Interview by Black Dog Bone
What amazes me about Tech N9ne is his fans. The fans are so dedicated, it’s phenomenal.
Honestly, everything we do is for those fans. That’s what we do, we keep the fans in mind every step of the way. I think that they’re giving back to us what we try to give to them. I say this all the time: for me it’s all about the music and the fans. Music, fans. Music, fans. Music, fans. That’s all we really give a shit about. It’s about that. Because, being an independent label, we don’t have the big machine that allows us to go out to radio and force feed it to all the people over the airways. So we have to create music that we believe people are gonna love. And you know what? It’s working, man! I think the fans are really connecting with Tech and with many of the other artists on Strange because they’re getting their money’s worth when they go out to buy a CD. Or they get their money’s worth when they come to a show. A lotta these kids, they’re living vicariously through Tech or through Krizz Kaliko or through Brotha Lynch Hung or through any of the artists. We’re doing real music with real stories about real problems and real triumphs and all of that, and the fans appreciate that. That’s why there’s over 5 thousand kids out there right now with Tech N9ne and Strange Music tattoos all over their bodies.
The fact that Tech N9ne never got signed to a major is the key to your success. You and Tech built this powerful movement with Strange Music. You had to make different plans because you didn’t have the mainstream outlets, the radio or TV or mainstream press. And I think you are the biggest thing in music right now.
We took the long way. When Tech and I first got together our idea was we were going to go out and sell 50 to 100 thousand records, and then we were going to go out and get the big deal. We were going to get the Cash Money deal or the No Limit deal. During the course of doing that, when we started this in 1999, that’s when the business really started taking a downward turn and started spiraling out of control in a negative way. The music business has been declining since 2000 all the way up until this last year. When we started the process that was our goal. A few years into it we kinda came up for air and looked around and realized we’d sold a half a million records. Then we had to take inventory and ask ourselves: are the major labels worth it to us? To take a gamble with somebody and maybe get shelved. Or to do a deal with somebody and they try to change who Tech N9ne is. Or do a deal with somebody and have them fuck it up for all the fans, all the core base that we had. So Tech and I made a conscious decision to stay on course and do what we were doing. And then in 2006 we went and got our deal direct with Fontana and Universal, ever since then there’s been no reason to look back and absolutely no regrets. Tech N9ne has a career. A lot of these artists, they have a hot song. We got a hot career. And we owe it all to the fans. It’s all about the fans. And I think that they appreciate the fact that we stayed true to what we were doing. That’s why they support us so die hard, because they know that this was hard as hell to do. We bucked the system, we said fuck the industry, we did it our own way, and we continue to do it our way today. Everything that I do every day is based on independent music and independent success and independent grind. From touring to merchandising to the music itself, it’s all done independently. There’s no major label behind us pushin all the buttons or making us dilute our music and turn it into some bubblegum bullshit.
All of the successful Rap labels like Def Jam or Priority were following certain models, but Strange Music seems to have a whole different plan. I’ve never seen another label do it like you do.
We do do it a lot different from others. The reason I wanted to do this was because everybody else were running into a lot of roadblocks or compromising themselves. Doing things in a way that I wasn’t comfortable with. The music business is a really easy business to pretend that you’re in. I meet people all day long—and I love for people to have dreams—but sometimes it takes more than a business card and a logo and a cell phone to claim that you’re an impendent label. Let’s put some real effort into this. The foundation of all of this is about business. We operate as a business. We said, “Let’s figure out how we can turn the music that we love into an actual profitable business that doesn’t have to rely on investors and massive dept in order to succeed.” When we started touring, we wanted to build a fan base and we wanted to develop a way for us to bring in revenue so we could continue to do what we love, that’s to record more music and put it out there. We did that and we did T-shirts and jerseys. Now there’s like 480 different items on our online store alone. That’s because we created a lifestyle, Black Dog. That’s what this shit is. Strange Music is a lifestyle. People love it, they tattoo themselves with it, they live it. You’re having really fucked up day, pop in a Tech N9ne album, pop in a Krizz Kaliko album, pop in ¡Mayday!’s album. That’s what this is. It’s a lifestyle and people really love it. Do you remember the Grateful Dead and the Deadhead fans? You remember Kiss and the Kiss Army? I’m talking about a real devoted fan base. Tech called them Technicians and it really stuck. But this is a lifestyle. It’s a model that didn’t exist before in the music business. And it fucking works! It works really good.
What you’ve done is create a whole culture, a whole world of Tech N9ne and Strange Music, independent from everything else. That’s something really hard to do.
It took us time. This is our 12th year.
It seems like you started yesterday, but it’s been 12 years.
