Since first bursting on to the scene in 1990, TECH N9NE has risen through the ranks to become the most successful independent rapper. With well over two million records, garnered universal critical acclaim, scored a gold record for the single ‘Caribou Lou’, this self-made creative force has been sought out for collaborations by everybody from Lil Wayne to Five Finger Death Punch, and continues to pack venues worldwide. His latest studio album, “Something Else,” debuted #4 on Billboard 200 this past August. To top off a tremendous 2013, this rap mogul was recently named in Forbes’ “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z.
With so many amazing achievements already under his belt, Tech N9ne is taking a moment for a little “Therapy”. Therapy means something different to everybody. For some, it involves sitting in an overpriced shrink’s office and lamenting life’s trials and tribulations for an hour. For others, it’s as simple as swinging a golf club or hitting a punching bag. As with everything, TECH N9NE possesses his own perception of therapy, and that’s codified in his new metal-tinged, aggressive 11-track 2013 EP which hits stores November 5th via Strange Music. “Therapy” is produced by legendary rock producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot) to achieve a hard-hitting, instrument-driven sound unlike anything else he’d previously done over the course of thirteen full-length studio albums. Top-notch musicians such as Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit and Glassjaw’s Sammy Siegler built the sonic foundation for many of the tracks alongside longtime producer Seven’s beats. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tech N9ne to discuss his musical roots, his “Therapy” session with legendary producer Ross Robinson and much more!
You have spent years making a name for yourself and taking the world by storm. Going back to the beginning, how did music first come into your life and what inspired you early on?
I was a young guy living in the Wayne Miner projects around the time I was four years old. I remember hearing my neighbors playing rap music right next door. My aunties and uncles, my mother and everyone who stayed at my grandmother’s place played gospel music every morning. They were really religious people. There was Shirley Caesar every morning! There was a mixture of all types of music in my life. My uncles played rock ‘n’ roll back then and introduced me to Elton John, Led Zeppelin and stuff like that. I had very eclectic music tastes when I was a young kid in the ghetto. It is a beautiful thing and I use everything they taught me. It started as simply as beating on the table at breakfast time. Everybody was beating on cups and bowls making rhythms. I would watch them and see everyone smiling and enjoying each other. It really captivated me. My family taught me rhythm at an early age and now it is my weapon of choice. It puts me in a league of my own. That is the narcissist in me talking but that is what I feel like! [laughs] It started early on at four or five. Everything I grew up listening to, whether it be Falco’s “Amadeus” or whatever else we sampled through the years came from the songs I grew up listening to. I grew up listening and studying these songs. Thank God for my families teaching me harmonies, octaves and exposing me to the choir and The Little Sunshine Band when I was very young. I want to thank them for exposing me to all of that because I use all of it to this very day; the rhythm, the harmoies, the rhythm, the rock ‘n’ roll, the hip hop and the gospel! It is all in my music. It is really wonderful to think about! We just did a gospel song on Stevie Stone’s new album, “Two Birds, One Stone.” The song is called “Baptism.” I have another song called “Holier Than Thou” and it is so awesome we can do that, man! All of those elements are still there inside of me!
Those earlier influences helped to fuel your amazing career. Did you always know music was going to be your career path?
Actually, I wanted to be a psychiatrist before I started rapping! I really wanted to study people and their thoughts. Oddly enough, I became a psychiatrist and therapist to my fans. Many of them say I get them through. Some of them say I made them not commit suicide or got them through Afghanistan. They say I have helped people when they are on their death bed, you know what I mean? I have managed to make music that soothes people. I got both of my wishes — my rap world wish and my psychiatrist wish. I laugh about it all of the time! I think “Wow! I am my fan’s psychiatrist!” I wanted to be there! I wanted to be a psychiatrist before I rapped and it was the road I was going to take.
That leads us to your latest release. The album is titled “Therapy.” When you first started to plot the course for this album, what goals did you hope to achieve?
I had no idea what I was going to accomplish because it was a different atmosphere and a different place. It was so out of my comfortable. I did have my producer, Seven, there which was comfortable to have but I had no idea what was going to come forth. I had no idea what Ross Robinson was going to do with the beats when he brought people in, what was going to happen or even if it would work at all. My God, it worked! I brought so many more things out of me on Venice Beach that I don’t think that would have come out of me at home, which is my comfort zone. This was totally out of my comfort zone and rightly so. It was my own therapy session and I am typically my own therapist. It was going to feel funny when Ross Robinson was having you drain these ideas from inside and you have to spit it out in front of Wes Borland, the engineer, DJ Starscream of Slipknot and everyone else who was there listening. Usually, I keep it to myself and put it in my recorder but this time I had to tell everybody, even if it was stupid. It was uncomfortable but it was therapeutic at the same time. It really broke the nervous seal that I had the first couple of days. It turned into a family. It was really great to have a great therapist like Ross Robinson.
You touched on it a bit but how did approaching this record affect the way you typically write your songs?
