Tech N9ne has spent his career bridging gaps between different genres in hip-hop. "I'm trying to show people that it's about good music and togetherness, not about separation and genres," he says. Tech called us from the road yesterday before his big show tonight at Myth to talk about his new album, Special Effects, and what defines him as an artist.
Special Effects is Tech's 15th studio album, the 13th to be released on his own label, Strange Music. When he first came up with the title it was in reference to playing with and manipulating the music. The original intent was to mess with lyrics, add a slew of effects, experiment, play around and "still kill everything," Tech says.
But last June 6th, in the midst of working on the album, Tech's mother passed away. Around the same time, it was revealed on Forbes that he was worth millions, and the revelation caused some drama between him and some family members. With things heating up in Tech's personal life, the album took a more intimate turn.
"I'm glad it did," he insists. "That's how I built this Strange Music thing, writing my life." On Special Effects, we find Tech opening up both lyrically and musically. He's never been afraid to try new things, but there was a certain emotional momentum behind creating this album that's led to some great moments.
Three songs into the album you'll find the track "Lacrimosa," which he wrote in dedication to his mother. "Lacrimosa" is sonically unique, combining trap music with church music. During certain moments, you could be sitting in a pew listening to the full force of the choir.
The album features 24 tracks, including collaborations with Slipknot's Corey Taylor and rappers like 2 Chainz, Lil' Wayne, Eminem and T.I., with whom he released the music video for "On the Bible," just a few days ago. These 24 songs show an artist who's reached a certain level of comfort in just being weird and inventive, while also imbuing the tracks with a deeper meaning.
"The very first song I released off the album was "Aw Yeah(InterVENTion)" and it's a song about everything that was going on at the time with Benghazi, and Syria and Nigeria and everything, and Ferguson," he recalls. "It's talking about everything that's happening in the world that's bad, and I'm talking to God like, 'Really? Aw yeah? Everybody's supposed to die like this?' No, this could not be the way," he says.
We wanted to talk a bit about Tech's involvement with Juggalo culture and the relevance of his mask, which varies from show to show and is painted on before appearances. He shares with us that growing up in Kansas City he was plagued by a terror of clowns because of an urban legend that was circulating the streets. "When I was a little boy there was a myth in the Kansas City streets that there was a killer clown that drove a yellow van and kidnapped kids from after school, and we were terrified," he says.
"As I got older, and such a killer lyrically, I named myself the killer clown," he says. Back in '94, his best friend Brian Dennis painted Tech's face for the first time before he went on stage to be a hype man for another act. "Everybody screamed," he says. "And I was dancing and pop-locking and saying my little words." He found comfort behind the mask, becoming the thing that he was most afraid of.
"I'm really a shy guy so the mask makes a way for me to bring what I have inside that I wouldn't really bring in natural form," he says. "When I put that mask on, baby, I feel like a superhero." He becomes more vulgar at times, more forceful. Yet in some ways, the mask allows Tech N9ne to represent all men. With the mask on, he could be anybody-- a subject we broach carefully with the rapper, but one that he embraces wholeheartedly.
"That's what Tech N9ne is," he agrees. "That's why when you come to a Tech N9ne show, there's college kids, there's metal heads, there's gangbangers and hipsters and juggalos. They're there." Indeed, they were there when we were on location to review his performance last year at Myth, proving that Tech has somehow transcended staunch hip-hop boundaries. He insists that it wasn't without difficulty, sharing that the first time he played before a crowd of Juggalos that they actually turned their backs to him."It's a strong base," he says of Juggalo fan culture. "We had to earn that. When we came out on stage, and we saw all those backs turned, we'd never seen that before." He had a moment of fear thinking that they wouldn't even give him a chance at all. [page]
"But the moment I did that gunfire thing everyone turned around," he says. "We worked to get that respect from the Juggalos and they welcomed us into the family. Now this is the thing about Tech N9ne, you said it already and I've never heard anybody say this and I love you for this -- that Tech N9ne is all men, everybody, I'm everything."
"Can you imagine how wonderful that feels to me?" he continues. "I'm saying, I set out to do this and I named my label Strange Music after a rock band that I love, the Doors, "People Are Strange," and I'll always have this vision of everybody together, a melting pot. Just imagine, in 2015, how it feels to see that melting pot that I planned over sixteen years ago or more."
We touch down a bit on some of the things that helped shape Tech as a child into the man he is today. He tells us of the first time he remembers personally experiencing racism, an experience he had in fourth grade when he tried to have a game of catch with a white classmate only to be told that the classmate was forbidden by his parents to play with black children. "I didn't understand when I was young. Four years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday," he says. "I remember standing there holding the ball while he walked away."
This sparked a desire to learn more about his opposition: the Klu Klux Klan and skinhead culture became his pet peeve, and he set out to become better educated. "I studied it to figure out why people would hate like this," he says. "I wanted to know my opposition, because my Mom always taught me that I was an angel. So, I needed to know my opposition, the demon, which in turn made people think that I was a demon, because I would study those things. But I'm really an angel."
These themes have always been present in his songwriting, as well as exploring current events. He becomes incensed while talking about Boko Haram, the jihadist group based in northeastern Nigeria that has been terrorizing people, particularly women and those with any involvement in Western culture or education. "I wish people would mind their own business," he says.
He has a pretty simple means of a solution: "If you're a regular guy and this guy is gay over there, why do you care?" he asks. "Leave him alone, let him live his life. He didn't come over to you and grab your balls and say hey I think you're cute and violate you, so why would you violate him?" Tech believes that man created culture, and that it's our responsibility to educate ourselves and create a world that fosters support for people of all kinds.
"You have to teach yourself not to be closed in," he says, "or corralled by culture."
Tonight, Tech will be joined onstage with his special traveling band of live musicians whom he's handpicked over the years and hopes to keep with him for the rest of his musical life. He has a special stage set-up for this particular tour, complete with individual platforms so that each live musician can be showcased in their own right. He says, "They're supposed to be elevated because they're the pinnacle." It's been a year since he played here last, and that performance was high-energy and brought out a huge number of Twin Cities fans.
"I found out how serious it was in the Twin Cities when they had Battle of the Songs, and I beat everybody that they put up against me," he remembers. Apparently, back in the day Peter Parker did a Battle of the Songs on the radio, and Tech continued winning against other rappers until finally he was pitted against Atmosphere. "I just knew I wasn't gonna win against Slug and all them," he says. "That's my family! The people spoke, and when I won that I was like, "Oh, that's serious!" I did not know that it was that serious, because to me Atmosphere is unmatched. It was like, I won? In the Twin Cities? No way."
We did run into P.O.S. at Tech's last performance here, so we're not too surprised that he's got such a strong sense of love from Twin Cities music fans and artists.
As for Tech, he's just happy that the album is finally out and that he can share it with the rest of the world. "Man creates barriers," he says. "Beautiful music is beautiful music."
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