Kansas City's Aaron Dontez Yates has dipped his hands into both the worlds of hip-hop and rock 'n' roll, sold more than one million albums, founded a record label, and been featured in a ton of video games and films--including the upcoming sequel to the huge underground cult hit Devil's Carnival. Recently, he recorded tracks with musicians like Serj Tankian, Wiz Khalifa and even one with the three remaining members of The Doors.
You might be surprised you haven't heard of him--but it could just be that the name you know him by is the one derived from the TEC-9 handgun, given to him by a friend who said it represented his fast Chopper-style rhyming method.
But that's not the only style Tech N9ne is known for. He's influenced by everything from old school hip hop (Slick Rick, N.W.A., Biggie Smalls) to classic rock (Pink Floyd, Elton John, AC/DC) to heavy metal (Metallica, Slipknot, System of a Down). He is able to balance indie and mainstream music, and his lyrics are etched with distinctive imagery that spans the horrific, the sexually provocative, and the beautiful.
Up On The Sun talked with Tech N9ne about working with the Doors, his favorite horror films (including his upcoming project), and writing about Earth, Wind and Fire.
Tech N9ne is playing at The Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Wednesday, September 18.
Since 1999 he has been putting out his brand of eclectic sound and selling out venues. This past July, Tech N9ne released his 13th studio-album, Something Else. It's uniquely broken up into three portions: Earth, Water and Fire, and features guest appearances from B.o.B, Big K.R.I.T., Cee Lo Green, The Doors, Game, Kendrick Lamar, Serj Tankian, T-Pain, Trae tha Truth and Wiz Khalifa, among others including several artists from Tech N9ne's Strange Music label.
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The album's narrative focuses on a meteorite that crashes down in a Kansas City suburb, and begins to spread a burgundy mist in the surrounding area. The mist causes things to become chaotic at first, but later leads to a clear decrease in crime and an increase in test performance among all schoolchildren. The first section, "Fire," discusses Tech's demons; "Water," has lighter themes and is seen as the party section, located between two extremely deep song sets; and the last, and arguably best section is "Earth." It focuses on peace and deep emotion, and closes out with "Strange 2013," where Tech worked with the three remaining musicians from The Doors.
How's your tour going so far? Wonderful. I'm laying in my bunk on my tour bus in Victoria, Canada... we just crossed some river on a ferry on the tour bus.
I'm betting the weather is better there than out here in Arizona. Is it hot? I'll be there soon. I thought I was going to play at an amphitheatre, but then I heard they moved it to the Marquee. Do you know?
Last I heard it was moved to the Marquee, yes. That's so weird, because, um, the police had said that we were no longer welcome back at the Marquee because they said they had to arrest a bunch of people last time we were there. I had no idea for what, though--I was heart-broken! Marquee is a like a home for me! So maybe they changed their minds.
First off, I'm a fellow music fan from Kansas City--I actually went to Shawnee Mission South high school. Oh yeah; that's wonderful. I just did a video in Shawnee Mission Park. It's a song I recorded called "Party The Pain Away." It was a beautiful setting.
Is that connected to Special Effects, the new album? No, it's connected to Something Else, the last album actually. I have no direction yet, just a title. Special Effects is something I have to achieve to be better than Something Else, and that's going to be a hard task.
I know that's something you aim for with every album; setting the bar much higher than the last. Do you have a method to the madness for doing that? It's really simple, actually. My producer, Seven, and my producer, Young Fyre--you know, I just know they have to be bigger than the last and way more different. The beats tell me what to do. If the beats sound like someone would sound wonderful on it, I send it their way.
You know, I sent one to Madonna for Something Else. [Laughs] Nobody responded, but I sent it! It was a song called "Drowning" that Liz Suwandi ended up doing. It's wonderful.
I feel like Something Else has some intense beats. Nas was supposed to be on the track "Burn the World," but he felt it was too personal and requested a different track to work with you on. What was it that Nas wasn't feeling? Oh yeah, he just said it was something that was too personal. That song was based around a four-year-old that got raped in Kansas City who was the daughter of a friend of mine. I understood that.
I got it, that he didn't want to do something so... personal to me. He wanted to do something harder. So I'll get him on the next one.
What's one of your favorite tracks off Something Else? The album is so personal, the three elements of Fire Water Earth being the theme. There's so many songs I'm in love with, man. If I had to pick one off Fire it would be the first song with me and Serj. It was a huge accomplishment because I've been a fan since day one of System of a Down.