And it’s getting to the point now where it’s so enjoyable. I know you haven’t come out to our headquarters in Kansas City, but I would love for you to come out and see what this thing has turned into. You’d get such a kick out of it. What me and Tech do is we reinvest all the money that we’re making. Literally the majority of what we’re making we invest right back into the company in an attempt to build it bigger and better. At 4:30 today I’ve gotta go and look at another new building because we’re putting in a massive studio with 4 separate music studios, a full kitchen, a workout facility. We’ve cut out all the middlemen, Black Dog. When it comes to screen printing and merchandising we cut everybody out. We do it all ourselves. When it comes to touring, we cut out all the companies that rent the trucks and trailers to you. We bought all that stuff and did it ourselves.
It’s exciting to hear what you’re doing, how you have done it and built this powerhouse label. You can still do it with music.
You can still do it, and we did all of this when the rest of the business is crashing and burning! I read an article about Warner Brothers—no offense to anybody over there—but I was reading about how they’re 1.3 billion dollars in debt. And EMI was a billion-something in debt too. However, these two companies at one point were trying to merge with each other. How the fuck does that work? How do you have two companies that are over a billion dollars in debt a piece merge, so they can be one big fucked up company? You know? If I write a check and I don’t have money in the bank, the check would bounce. So we don’t spend money outside of our means. We try to do things very intelligently. We wanna make sure that we’re profitable, because we wanna stay in this business and create more music that people are gonna absolutely love. When the business was really failing we found a way to make it work. Can you imagine what’s gonna happen if the music industry starts to correct itself? If it starts to become immensely profitable again, where do you think we’re gonna sit? We’re gonna be right there on top of it all.
Lately I’ve seen an upswing in the music industry. I can see that it’s starting to happen again. There’s a lot of new energy and movement out there. Do you see that?
I do, man. Last year, if you look at the Nilsson reports and Soundscan and total revenues, the music business for the first time in 11 years was profitable again. Now you see increases instead of decreases. Let me not say profitable so loosely. A lotta companies are still failing miserably. However there was still an increase in overall music sales last year. That felt great. That kind of resurrected a lotta people and a lot of thinking. It’s been nothing but doom and gloom from 2000 until last year. Everything you read in Billboard and all these other magazines was telling you how bad it was and how it continues to deteriorate and “the end of the record business” and all of that shit. I would glance at that stuff, but I don’t need that negative vision. I don’t want doom and gloom, so I just shoved those magazines to the side and went back to work and found a way to make ourselves successful.
The way you developed the tours and built up your fan base is amazing. Most artists have a hit record and the fans come, then they just move on to the next artist who has a hit. But with Strange Music you will have those fans forever. They could be 60 years old and still into Tech N9ne.
I was at a show recently. It was interesting because I was observing all the different fans. I was at the merch booth, sitting in the corner just watching everything going on, and I seen this older gentleman. I could’ve sworn this guy was in his 60’s. I thought maybe he worked at the venue. Then I saw this older lady walk up and join him at the merch booth. Our merch booth is a spectacle, so I figured they were just looking at it, getting a kick out of it. Then I see this gentleman is buying a T-shirt. He bought a T-shirt and a CD. It prompted me to go talk to him. I realized he wasn’t with the venue at all. He was there to see Tech perform. I was amazed. I asked him, “If you don’t mind, how old are you?” He says, “I’m 71 years young.” I’m like, “You’re here to see Tech?” He’s like, “Yeah, this is my second time, and this time I brought my wife.” I’m like wow, “How did you get into Tech?” And he said, “My grandson is a huge fan of Tech. You’ll see him. He’s out here runnin around with a red mohawk.” He’s like, “I just get a kick out of it!” I’m like, “How old is your grandson?” He’s like, “You’ll see him around, he’s 12 years old.” Right there I had a 12 year old and a 71 year old Tech N9ne fan. That’s when I realized we have a ton of really young brand new fans that are 14, 15, 16, 17 years old. And then we got people in their 20’s, their 30’s, their 40’s and evidently 70’s coming to see Tech N9ne. That’s crazy! I think what we built really is because of the music, and the fact that they feel that they’re a part of something. People have called it a cult following—whatever, if you wanna call it a cult following that’s fine. They’re very devoted fans and we love them and embrace them for that.
And Tech N9ne came with an image that was totally original, combining Punk and Rap and tribal and weird and primitive. Who else came out rapping with a huge red mohawk?
No one. He’s always been so unique. I think that’s why early in his career all the majors kinda passed up on him, because he was his own person. The beautiful thing about it was he didn’t want to compromise. Tech will often tell you, “I make my music for everybody.” He’s not trying to fit inside a certain group or certain genre. When I met him he did songs over Drum N Bass. He did songs that were over real hard ghetto beats, real Down South club shit. Then he did songs over Rock riffs. He’s all over the place, and that’s what makes him an artist and not just a rapper.
