Aaron Dontez Yates, better known to the world as Tech N9ne, is not a big fan of the typical.
"How many black dudes do you see painting their faces and coming out with bishop robes on the stage?" he asks me, speaking from his tour bus "somewhere in New Mexico." He's taken a strange, twisted path every since emerging from the KC underground in the '90s, and has been slowly and steadily building his reputation with his own label, Strange Music since the late '90s.
Last year he collaborated with E-40, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, T-Pain, and more, adding his hyper-fast flow and off-kilter persona to tracks. This year, he's collaborated with surviving members of the The Doors, his longtime heroes, and he's scheduled to appear on DMX's upcoming Undisputed (its release has been pushed back to June 26, 2012).
Tech was happy to discuss his vintage influences, his tour with Machine Gun Kelly, and how his controversial name has impacted his career.
Tech N9ne is scheduled to perform with Machine Gun Kelly, Krizz Kaliko, Mayday!, Prozak, and Stevie Stone, at Celebrity Theatre on Saturday, April 14.
Up on the Sun: How has the tour been going so far?
Tech N9ne: So wonderful. So wonderful. Machine Gun Kelly goes so well with the fans, they love him. It's an explosive show. Stevie Stone is just murderous on stage, so is Prozak with all the rock energy he brings, Krizz, Mayday...just takes it somewhere else. So beautiful.
Machine Gun Kelly seems to be everywhere right now.
Totally. He's everywhere. He's doing it right. I was just doing this thing for MTV called Hip Hop Squares, this Hollywood Squares type thing on MTV2 with hip-hop artists. It's me, Mac Miller, Ghostface Killah, Fat Joe, Childish Gambino, Kat Gram, and Machine Gun Kelly was there. I was like, 'We're on the same tour and I didn't know you were gonna be there!' Then I did this thing the same night, the XXL Freshmen show, for Hopsin. I was the special guest because I'm way past [being a] freshmen. So I came out to do "Am I A Psycho," I came out last song of the set, I did it, and it was wonderful. Then, what do you know? Last act of the night is Machine Gun Kelly. I was like whoa [laughs].
A couple years ago you were on the official spokesman of Record Store Day. That's coming up again. Are you a pretty big music collector?
Totally, man. We had this place in Kansas City called Seventh Heaven, and when ever I'm about to go on tour [I stock up]. They have stuff from way back when, current stuff, not just rap stuff; I can go there and buy the Best of the Doors. They have so many things I can go get, from underground KC rap to Doors, to any of my CDs. I was just in New York, in Times Square, and I was looking at this place where Virgin used to be. I was like, "Damn, I miss Virgin Megastore."
Yeah, we had a Virgin store here for years, and they're are all gone.
Yeah, and you go to L.A. and Tower Records is gone, and I'm like wow. I miss the record stores. If you go to Amoeba, it just has this old time feel. You can spend hours in there searching for stuff. Like a library. I miss it.
Did record stores play a role in you coming up and getting your name out there to people?
Totally. They had the stuff that Best Buy or FYE didn't have. For me, the old school is what sparked me. I had to go search for those old records. I couldn't always find that at chain stores. You had to go to mom and pop stores, and really get in there. Well, I need this song by Mantronix, and it's called "Listen to the Bass." You're not going to find that as Best Buy or FYE. Not saying anything bad [about those places] but we need these vintage stores. We artists, we need that. You need to be able to find that inspiration...that vintage feel.
You're a big Doors fan, right?
I just got done doing a song with The Doors. Two months ago I was in L.A. and the producer Fred Wreck hooked it up. I got into the studio with Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robbie Krieger - we created a song, and I can't give it to you, but it's super vintage. We got the tape that they recorded on, and we've got Jim [Morrison's] vocals on it, and you can hear him drinking in the back ground. It's raw. So wonderful, man. We went beyond the record store with that one [laughs].
Those guys seem super keen on collaborating with younger artists. Skrillex work with them, too.