If I had to pick one off Water it would be "So Dope," for the obvious reason... And off of Earth...it's so hard! "Believe" is massive, and "Meant To Happen" is so personal. "Around the World" is close to my heart... man... but The Doors song, "Strange 2013." I mean, The Doors! Earth has so many massive songs.
How as it recording with the three surviving members of The Doors? It was mind-blowing. It was wonderful having them in the studio and being able to work with them. It brought out emotions I hadn't felt in that space. The tones...all the people I love from the rock 'n' roll world or The Doors' world came to fruition, working with them on the chorus. These people inspired me for a long time.
You're always doing a ton of projects at once. Tell me about some of the ones that haven't been really talked about yet. I have a rock EP out November 5th, called Therapy. That's almost done, and I'm headed home soon to make that cohesive before I send it out to the world. Cross you fingers, since it's all a rock 'n' roll project.
You can play the Gathering of the Juggalos and then record with a band like the Deftones. How do you achieve that balance across different audiences? I grew up in a family that listened to a huge span of music. It was gospel and hip hop and R&B but also rock and roll and jazz and pop...not really any country, but I was aware of it, you know?
I love incorporating so many elements into my music. I just released a video not too long ago and it's the perfect demonstration of what Tech N9ne is. It's called "Love 2 Dislike Me." There's a smooth beat, heavier hooks, loud vocals, tips and turns, rap and rock.
What would be the ultimate collaboration for you? Tech N9ne...and Slipknot. Tech N9ne....and Eminem.
I would have to agree with that one! Nice. With setting the bar so high, if someone had never heard your music before, what album would you give them that ultimately represents you? I can actually answer that. The starter kit for Tech N9ne, is 2001's Anghellic, 2006's Everready, and 2013's Something Else.
I'd love to discuss Devil's Carnival 2 with you. Can you tell me more about it? We've done the trailer, but I haven't had time to finish the movie! I'm getting pulled in every direction. I'm going to Australia in November, when I was originally supposed to finish it, you know?
I loved the first Devil's Carnival, so I was stoked when I found out you had a part in this sequel. What's your part about? I play the "librarian." I actually do talk and sing in the movie. [Laughs] I'm pretty brutal though... as you know if you saw the trailer, I never talked but pulled out an angel's tongue. It's a really wonderful, quiet character that is pretty forceful and stern.
I have no idea what the songs are going to be at this moment. If I did I would sing one to you! But I don't know; cross your fingers for me to finish it. Darren Bousman (a director, also from Overland Park, Kansas) is a very talented guy, and anybody that did the Saw movies is a friend of mine. [Laughs] I'm really into horror movies. My favorite is Halloween, Michael Myers. I love it.
You like the new Halloween or the old ones? I love the new one; Rob Zombie.The old ones I own, 1 and 2--I don't mess with 3. But John Carpenter's are great, and Rob Zombie gave wonderful... I loved his twist on it.
I think Rob Zombie got a lot of criticism for his version. But that can be unavoidable. What kind of flak? What did they say?
A lot of the die-hard Halloween fans didn't appreciate his version. Who knows if it is stamped with his Zombie twist, or if fans thought he didn't stick with the original enough...who knows. It's like this, man, I think he did a wonderful job by portraying a picture we'd never seen before--Michael as a kid. You know what I mean? Really in-depth as a kid; killing the cats or rats or whatever. Him at school getting bullied and killing the little boy with the stick. I think Rob painted that perfectly. Perfectly. I really do.
The only thing about 2, it was super brutal. And I never heard Michael make sound, so when he was killing people [and] making sound it was weird for me at first. It was brutal, man. And Rob Zombie always throws this honky-tonk feeling on it. And I love it. I'm a fan of both.
What are some other Kansas City artists that people should know about? /strong> Oh my god baby. There's so many! I'd be naming people for days! I don't know where to start. Rock bands? I'm trying to sign a band to my label right now called Evalyn Awake. Tyler Lyon is the lead singer; I've been trying to sign him since he was 15, back in the day.
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He was on that song with me, "Love 2 Dislike Me." And there's so many rappers man, so many MCs. All you have to do is go to Kansas City and go to the recordBar or go to Westport... or downtown to the Power and Light Area. We'd be on the phone for another five hours if I named all my favorites.