I can see his influence all over now. He opened up the market for all those Punk Rock kids who were into weird Rock, Psychedelic stuff to listen to Rap. So many people who were not listening to Rap are into Rap because of Tech N9ne. At the same time a lot of Black kids who grew up in the hoods are getting more into Punk and Dubstep music and music like Insane Clown Posse. I feel like Tech opened the door for artists like Odd Future and Lil B to happen.
We see it too. Back when Tech did “Anghellic” I think he might’ve lost some of his Black fan base that he had, because they thought he was toying around with religion. He was a little bit left to center of what Black kids wanted to listen to or thought was cool. So they kind of abandoned him for a minute. But then they started coming back when we put out the “Tech N9ne Collabos: Misery Loves Kompany”. That’s when I noticed those fans started to come back. Then “Eveready” helped out. When we got up to “All 6’s and 7’s”, when we put that one out all the Black kids realized that their favorite rapper Lil Wayne wanted to work with Tech N9ne. The fact that Tech was on Wayne’s record and Wayne was on Tech’s, that was one of those turning points. When Lil Wayne said that on that interview with Funkmaster Flex, when he was in prison. Flex asked him, “Who are the rappers you want to work with when you get out,” and one of the first names he mentions was Tech N9ne. That really freaked a lotta people out and they started paying closer attention to Tech N9ne. And then when you heard Tech murder the verse on the Lil Wayne album, on “The Carter 4”, all of a sudden Oh shit! This dude is serious. And here’s another thing: we never sold out. Some of the fans were saying, “What the fuck? Tech N9ne’s gonna work with Lil Wayne?” But Tech said, “Watch this—I’m gonna do the music that I wanna do.” The song that he sent to Lil Wayne is called “Fuck Food”. Most rappers woulda took the opportunity to put together some Pop single that they could go to radio with. Tech said, “No, I’m not about to do that shit. I hear Lil Wayne on this song and I hear T-Pain on it too, and the song is called ‘Fuck Food’.” We put them on the most non-radio-friendly song of all time, and the fans were like, that’s the shit! They knew that we weren’t doing this on a publicity stunt. We were doin it because Tech believed in it and thought that it would sound good.
I feel like for Tech N9ne the most important moment in his career was when he met you, Travis. It’s the balance that you two create that’s so magical, like yin and yang.
It works out so beautifully. Me and Tech don’t get into arguments. Our partnership works so perfectly because I let him do what he wants to do and he lets me do what I do best, which is the business side. He does an incredible job at what he does, and I feel I do an incredible job at what I do, and we both respect each other in those areas. I’m so busy trying to figure out how to build this as a business. And he’s so busy expressing himself exactly how he wants. The two forces work together tremendously. I’ve had other businesses and other partnerships in business, and I’ve never had one that worked so well. I’m so happy that I could help Tech N9ne create something that he always dreamed of.
Right now when I interview other rappers people are saying they just need to find their Travis. Everybody recognizes your importance in this.
That’s very flattering. I appreciate that. There’s a little bit of truth to it. Some of these talented artists, I hope that they are able to hook up with somebody who has equal talent on the business front, who can help navigate this. I’m trying to build the careers of, not only Tech N9ne, but also Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Big Scoob, Stevie Stone, Prozak, ¡Mayday!, Brotha Lynch Hung, this new group we signed CES Cru. We have quite a big list of talent on the label. I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I don’t bite off more than I can chew. I don’t want to be the jack of trades and master of none. I truly want to master what it is we’re doing and I’m very focused on the acts that we have signed. We’ve only signed 12 acts in a total of 12 years. We don’t just sign anything we can sign and throw it against the wall to see if it can stick. I don’t wanna do that.
When I saw the live Strange Music show in San Francisco I became a big fan of every artist at Strange Music. I went back and started listening to all the Strange Music artists after that concert, because you and Tech let them all shine in their own way. Each artist is distinctly different on stage.
They’ve all got an individual flare. We don’t pick up stuff because it sounds like Tech. We look for stuff that we think is really dope, and we try to help those artists make a go at it. I’ve got a lotta respect for Master P and No Limit, but back when I was buying all those CD’s there were times that I couldn’t tell which CD I was listening to. If you bought TRU and then you bought Fiend and Master P, that music all started to sound the same. It’s very important to me that each of our artists are individually recognized. They have to be, from production to lyrics to image. They all have their own lane. ¡Mayday! is going to blow your mind, Black Dog. When you hear all the talent that’s behind ¡Mayday! you’re gonna get a kick out of it. It’s great music. Then when you hear Stevie Stone you’re gonna love that for something totally different. I’m very excited that each of these groups have their own identity and develop their own fan base.