I actually sat on the beach, in the sand and looked at the water, man. What do you, a song named “Stop The Sailor” came out! The first day we were working, Wes Borland was there playing guitar and Sammy Siegler was on the drums. Ross had me, Seven, Sammy and Wes in the same room and I was recording while they’re playing “Stop The Sailor.” Ross asked “What made you write this song?” Wes Borland said “Because the water is right there!” [laughs] It was really funny! I was like “Yeah, he’s right! Know what I’m saying?”
How would you describe this project sonically in a few words?
It is there on this EP, man. It is divine, dark, confused, frustrating, cocky and it is human.
As you said, this was a therapy session for you. What did you learn about yourself in the process?
I learned I need to keep some things in when it comes to my past loved ones. Ross brings everything out of you, so I might have said some stuff that I shouldn’t have said on some songs. I learned I should muffle myself a little bit more but I am not good at that! [laughs] I am just not good at muffling. If the beat moves me to say something personal, I might have to say it! I learned that I am totally transparent, dog. I am truly see-through, man. I am an open book. This process solidified that for me. It was being down there for a two week therapy session. It had to broken up in the release of something else, so I would have to leave the studio to do press and support the release. That would totally take me to another world and then I would go back to the beach and get back into my creative mode. I had to block everything out. There are a lot of stresses of this new world that I am in, the radio world; They want to play my music now after all of these years! This new world is kinda weird! Ya know what I’m sayin’? I couldn’t wait to get back down there to Ross’ studio to see what was going to come out. I really had no idea! The beats moved me, so I was just as excited as the next person, like “What is he going to say?”
You have been doing music for years and have established yourself as an underground icon. How are you adjusting to your newfound mainstream fame?
It is weird but I know it is needed if I want to achieve world domination. I go because my goal has always been world domination. It is out of my comfort zone and I don’t like it as much. I mean, I like my comfort zone but sometimes you have to get out of it. My comfort zone is right here where I am right now — on tour or in the studio. All the stuff you have to do in support of it, I have never been a fan of, like going and talking at the radio stations and everything. I have never really been a fan of it but I know it is needed, man. I just want everybody to hear my music, so whatever device they have to get it to the people, I have to get it on there, whether it be TV or radio, That is one thing we have done all this without! I am thinking that if I have those two elements, which we never had in the past, it is possible to take over the world and win everybody’s heart. It is just so different. It’s like they own you for the moment and everybody is swinging.
Do you feel there are any misconceptions out there about yourself at this point in your career?
Oh yeah, totally! Some of my fans feel like because my music is on the radio that I have sold out. Oh no, no, no! I told them a long time ago that Tech won’t go mainstream, mainstream will go Tech. That is what is happening. When I wrote the song “Fragile” about certain journalists, I didn’t plan for that to be on the radio but people want to play it. It is not a radio formatted song, it is the fact that it is that good that people want to play it. I think that is the natural way — if you like it, play it. I didn’t have to conform or do anything to get on the radio. I did music I felt or people I felt to do it with. There are people who want to keep me to themselves and I understand that too. There are some fans who don’t want me to be on TV or radio because they might feel like I am their best kept secret but this music needs to spread to the rest of the world! Share me because I am taking this everywhere!
Musical exploration has always been a huge part of what you do. Where do you see your music heading in the future?
I think it will be better and more intricate. It is going to become harder for me because it will become more intricate than it is now — intricate overload, man! I don’t know! I am such a shell. It is my brain and my spirit that will take me to where I am going to go. I don’t know what to expect. “Therapy” is a great example of that because it is something unexpected that came out of me. I have no idea where I have to go next but I do know it will have to be even bigger and better. I have to do that every time, that is all I know!
Looking back on your life and career, what is the best lesson that you have learned along the way?
The best lesson I could have ever could have received was from Quincy Jones. It was back in 1997 at his home in Bel Air, right under the Michael Jackson “Thriller” plaque that says 50 million sold. I was sitting right below that on the couch. He said to me, “Tech, rap what you know and people will forever feel you.” I didn’t think about it then but as I started getting into this and started rapping what I knew from my life, I started connecting with people. When I say those two words, “Do you.” it means so much. DO YOU! These are another person like you somewhere who can connect in a similar way. Quincy Jones telling me to rap what I know was so real, man. I was so glad I was able to tap into it. I was like “Oh yeah, I will write me life.” I don’t mean that in a conceited way, like “Oh, I am the shit! I am this, I am that…” I just wrote about my life and what I was going through and people connected. He was so right. I have fans because he told me what to do back in 1997!
We are just scratching the surface with you here today, Tech. Where are the best places for people to learn more about you and your story online?
You can catch me on Twitter at @TechN9ne. I am on Instagram at instragram.com/therealtechn9ne. If you want to know anything about Tech Nine, you can visit www.therealtechn9ne.com. Everything is on there from tour dates to merchandise and everything in between. It is all there! That is me — Tech N9ne and that’s the game!
Mark your calendar’s and pick up Tech N9ne’s “Therapy” EP which hits stores November 5th via Strange Music.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.