We talked about that. They said they had so much fun. He had everything he wanted them to do. It's so wonderful. It was never written in blood that I would be able to work with the people that inspired me to come up with something that saved me life. My label, Strange Music...I called it that back in '97 because I'm a big Doors fan. It was never written in blood that I was able to work with them.
In 2010 I visited Paris, and I went and visited Jim's grave. I drank Jack Daniels with Jim and told him thank you for the inspiration, and two months ago I was able to work with the rest of the group. That was a big thing for me. We need that vintage stuff. That's why those record stores are wonderful.
You know back on March 2 there was a shooting in Tempe at Nipsey Hussle's show at the Clubhouse.
I heard about it. That's horrible.
Did people in the rap community talk about that?
Everybody knows about it.
I guess what I'm curious - your name was given to you by Black Walt in relation to how fast you rap, but I'm sure that a lot of people were and are freaked out by it.
It was a gun. It was negative like a mother fucker when he gave it to me. He went into a guns and ammo book, like 'Oh my god.' That's why I couldn't get on MTV and BET back in the day, because I had the name of a gun. Columbine had happened and that was one of the guns they used. But my name, the way I spelled it: Tech is short for Technique, and 9 is a number of completion. I'm the complete technique of rhyme.
But when you get pulled over by the police, I'm like "I'm Tech N9ne," and they're like, "We know! But do you have one?" I'm like, no. That's always been a problem, you know what I'm saying?
I'm was curious how it impacted your career.
It plagued me like crazy. I couldn't get anywhere. I guess you really gotta get your name up, to have something that's a gun get televised. But once the people speak, they'll get what they ask for. The people speak, they want Tech N9NE and they'll get it. It doesn't plague me like it did. I was on BET Awards: Cyphers. The rules change every day, it can be so unfair. If it was about how talented we were, we'd be billionaires.
The aftershocks of that show are still being felt in Tempe's hip-hop scene [note: New Times is investigating rumors regarding a "blacklist" of artists not allowed to play in Tempe]. But things can go down at any kind of show.
When it's gang related, it will bring rival gangs out. That's what happened; the promoter supposed to know that. I ain't saying nothing bad about [the promoter] but most of us rappers have a gang affiliation. Notice I said us, right? Mine is different. I have a different crowd. People come to me and say "Has it always been white kids at your shows?" I'm like, yes [laughs].
Why do you think that is?
I'm not the norm. How many black dudes do you see painting their faces and coming out with bishop robes on the stage? If you've ever seen a Tech N9ne show, it's all choreographed. It has lights, substance. What I talk about is totally different than the norm. "Riot Maker" has a rock feel, "Psycho Bitch," all of those songs are totally to the left. If you're not paying attention you're not going to know what the hell I'm saying. A lot of my people don't really want to hear that. A lot of them, I don't want to say all of them, and when I say "my people" I'm talking about black folk.
They like the norm and like what they're used to. And people when something is different, people will try and destroy it. Because they're afraid of it. They say, "He's a devil worshiper." What they can't destroy they try to destroy. This is something they can't control, it's so clusterfuckish, so ambidextrous.
It's so to the left that it's starting to bleed into the mainstream. Like, whoa, how did that crazy nigga get onto the Carter IV, who, he just did BET Cyphers, he did an "Am I a Psycho" remix with B.O.B. I'm everything in one. If I'm for sure the complete technique of rhyme, I can do anything I'm the lizard king. I can do anything. Know what I'm saying? That's why my crowd is like that. Gradually, some of my people are starting to come. People say, You got some black folks now,and I'm like, "I see! Thank you for coming!"
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I would love to do shows were all my people come also, but that's a work in progress. I'm not one of the ones that say I don't want black people at my show because they be fighting and shooting. That's not everybody. That's a small group. There's more people out there that are right in the head. That's how I want to put it [laughs].
Tech N9ne is scheduled to perform Saturday, April 14, at Celebrity Theatre.