Strange Music started when the music industry was at its lowest point. It’s so inspiring to see what you have done.
Tech N9ne is inspirational when it comes to people that have struggled trying to make something connect. He struggled for a lot of years, even before he and I met. He signed a deal with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in 1993 that never went anywhere. He signed a deal in ’97 with Quest Records and Quincy Jones and them, and it never went anywhere. When I met him in ’99 he was a pretty depressed guy who was really struggling financially. He didn’t know which direction to go. When I sat down with him all I said was, “Forget what all five of your managers want for a minute. What is it that you want to do?” When he told me I loved the idea he had. I told him I could help him get there, “Let’s start this record label. I’ll finance it and we’ll split everything evenly from today until the day it’s over with.” To this day he and I each own 50% and it’s a great partnership—in business and as friends, he’s my brother as well. I think a lotta people take that always from his music too. I got a letter the other day from a 15 year old kid who said that Tech helped prevent him from suicide. He was in a psychiatric ward and everything, and when he was released he started listening to Tech N9ne. He’s turned his life around and he feels that he owes it all to Tech. When he feels down he just pops in a Tech N9ne CD and it makes him feel better. If we’re touching people in that way then that’s way more important than financial success. We’re effecting people’s lives; that’s incredible!
A lot of people tell me that Tech N9ne is the new Tupac. I feel like Tech has taken it beyond Tupac. Tech is taking it all the way to the roots, to African face paint and chanting. His rapping style is so primitive. Also, Tupac never had the independent business in place like Tech does. Tech is pushing it on every level—emotional, creative, and the business level.
I know exactly what you’re saying. He goes through such a wide range of emotions, going back to songs like “Suicide Letters” and then touching on issues like abortion with the song “Real Killer”. Then he graduated to songs like “The Rain” which talks about being away from your loved ones, because you’re trying to provide for your loved ones. Then you go into other songs like “Mama Nem” talkin about your mom and how important she is, and then the wide range of other subjects from the partying to the lowest depression. That’s why people love Tech so much, because they can relate to so much that he talks about. That makes those kids realize that they’re not alone. They know that somebody else has gone through the same shit. It boosts their spirits. We just did our first USO tour where we went over to the Middle East and did a bunch of shows for the troops. To hear the stories of the men and women who are over there, saying that the only thing that gets them through is this music. That’s pretty mind blowing.
That’s why people compare Tech to Tupac, because he touches people emotionally. Tech N9ne is a legend in the making, or he already is a legend.
That’s the way I feel. I look back when I first met him in 1999, and before QD3 made that same comparison between Tech and Tupac. And what I’m seeing now is that Tech is like every other rapper’s favorite rapper. I never knew that Nas was a huge Tech N9ne fan until we met him. I never knew that Rick Ross had so much respect for him—he saluted him. We saw him back stage at a Lil Wayne show, and Rick Ross said to Tech N9ne’s son, “Do you know how important your daddy is to this whole Rap game? To be the son of a legend!”
So many rappers look to Tech N9ne for inspiration. They admire his talent, his creativity, and his success, and his love.
I’m experiencing that. Lil Wayne came to our offices and had a big ass barbecue with us and told us how much respect he had for Tech. Mack Maine was even looking around at our place and saying, “Damn, we need some shit like this.” He was joking, but there was a serious undertone. He was impressed. It was refreshing and really complimentary. And when Snoop came here to visit us he was genuinely tripped out by what we have going on and wanted to do work with us. The list goes on. There’ve been 50 different stars who have come through our offices here in Kansas City and told us how much they dig what we do. It’s a good feeling, Black Dog.
Kansas City, Missouri at first did not open their arms to Tech N9ne. Now, everybody knows Kansas City, Missouri through Tech. There is no denying the fact that Tech N9ne put Kansas on the map, and really the whole Midwest. Now the South is done.
Kansas City is actually a fickle place. We’re out of Kansas City, Missouri but it’s connected to Kansas City, Kansas. Nobody really paid attention to anybody here from anywhere else. Here at home there was a little bit of resistance, and I think a lotta that had to do with some of the early imagery. That’s how a lot of Black people turned away from Tech. He’s got crazy red hair, and he’s rapping about all this weird shit that we ain’t used to. “Anghellic came out with the angel wings that were bloody, and they thought he was a devil worshipper. People were not paying close enough attention. He was talking about some real subjects. If they had paid attention they woulda realized that this dude is deep. So there was that block in getting the home team all the way aboard. Now let’s fast-forward to 2012. This guy can’t go anywhere in the city. Everybody loves him. Everybody. I used to hear the nay-sayers back in the day saying, “Tech is no Kansas City King. The king here is Rich the Factor.” I love Rich to death. I know Rich and he’s a good guy. But the reality is, Kansas City equals Tech N9ne. Now everybody’s endorsing the hell out it. Rich the Factor was just here at the office. We had a real good positive conversation. Everybody loves Tech N9ne here. He’s like what Jay Z is to New York. It’s like Beatlemania when he goes to a mall. If you ever go to a mall with Tech N9ne to get a pair of shoes and you think you’ll get in and out of there in 15 minutes—you’ll be there for 2 hours. It’ll turn into a full on pictures and autograph session. And we love it!
