounds the atmosphere of that moment will be captured in the sound. It’s going to be very unique.
Yeah. Like the door knocking song we did—the drums are all made out of this knocking on the front door. I told Tech we should call the song “Stress”. So what I did was I got all these stressful noises, like scraping against metal. And every 8 measures it starts building up stronger and stronger. It starts out real quiet and relaxing, and the sounds get harder and harder and louder and louder. It mimics the way you feel when you’re getting stressed out. Building and building almost to the point where you’re about to lose it. I don’t know if Tech’s gonna call it “Stress” or not. He might totally change the concept. But that was the concept in my mind when I was creating the beats.
Hip Hop needs people like you and Tech to make the music sound more authentic. Right now music is so processed.
I hate it. It makes me not wanna do music. It makes me just wanna do weird experimental music that I couldn’t make a living off of. Mainstream music is just horrible to me. There’s absolutely nothing inspirational about it.
I can’t wait to hear some of this music you’re working on. I’m so excited.
I’m excited too. I wanna hear when he gets done doing some of the vocals for this. Some of these beats are like nothing he’s used before. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.
When are you going to start putting the songs together?
Well, Tech’s on the tour right now. It’s the 90 city tour, the longest tour in the history or Rap music. They’re even gonna put it in the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s not the longest, but the most dates in that amount of time. Like 90 dates in 90 days. It’s crazy that Tech’s doing that. When he gets done with that he’ll start recording it. We don’t have a definitive release date on it yet, which is perfect cause we don’t have to rush on anything. It’s a really good year. It’s a challenging year. For everybody at Strange Music. I feel more challenged working on this album than I have in the last 5 or 6 years. I was getting to this point where I felt like I knew exactly what to do with the music. I wasn’t challenged at all. Now this album is pushing me to make the perfect beat. I’ll spend like 3 days on one beat. It’s super challenging.
We’ll read this interview in a few years and you’ll hear this sound all over the place. But it won’t matter if a lot of people do this, because each sound will be authentic. It would be amazing. When you make a beat for Tech does he take it home and listen to it?
I’ll send it to Tech or to Travis, depending on who’s available. I’ll just send one beat at a time. That way I can stay on track. I’ll send one beat and either Travis or Tech will listen to it. In the first play through, Tech tells me yes or no: yes I’m using that one or no, I’m not using that one. He doesn’t take it home and think about it for a few days. He tells me after the first listen. He knows within a minute or two of listening to the beat if it’s the one or not.
When does he write the lyrics? He writes in the studio?
I’m not sure. I think the lyrics just come at different times. I think what’s gonna happen with this particular album is he’s gonna write a lot while he’s on tour. That way when he comes back he’ll be able to start recording. In the past I’ve seen him write in the studio a lot. On “K.O.D.” he wrote a lot of it in the studio.
He listens to the beat and writes to the music?
Yeah, I think he gets the music and starts coming up with the idea for what the song can be about. I think the idea comes before he even starts writing anything.
When you make a beat do you give it a name?
Always. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can’t figure out what to call beats sometimes, so I just look around and the first thing I see I’ll call it that. Like when I was workin on Krizz’ album, one of the beats, my son was watching this cartoon called “Tough Puppy” and I just called the beat “Tough Puppy”. I sent it over. I remember Krizz calling me like, “Dude this is called ‘Tough Puppy’? What do you mean?” It was just the first thing I saw. But I always name them, yeah.
It would be great if you put out an instrumental album of all the music you do for Tech and other Strange Music artists.
Totally! That’s already happening. I started working on it a little bit right before I started workin on Tech’s album, but of course once I started doing this album for Tech I stopped working on everything else. After I’m done with this album with Tech I would really love to do an instrumental project, like 12 tracks.
Are you going to do all new tracks or take tracks you already made and make them more strange?
I’m gonna do all brand new ones. Like the way we’re doing Tech’s album where it’s a brand new sound, I would love to do a brand new sound on an instrumental album and only leave it on that instrumental album. Then if people wanna rap over them, like on J. Dilla’s tracks people wanna jump on ‘em—you’ll only be able to get that particular sound on those 12 tracks. And I would never go back to making beats like that again, only for that one album.
That would be amazing. Also if you were to take tracks that Tech or other artists already rapped on and make them exactly how you envisioned them to be.
I’d like to do that too. At one point I wanted to take a bunch of tracks and reinterpret them with all strings. Like take the drums away on all of them and make it all piano, an orchestral version of all the songs. Like have timpani in place of the drums. I wanted to do that at one point in time.
You have so many weird ideas and you’re working with a creatively driven team of artists. I don’t think people realized what is going on at Strange Music. I don’t think anyone can see it.
I think we need to make a documentary that focuses more on the production side of things. Like show Tech in the studio, show me making the beats. Show me writing the songs. They always do these DVD’s that show the touring and the shows. I think we need to do one on the process of making the songs so people can see the how the music all comes together. We should do that on this particular album. It would be really interesting, the way I’m recording all these sounds. And show Tech writing to them and recording in the studio.
That’s a great idea. I’ve seen those touring videos forever. This would be a very different side of it. I’m a music person, and I would love to see that.
You’re like me. It’s way beyond Hip Hop. This music is vast.
What you are doing over at Strange is phenomenal. When I came to the Strange Music headquarters I was blown away by what I saw. You need to show that to the people, what really is going on here and how big Strange Music is.
I wouldn’t wanna be part of any other scene than this. I wouldn’t wanna work with any label than Strange. We have such a great chemistry.
I love how you said that you wake up at 3 and the morning with an idea and just start making music.
It never stops for me. I can’t be away from a studio for too long. I’ll go crazy, cause I’ll have these ideas and they’ll have to be made right then and there. That’s why I never travel. I have to be near the studio. When an idea comes to me for a track I just have to make it then. That’s the only way.
If you don’t make the track right then will the idea slip away?
Otherwise I’ll just think about it too much. When you think about something you start changing the original idea, the original inspiration. It doesn’t come out the way it was when you first thought about it. You need to make something and not think about it too much. It needs to be exactly the way the first thought was.
You don’t want to allow the mind to shape it too much. It comes to you like a dream. It’s more like a feeling.
Right. And you don’t want to think about what the dream meant or anything. Just use what it is. Write the dream down exactly the way that you first saw it. That’s the way with a beat for me. The second I think of it, it has to be captured that way.
That documentary you were talking about would be incredible. You really need to do that.
Yeah, because people listen to music but they don’t ever think about the actual process. They don’t realize what went into it. I think they will appreciate the music so much more when they see that. That I actually recorded like spoons hitting a glass and then I broke the glass, and actually recorded all this. Like how I went outside and recorded an ambulance going by and captured the distortion and everything. Then I created like a synth sound out of that ambulance passing by. People would be amazed to see what went into the production of it.
What made you the way you are? What made you the musician you are? Where did you grow up?
I’m from Kansas City. When I was really young, like 6 or 7, I was already into break dancing and Hip Hop. It was around that time when the Fat Boys were big, the mid-eighties. My parents took me to see this movie called “Breakin”. After that it was a wrap. I was infatuated with Rap music after that. I’d go to the mall and pick up tapes. I’d often never heard of the group before. I’d get anything that was a Rap tape, take it home and listen to it. Even before that I studied piano. I had a keyboard at home in addition to my piano. I could program it and do drums. Once I started getting into Rap music I would make beats on it. I made my own tapes with covers and everything when I was like 9 years old. My dad would take pictures of me and I’d carbon copy them together. And I’d record my beats from this little keyboard. Then when I got a little older, like 10 or 11, I started buying equipment from the pawnshop. The first real piece of equipment I bought was a drum machine. We had moved to Topeka at the time. It was kind of a bad part of town where all the pawnshops were. I saw a drum machine in one about a block away from my house. I went and bought this drum machine for $249; that was when I was about 12.
You got started so young. It sounds like your parents were very supportive.
Here’s the thing. My parents went through a divorce around the time that I started getting into it. My dad, I think he thought it was like a phase. I loved Fat Boys, I had every tape. Then as I got older, like 10 and 11, I started asking for studio equipment. My dad was the one who had a good job and everything, so he had the money to give me those things. Every Christmas I’d ask for a different piece of equipment. Then he was like, I don’t think this is such a great thing. But it was unstoppable. It was the only thing I wanted. I was so infatuated with making beats. When I got in trouble I didn’t get grounded like most kids. What they did was they grounded me from the studio. I couldn’t go down to the basement and make beats for a week. The worst thing that you could do was restrict me from the studio. Other kids would like sneaking out on the weekend to go see their friends, but I’d be sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep to try and make beats.
That makes sense. I can see how you became Seven after that.