The success of Strange Music will open up a lot of doors for other artists in Kansas City.
I think so too. Other artists are already making noise from Kansas City, and the Midwest as a whole. The spotlight is shining this way now because of the movement. I’m so busy working on it that I forget to step back and look at it all. I’m just happy to be a part of this. When I hear people say, “Strange Music is the number 1 independent Hip Hop label in the world, and Tech N9ne is the number 1 independent Hip Hop artist in the world.” Sometimes that freaks me out. That’s flattering, but still I feel like we’re only 35% of the way there. If everybody thinks that we’re so big now, y’all ain’t seen shit yet! We’re about to get a lot better and a lot bigger in the coming years. We’re nowhere close to where we’re heading.
That’s what I think. People think last year was the big year for Tech N9ne? Tech N9ne and Strange Music haven’t even started yet. You’re going to take it overseas in a big way.
We just got back from Australia. We did Europe and they want us back in Europe. Canada is begging me for a tour. I’ve got 49 offers for shows in Canada already, and I only put out an email one week ago saying that we’re possibly coming to Canada. This tour that I’m doing is 90 shows in 99 days. That’s the most shows in a Hip Hop tour in history. It’s called The Hostile Takeover Tour 2012. People keep sending requests for more shows. At first we were supposed to have every Monday off, but now we’ve got 36 days straight.
Machine Gun Kelly is on that tour with Strange. He’s blowing up big too. That’s going to be a great tour.
And I can remember seeing Machine Gun Kelly at the Tech N9ne shows in Ohio. I don’t remember him having any tattoos back then either. I remember he was a rowdy kid. It’s crazy to see this kid who grew up in Cleveland and he’s definitely a fan of Tech N9ne, stepping up. I think that was really cool when they hooked up and did that BET sypher. His people started talking to me about the idea of doing this together. We put it together and offered him this tour, which happened to be a record setting tour. He’s definitely got some work ahead of him. I don’t think he’s ever been on a tour that’s this rigorous.
His image looks like total Punk Rock, like Black Flag or Sex Pistols. Machine Gun Kelly will attract a very different crowd to the shows.
He’s got a whole different thing going, and I like it. he’s got some skills too. It’s not just a bunch of tattoos and a gimmick, the kid’s got skills. He’s only 21. Imagine what he’s gonna be doing 2 years, 5 years from now. If he can hold onto the steering wheel he’s in for a nice ride.
There are some really raw groups in England like The Horrors that would be great for Tech N9ne to tour with. You should try to hook up with artists like that, it would open up new doors.
I’m looking at doing something like that. I’m looking at Australia, they’ve got this group called Hilltop Hoods that we’re aligning with. We’re looking to going over to Turkey and doing some stuff with GZA. We continue to do stuff in Denmark with some really cool guys over there who are really doing big things over there. We’re trying to align ourselves with people who we think are really hot in those countries and building on it. I just got a call from Treach from Naughty by Nature. They do a ton of touring in Europe. Treach is saying, “Me and Tech need to get together. Let’s do a little ep and drop that in Europe, and let’s go crazy. Our fans in Europe, they love us to death. We’re doing arenas and stadiums. Come on, let’s go!”
Isn’t it amazing to have people like Naughty by Nature calling you?
Sometimes it’s surreal. Having Snoop calling me, having Treach calling me, to have Lil Wayne callin me. To have all these different people reaching out, from Bonecrusher to Ceelo—it’s a trip. It’s cool that they’re calling us and willing to be down and be a part of our thing, and us be a part of theirs. I love those phone calls.
What kind of memories do you have of working with Tech over the years?
When I first met Tech he was a little bit depressed. There was always these stories surrounding Tech about the big things he was getting ready to do, but when you hear that so much and they don’t happen you have to wonder what’s really going on. When I brought him to my home office to talk, I was in the clothing business at the time. I’d been successful in the furniture business. I’d been very successful in the clothing business. I just wanted to give him some advise and see if I can help him along. I remember the look on his face when I met him at my house, he opened up to me and I saw a borderline depressed guy, somber, sipping on a Bud Light that I gave him. I realized that this guy was lost. He was stuck. I remember 6 months later when he and I decided to do this thing, I saw him start to open up and to explore and be creative. To see him do the album. “Anghellic” is still my very favorite album. It was my first go at the music business, and I was very involved in every step of that process. There was a lot of pain in getting that album to come together. Some of the producers wanted to be paid a second time; after we got all the rights back from Warner Brothers these producers didn’t want to turn over the files. I went through hell putting that album together. What I remember most was the emotional roller coaster, going through that shit with Tech. The first time that I heard “This Ring”, and having him sit in the seat next to me while listening to it, was just a mind fuck that I still remember to this day. Or the first time that he brought this disc out and played the song “Real Killer”. To find out that this dude had that much depth. To see all the different things that went through his mind. To see the transition from meeting a somber depressed dude and then meeting a dude who was incredibly happy, for no other reason than that other people were going to hear his music on a national level. Seeing someone so happy, not because he thinks he’s gonna become a millionaire or any of that shit, but because people finally get to hear his music in 2001 while he’s wanted them to hear it for years prior to that. That’s one memory of many. Here’s another one. There was a time in which we were on tour in a 15 passenger van with a trailer connected to it. I stayed back in Billings, Montana so I could catch a flight back to Los Angeles to do business. I got a phone call at 8:00 in the morning from my wife who told me about the wreck. They hit ice on the road and they flipped our van 5 times with Tech, Krizz and Kutt inside the van. My wife said, “You need to wake up, and you need to listen closely. The guys were in a wreck.” I was stunned. She said, “They flipped the van. Everybody’s alive.” I’m like, “What?! They’re alive? They flipped it?” She’s like, “Yeah, they flipped it five times.” That’s the way I woke up at a Holiday in Billings, Montana. I remember racing out there to the side of the highway and seeing this destroyed mangled piece of metal and this trailer with merchandise all over the side of the highway, and freaking out. Then I went to the hospital and realized that all of them escaped with just minor injuries. We had this meeting, me and Tech sat down to talk about this at the hospital. I’m like, “Count your blessings. Nothing can stop us, bro. You just rolled the van five fucking times and all of you are still alive and here. There’s a sold out show in Spokane, Washington in 6 hours from now. What do you wanna do?” He looked at me kinda crazy and said, “Are we going to Spokane?” I’m like, “Yeah man. We’re going to Spokane. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to do that show and celebrate life.” He’s like, “OK.” Krizz was fucking paranoid because I had to charter a plane, and the only thing I could get was a little twin propeller plane. He’s like, “We just flipped the van 5 times and now you want me to get into a Buddy Holly plane?” You know what? We went to the show and they did that entire show and celebrated. That’s when I realized that there ain’t shit that could distract us from what we want to do. It made everything else seem so trivial. And I know that there’s not a fucking thing out there that can stop us from doing what we’re going to do.
That’s magical! Which of Tech N9ne’s albums do you think was the darkest album?
I feel like there might be two of them like that. “The King of Darkness” is definitely a dark album. It had a lot of really dark content. But there’s elements in “Anghellic” that made it feel really dark as well. A lot of people say that that was a dark album. And then there were a couple of up’s like “The Lost Scripts” and “Sea Beach” that were very dark as well. That’s when Tech was going through a ton of problems with his mother and everything else. “Anghellic” had some pretty crazy stuff, like tormented.
I thank you for letting us be a part of this and you focusing on us. I get a kick out of it. I’m going to always support what Murder Dog does. You were one of the only people who supported us in the beginning. Out of all the people in the media, Black Dog, you have supported us first and the most out of anybody. I’m not ever gonna forget that. I don’t care how big Tech is or how big Strange Music is, when you call I’m pickin up the phone. That’s all there is to it.
I love everyone at Strange Music and I love Tech. He’s one of a kind, no other like Tech N9ne.
Thank you so much for doing this for us.
What kind of memories do you have from recording each album with Tech N9ne?
Something that we do that I feel is real important is that most of the time when we’re recording albums we’re also recording video. We record the sessions when he’s in the studio doin his thing, and we archive all of that. What I believe is that at some point they’re gonna wanna do a behind the scenes with Tech N9ne, and I wanna have the entire rollercoaster ride of Tech’s career so I can show it to people. When he gets the mainstream exposure that’s coming his way, I wanna be able to tell the story in a way that people can see how much work Tech has really put in.
You’re the only one who can tell the whole story, because you’ve been right there throughout.
It’s such a trip to experience from all the way back from recording in basements. In Icy Rock’s basement, seeing the process there. And going to this studio called West End, when we look back we can’t believe we used to record there. No offense to those guys, I love ‘em to death, but the developments that have happened since then have been so incredible. Now we’re in the process of building our own studios. It’s such an amazing transformation.