Yeah, but to conclude on that, my mom was real supportive. Then after awhile when I was about 16 I started making money off of it. I was still in high school. That’s about the time I met Tech. But I would sell beats to local rappers in Kansas City when I was 16. My dad was always scared because I’d take my keyboard to some random drug dealer’s house in a really bad part of town in the city to play beats for them. I was young so I didn’t realize how dangerous it was. I was 16, and I’d set up my equipment. You couldn’t pay me to go to any of those places now. But that’s how I did it. After awhile I started making more and more money. I graduated from high school, and I didn’t go to college. I only wanted to do music. I ended up being able to support myself off of it, and I started making a significant amount of money.
Did you have brothers and sisters, and were they into music too?
I have one sister, a younger sisters. There’s nobody else in my family that’s into music. My dad plays guitar, but no one’s seriously into music. Only me. I’ll meet other producers who’ll tell me their dad’s like a famous Jazz musician or their mom’s a singer or something. That makes sense. It always was weird to me how I was drawn to it and able to make it happen with nobody in my family being into music.
Maybe that’s why you came with your own new sound, because you didn’t have any roots or background to base your sound on. You’re a whole new seed that sprouted into a tree called Seven.
Yeah. I never thought it of that way. That’s probably true.
Did you ever want to do vocals?
I’m gonna tell you this, and I never tell anybody this. The way that I actually really got into doing this is cause I used to rap. When I was a kid when I used to make my own tapes I used to rap. One of the reasons I was really driven to make beats was I used to go and get maxi cassette singles cause they had the instrumentals on them. I’d get any maxi single I could find because they had the instrumental tracks that I could rap over. After a while I couldn’t find enough so I decided to figure out how to make my own tracks. Back in 1988 when I made my first tape, I was 7 years old and I rapped. I kept rapping until like 1999. I had a different rap name, and I won’t tell you the rap name. If you want to find out you’ll have to do your research. But I did rap for a really long time.
But you eventually stopped rapping and went into production only.
I used to make beats for other people and sell them and make beats for myself also. As I got older I found that when I had to sit down and write a song that was the unfun part. I loved making the beats, but I hated writing the lyrics. Then when I started working with Tech I knew that I had to put everything into one thing. I used to do everything—do my own graphics, my own videos, the songs, do the beats. So I decide to just focus on one. It’s fine to be good at a bunch of things, but you need to master on thing. So I started just doing the beats, cause that’s what I really enjoyed the most.
I know you said you like films a lot. Were you ever into other types of art?
I was really into comics and like video games. The group of friends that I hung out with when I was a kid didn’t know anything about Rap music. They just wanted to watch “Back to the Future” and try to make time machines, watch Ninja Turtles and that kinda stuff. When I was there watching Ninja Turtles I was also listening to NWA and Public Enemy. Aside of that I was really into Sci-fi and comic books and stuff.
When did you get into watching independent films?
Later, like when I was in high school. I had a friend who was a graphic designer, kind of an obscure guy. He’d always tell me about these weird films. That was when I was still rapping, but he ended up influencing me more in music production than in rapping. That was sort of around the time when I stopped rapping anyways. If you go back to “Ever Ready” there was a bonus track called “Sleeping Beauty”. This was like a bonus track that they gave, it was a digital download. When I made that beat I based the entire beat off of film I’d seen. There was a David Lynch film called “Mulholland Drive” and there were really weird sounds in that movie. I made that beat off of that soundtrack. A lot of ideas stem from the weird movies that I’ve watched. That beat sounds like a lo-fi weird movie soundtrack. You have to listen to it.
What inspires you when you see these films? Is it the atmosphere of the film or the story or the soundtrack?
All of it. I love listening to the soundtrack of independent movies, ever if they’re instrumentals. They’re so creative and have so much emotion and atmosphere. In mainstream movies they’ll made a scene and look for some music that matches the feeling of the scene. It’s kind of bland. But in a lot of independent films they’ll do something weird like use a music that contrasts with the feeling of the scene. It’s kind of like when you mix colors together and get a new color that you’ve never really seen before. It makes an unusual new color. That’s what I do with my beats. I’ll do something unpredictable. I’ll mix up a whole bunch of different colors that you wouldn’t expect to be together—if that makes sense.
That’s a good example. In a commercial film when they come across something strange or unfamiliar they’ll edit it out. But in an independent film when they get something strange they might go more in that direction.
Exactly. What’s good about independent films is there’s no rules. There’s no like, “We have to do it this way because that’s how it’s supposed to be done.” I don’t think there should be limitations on creativity.
I feel like you’re Tech N9ne’s other half. You think alike. You and Travis and Tech are an amazing team. I mean everyone at Strange Music.
When I was a kid in Kansas City I was like, “If I could work with anybody, if I could ever produce anyone, that’s who I’d want to produce—Tech N9ne.” Some people are like, “If I could just work with Lil Wayne” or “ I wish I could work with Jay Z.” That’s how I felt about Tech N9ne. It was the only goal that I set in my life. I had to achieve that. That was 15 years ago and now I can’t believe where I’m at. I’m Tech’s main producer. I felt like, “I understand Tech. I understand how his mind works.” This was way before “Anghellic”, before ever working with him. Tech was a local rapper in Kansas City. That was the person I wanted to produce, because I understood him.
What you were saying about impendent films versus major films, it’s the same in music. The major labels don’t let you be creative or unpredictable. But with an independent label like Strange Music you can do what you want and be creative.
It took Tech so long to get to this point. The place where he’s at most people can achieve that if they have a hit single. The beauty of Strange Music is even if it took us 10 years to get here, now we can do anything that we wanna do and we have the same amount of fans as an artist on a major label. It took a really long time, but we don’t have any limitations. We can literally make anything we want and nobody is going to try to stop us. We do whatever we want.
I don’t think a lot of people realize that Tech has this amazing team behind him.
A lot of people don’t know. And personally I kind of like keeping a low profile. Like you said, when you saw me you were surprised. I like that mystery. I can stand in the middle of everything and people have no idea that I have anything to do with music, especially that I produce for Tech N9ne. And I like that.
As an artist you’re in a great place. You have all these innovative ideas and they’re letting you do it, whatever it is.
I’m so thankful that I hooked up with Strange. There was a time like 3 or 4 years ago when I wanted my career to grow a little more. I wanted to work with other big artists and have a hit single. I went through a year when I felt like I wanted to branch out. Then for whatever reason I was pulled back to this. I decided to take this energy that I had to take myself further and put it into Strange, make Strange get further as a whole. I’m so glad that I did that. I’m glad that I stuck with this. I’d hate to be one of those producers working with major labels where they’re telling you you have to make a single. Make a song like this, like that Chris Brown song or like that Big Sean single that they just put out. I hate that. There’s nothing I hate more than those major label A & R’s that think you have to make something like the hit single that came out last week. Make your own shit!
That made the music so powerful, when you put everything you had into Strange. I see that in Strange Music, the artists there are not just thinking about their own success, they’re thinking about Strange.
Right. Everybody at Strange is very supportive of each other and the whole label. I’m really proud to be a part of this.
When you look back over the years you probably have seen many changes and turning points in Tech N9ne’s music.
So many artists, their careers only span like 3 or 4 years. Tech’s career is like 20 years in now. I was so much involved with Tech from back in the nineties. I’ve watched him grow as a person. Now people ask, “How come he doesn’t do albums like ‘Anghellic’ or ‘Absolute Power’?” I get mad because the thing is that Tech isn’t that same person anymore. He really makes albums based off of who he is at that time. A lot of songs he’s making now are so much more mature than his earlier stuff. All the songs on “All 6’s and 7’s” are so much more mature than “Absolute Power.” When you compare the two they’re so different because Tech was a different person then. Now he can talk about certain things because he has more experience. “Everready” would be an album that I feel like he grew up the most. When I listen to “Everready” what I hear is the growth. It’s an album that sort of bridges together the younger Tech to the mature Tech. Of all Tech’s albums I feel the two most important were “Anghellic” and “Everready”. On “Anghellic” I feel like Tech was born. Even though he had many albums before that, he never go to do an album the way he truly wanted to until then. Before that none of the albums he did were 100% Tech N9ne. “Absolute Power” was the second album that he put out on a national level, and people were receptive too it. It was 90% a party album, because that’s what he was going through a the time. And “Everready” was the growth album. “Killer” was in my opinion the album where he was trying to cross over a little. He wanted to have more success. After “Killer” he turned around, “I want to be 100% true to myself.” He was sort of like reborn after that and then did “K.O.D.” “K.O.D.” is like a mature “Anghellic”. It’s Tech, but him as an adult dealing with like the darker side of life. And I feel like “All 6’s and 7’s” was like “Everready” being reborn again. I think the album that we’re working on right now is the mature “Everready”.
You feel like there’s a pattern, like this album is connected to “Everready”?
That’s the way I see it. Now we’re back on the mature “Everready”. The other thing too was “Everready” was an album that took 4 years to make. We didn’t rush it at all; there were no deadlines; everybody took their time. That’s exactly what we’re doing now on this album.
I can’t believe you worked on that album for four years.
One of the reasons was that Tech was touring for the first time, doing a really big major tour. He was figuring out how to balance things out. But if you listen to “Everready” you can tell the time he put into it. Those songs are very well crafted.