So you’re going to move into a new building?
We’re keeping our offices and warehousing here in the building that we have, because it’s a phenomenal place. I should have the deal done on the new building, which is 18 thousand square feet, soon. We’re gonna put 4 different recording studios throughout this building. There’s gonna be two nice big day rooms. And then we’re gonna have the B and C level stuff too. We have our producers in there doin pre-production. There will be a full kitchen as well. There’s also gonna be a workout facility and saunas, wet steam rooms, locker rooms. It will allow the guys to be able to get exercise and eat there.
You’re making a beautiful environment for your artists to work and create in. That’s exciting.
I think so too. I’m really big on comfort and interior spaces, the way things look and the way things feel. We did it to this building from the ground up. That was 3 ½ years ago, so I’m really amped to do it again.
All Strange Music artists have toured so much and it’s been a great success. It’s a key element to your success and becoming the number one independent label. What is your secret for touring?
I think the main thing is we know how to treat people, and we know how to act. That’s the thing. Most of the rappers out there have really fucked it up for a lotta the other rappers that want to do it. When you have an artist book a show and they come in 2 hours late and they’re high or drunk outta their mind. They get on stage, stumble around for 15 or 20 minutes. That leaves a very bad taste in the mouth of the venues and the promoters. Nobody wants to deal with that. That’s what some rappers have done, and so rappers are categorized as people who don’t know how to handle themselves or conduct their business. We had a lot of obstacles. One of the problems is we have a rapper by the name of Tech N9ne. That’s not easy for a lotta White club owners to wrap their head around. They immediately say, “This is some Gangsta Rap. He’s gonna show up, smoke weed on stage, grab his nutts for 20 minutes, and leave.” We had to convince them that this is an actual show. This is a full on performance. There’s choreography. It’s not all track music, this is genuine music being performed. On top of that, what me and Tech made it a practice of doing is: we always show up on time, we load in, we act very professional. All or our crew is in uniforms. We do our jobs. We make sure that everybody goes on stage on time, or slightly before their time. We end the show on time every single night. At the end of the night, Tech and I, for all the seven years that I was out there with him, we’d walk around and personally thank all the people that worked at the venue, from the bartenders to the people sweepin the floors to security. After it was all done and said we would thank everyone for having us there.
They will never forget that.
They never forget it! As a matter of fact, those same people that were skeptical from the beginning are the same people that are always callin us trying to get us to come back right away. People love us and love our crew. Our reputation is stellar. Everybody loves having Tech N9ne come to their venue because they know it’s gonna be professional; they know it’s gonna be on time; they know it’s gonna be successful, there’s gonna be a lot of people there. On top of that, when it comes to marketing and promoting our shows we do a lot of that ourselves to ensure that those shows are successful. Over and above what the promoters do, we add flyers and we add posters and street teams, sometimes even commercials, to make sure more people show up. I want it sold out as many nights as possible, so I don’t mind investing a little bit of money to make sure that it’s successful.
In doing what you’re doing you are changing the image of rappers. You are opening the doors for other rappers to tour and perform in these venues.
We’re trying to create a different mindset with promoters and club owners to forget the bad experiences that you had in the past; doesn’t mean that all rappers are like that. We’ve taken out other rappers and showed them how to do it right. We’ve taken Paul Wall out. I’ve taken Slaughterhouse wit us. I took Murs out with us. E-40 has gone out with us. E-40 has been doin this for a very long time, but he calls me up all the time and says, “Y’all know how to do it. You’re doin it right. I learned so much out there with y’all.” That’s big! For somebody that’s been in it as long as 40 to have respect and feel like he learned by touring with us. I’m tryin to show other Hip Hop artists. Machine Gun Kelly is goin out with us on this tour and I’m gonna try to show him how a professional crew conducts themselves. Not that he’s not professional, but let me give you the blueprint so you know what works for us. I hope that you exercise that. The more rappers out there doing it how we do it, the better for all of us.
What direction are you heading right now with the music? At this point Tech can go more mainstream or he can go more strange. It’s a key point for all of you.
Tech has a really really big idea for this next album. It all has to do with the sound. I can’t give it all up. He has this really unique idea which is going to incorporate sounds that aren’t in traditional music. You could have something as crazy as a rocking chair sound or a piece of metal being ground. It could be something getting chopped up or a lawn mower, for all I know. I don’t know exactly, but he’s gonna take a new approach sonically. I can tell you this: Tech is gonna do what he wants to do. I think it’s important to realize that we haven’t sold out. This is a key phrase around here: we’re not gonna go mainstream; the mainstream is gonna come to us. Tech is not gonna compromise or dumb down his music or do a bunch of mindless club shit because people think that’s what he should do. That’s not what Tech N9ne is about.