It’s great that you’re putting so much energy into the albums too. That’s a really important element in the music, you’re thought and care.
It’s what I love to do. When Tech gives me the word, “Let’s start working on the new album,” I just take off. It feels so good. I get into full creative mode.
With this album it sounds like you’re pushing it way out there, creating a new sound that no one has done in the Rap world. Were there other albums that you felt this way?
Every time I do a Tech N9ne album I recreate my production process. It’s weird. What happens is I have a certain way that I do things, a certain template that I use to make the beats. There are certain keyboards and certain sounds that I use. Every time that I start on a new Tech N9ne album I recreate the process. I start with new drum sounds. Everything is totally different. That’s basically my new template I use for producing until I make another Tech N9ne album. Everybody that I produce in between I use that same process that I created on that Tech N9ne album. Every time I’m trying to do something new. It’s my way of keeping things fresh. I don’t want to be one of those producers whose sound was hot for a period of time, but then it gets dated. I don’t’ want that to ever happen. I want to always recreate myself.
All the great artists and bands that live on and on, they kept changing. The fans often get disappointed because they’re looking for that last album, but you have to keep moving forward.
I know what you mean. One of my favorite Hip Hop artists is Andre 3000. Outkast is like my favorite group. They’ve always done what they wanted to do and they don’t try to make singles. And when you listen to all of their albums each one is so different from the others. It’s like every album is their debut album. I always tell Tech that, “This album needs to be the debut album. Even if it’s the seventh album or the eighth album we need to treat it like the debut album.” That means we have to forget everything we’ve ever done and start from the ground up and make something that’s never been done before.
That’s amazing. I never hear anybody say what you’re saying. So many artists do their best work in the first two albums. After that it all sounds the same.
That’s because they get scared. They’re scared that they won’t have the same amount of success. Maybe they had a lot of singles on that first album and they’re worried they won’t get that again. The great thing about Strange Music is we’re not worried about singles. We never worried about having great success. We don’t worry about hits. Fuck hits! Let’s just make some amazing music. If people take to it and it becomes a hit then great, but we’re not gonna try to make a hit.
You’re making albums, not hit singles. It’s like the whole album is a hit; you make it so good.
That’s the approach. We make albums as opposed to labels that make songs. They’ll make an album because they got a hit song. That’s not an album to me. An album needs to be like an experience. Like when you pick up a new CD, you haven’t heard any of the songs yet, you look through the artwork while listening to the album and get the whole vision of it. I miss those days so much. When the artwork meant something because you envision something with the music. That’s the feeling we want to capture. I remember the days when I’d call the stores waiting for an album to come out, “When are you going to get this album?” I’d’ be so excited to get that CD and see the artwork, and I’d never heard any of the songs at all. It was like watching a film for the first time. Now the album has always been leaked before it comes out, and nobody cares about the artwork. It’s not an experience. Kids now, like my son is 8 and he’ll never know that feeling of going to buy a CD and experiencing an album for the first time the way you experience a movie. Strange still does that in a way because a lot of Strange fans, they buy the albums. A lotta people buy the VIP package that comes with the poster and the CD. We have the kinda fans that buy CD’s.
When I was at Strange Music headquarters I saw them packing all of those VIP packages. People want the CD’s, the hats, the t-shirts. They want everything.
They want the experience. That’s what I mean.
When you go see a good movie they take you into a whole new world. You forget about everything else. That’s what you do with the music as well.
That’s what I love. You get totally engulfed in it. You could watch a scene in a movie, it’s totally fictional but it has you crying or laughing or happy. It’s a genuine feeling. You know it’s fictional, but you’re so wrapped up in the experience. That’s what I think music should be like. You should be connected to the experience in a way that it inspires genuine emotions in you.
When you see a movie you like you want to dress like the character in the movie, walk like him, eat the food he’s eating. I feel like that’s what you’re creating with Strange Music. When people hear an album from Strange they want to become that, go into that world.
That’s why when you go to a Strange Music concert you see so many people with their face painted and dressed like Tech. They’re living the experience, they’re emotionally connected to it. There’s not too many artists where you go to their concert and feel emotionally connected to it. There used to be, but now it’s not the same. I feel like Tech’s fans listen to his songs and they cry. Or they listen and they’re happy, depending on the emotion he’s trying to convey.
I’m so excited to hear this new album. I just can’t imagine where you’re going to take it.
I can’t either. We’re just getting into it. There’s no telling where it’s gonna go.