In the same way that the mainstream is coming to Tech N9ne, the clubs will come to Tech N9ne. He will bring a new club sound.
And radio too. If radio ever opens the door, they’re gonna have to do it with a song that sounds like Tech N9ne. Not a fuckin song that sounds like everybody else on the radio. I’ve listened to what he’s done. Even the verses he just did last night for Krizz’s album and for Stevie Stone—what I heard blew my mind. I’m a fan myself, first and foremost. I’m a big fan of Tech N9ne. The fact that he’s still getting better just blows my mind. The fact that every time it comes out it’s not the same ol’ redundant shit. It’s actually entertaining, it’s new, it’s different subject matter, and it’s different style. The shit that he did last night for Stevie Stone, it’s called “808 Bending” and it’s some shit that I’ve never heard him do before. It’s really unique and crazy. Here’s what we know, we have to top ourselves every time. Tech feels that way about his albums, and all the other artists, this has been instilled into them. Your next record has to be better than your last record. That’s what we do know. It’s gotta be better than “All 6’s and 7’s”? That’s a tall order to me.
That’s what I like to hear. At this point if Tech and you were to try to go commercial it would be a disaster. He might have some hits, but if he keeps experimenting and creating great music like he’s been doing his name will live forever.
We’re not gonna start doin bubblegum fuckin music. That’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna keep doin us. Tech’s gonna keep doin him. And it’s gonna be a beautiful incredible musical journey. That’s what we care about the most. We’re gonna continue to challenge ourselves and our listeners. The great thing is that our fanbase will continue to support what we do. It keeps growing, regardless of radio or any of that. At the end of the day, I can’t see that it matters if a radio station programmer cares about our records. If they do, great. If they wanna play our records, I know that their listeners will like it. But if they’re too hardheaded or they gotta listen to a consultant that programs their station, and we didn’t put fuckin Lady Gaga on the hook, then hey, sorry! We’re not gonna start conforming to play their bullshit game. We’re gonna do what we do. Tech N9ne is a bigger artist than 60% or what they’re playing on the radio anyway! They’re reaching out to us for help. These radio stations when they have regional shows, their callin me up. They have their superstar lineup who they play 70 times a week on the radio, and they can’t sell any fuckin tickets. So who do they call to bail ‘em out and to try and get some tickets sold to their show? They’re callin Tech N9ne. And the fucking thing is, they don’t even play his record on the radio! You want Tech N9ne on your show and you’re not playing his fuckin record? You’ve never played a Tech N9ne record? How dare you? Why in the fuck do you think it’d be OK to call us up and ask him to play in your show, and you don’t even play the fuckin record? That’s mind-blowing to me. And you know what though? There’s some radio stations out there that support us. Our hometown radio station, KPRS, they’re supporting us. KUUU up in Salt Lake City, they support us. The guys over at Sirius and Shade 45, those dudes are playing the shit out of Tech N9ne’s records. Shout out to those guys. Sway in the morning is playin the records. We love it. It’s not like we don’t want to get played on the radio, but we’re not gonna do your bubblegum shit. If that’s what we gotta do to be played on your radio station, I guess
we’ll never be played.
In all the years I’ve been with Murder Dog I’ve never seen anybody do it the way Strange Music is doing it. I think you should keep doing what you’re doing. That’s what has made Tech N9ne so legendary and why his fans respect him so much.
I do too. We feel the same way.
You don’t need anybody right now. The truth is, they need you.
We’re noticing that. More and more of them are reaching out to us.
It’s good that Tech is focused on pushing the music into new and weirder territories. A lot of rappers can talk all day about their lyrics, but they don’t pay enough attention to the music. The way you’re talking about the next Tech N9ne album, I can’t wait to hear it.
You and me both. Michael “Seven” Summers just sent me a beat that we think will be for the new album. It’s so insane. I can’t even explain it. Let me play you a little of it here on the phone, this is without vocals on it. It’s called “Rock A By”. I just got this beat 7 minutes ago….Tech hasn’t even heard this yet. He just walked into my office. Hang on… Now you got to hear it at the same time Tech got to hear it for the first time.
That drum rhythm reminds me of this music we play in Sri Lanka for rituals called Kavadi. That’s bizarre for real.
That’s a glimpse into what the next album will be onto. That’s some other shit there. Seven has to be one of the top producers in the country right now. He’s in the top five at least. He’s incredible. We feel so happy to be working with him.
I interviewed Seven. We talked for hours. He’s amazing!
I talk to him every day. I manage him as well, plus he’s signing to Strange Music. He’s been our key producer for years, but we’re gonna bring him into the family one million percent. It feels great to do it.