Q&A: Tech N9ne On Lil Wayne, The Doors, And Getting Drunk On Hip-Hop Squares


Midwestern rap weirdo Tech N9ne had an unexpected guest spot on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV last year (“Interlude” with Andre 3000), but the 40-year-old Kansas City motormouth’s most memorable track has to be “Areola,” his 2009 not-at-all-joking breast anthem that comes with its own anatomy lesson (“Don’t know what I’m talkin ’bout/ That circle around the skittle/ In the middle you put in your mouth,” explains guest Big Krizz Kaliko) and has turned into the live-show tradition of Tech’s female fans proudly flashing proudly along to the chorus.

But Tech N9ne isn’t one-trick Spencer Gifts schtick. On his own 14-year-old independent label Strange Music, the man born Aaron Dontez Yates has released 10 records in 11 years, rapidfire verses about lost nights (“Blur”) and emotional nadirs (“Suicide Letters”), and sold over a million records without mainstream support. He’s built a hugely loyal following of “Technicians” through relentless touring, which has most recently taken shape as the wildly ambitious Hostile Takeover Tour—90 dates in 90 days that brings him to the Highline Ballroom this Sunday.

We spoke with Tech N9ne on Day 73. He told us, at dizzyingly cordial length, about Lil Wayne, women, collaborating with the Doors, what he thinks about all the Juggalos who love him.

Are you regretting 90 dates in 90 days yet?

It’s killing me. I’m laying in my bed right now. I just woke up to talk to you. This is only show 73 out of 90. We’re tired. We’re doing an hour and 45 minutes every night. We’ve already put a dent in it, but it’s time to go.

Will you get a chance to rest when you’re done?

I wish. But no. I’ll be working on my album. I get home that night, I got a day off, and then—boom—that following Tuesday, I’m in the studio.

How do you maintain that? Being an independent artist on your own label, you stop working for a day and that’s money out of your pocket. But you only have one day off after working 90 days?

When you go on a long tour like that, you accumulate a lot of money. So you could sit down for a while. But you have deadlines. When you have music in your bones and in your blood, as soon as the beats come on, you’re going. You’re not even thinking about, “Oh, I need to sit down for a minute.”

Are you motivated by the fact that you won’t mentally, physically, and spiritually be able to keep up this pace forever?

I feel like I’m Superman. I can do all things by Christ, which strengthens me. I don’t think anything’s hard. We’re doing what we love to do. The only thing that’s hard about it is that it’s a totally intricate show. It weighs on you. You’re like, “Oh my God, all these words. Why do I have to be the fast-rap guy?” [Laughs]

You taped episodes for Hip-Hop Squares this year.

Oh yeah, they called and said “Come do Hip-Hop Squares. You remember Hollywood Squares?” I’m like, “I used to love that show with Whoopi Goldberg and everything!” The first episode, nobody picked me. The second and third ones, they did. So whenever they air the second and third ones, I will talk. Just know: every episode I was drunk as Hell. They want you to drink backstage. By the third episode, I was falling asleep up there, like, “Oh my God, I hope they didn’t ask me anything.”

It was early in the morning we had to be there. They got us drinking and we didn’t get to eat. We started off with champagne. They started pouring other drinks. By the time we got on the first episode, we were already tipsy. They kept bringing us drinks! The commercials? The ladies would come up, “Do you need another one?” Yup, let’s go.

You’re something of an anomaly in the rap world.

I remember a long time ago we were doing a one-off. It was a show that had Twiztid on it. It was a show that had Too $hort and Lil Scrappy. It was totally urban, somewhere down in the South. Totally black club—small black club, packed wall-to-wall. Lil Scrappy already went on, it was totally rowdy. I came up there: facepainted, spiked red hair, with a bishop’s robe on. As soon as I walked out, everybody started laughing. All my people.

I did my stamina and it got quiet as hell. It’s crazy to see, people going from laughing to quiet, whispering to each other, like, “What the hell is that?” Like, “Whoa, did you just hear what he said?” To everybody’s hands up at the end of that show on “I’m a Playa.” It always works like that. To win everybody over when you’re a weirdo and you know it.

You have a huge Juggalo fanbase. Is there a difference between Juggalos and Technicians or are they all the same?

I’ve made them all the same now. Anybody who listens to Tech N9ne is a Technician. There’re a lot of Juggalos who listen to Tech N9ne who are Technicians slash Juggalos. There are people out there who are Technicians slash gangsters. I just made them all together, one big family.

A lot of Technicians and Juggalos, they bang heads on Twitter. I’ve [always] been like, “No, Juggalos, they’re a part of the human race.” I think my music belongs to everybody. I’m not gonna alienate a certain type of person because of the way they look, or the way they act. I’m weird like Juggalos are. I paint my face like Juggalos do. I’m weird too.

Last year after the Gathering of the Juggalos, Charlie Sheen shouted you out on Twitter.

Yes, he did. The thing about Tech N9ne is that when you see it, you can’t believe you didn’t know about it. [He was like] “Give me CDs, give me shirts, give me hats” and we gave it all to him. Ron Jeremy did the same thing. Charlie Sheen watched from the side of the stage, he’s like, “Whoa!” He’s looking at the crowd showing breasts when I say “Areola” and he was blown away. I love impressing people like that.

You were on Tha Carter IV, on a track with Andre 3000. Was that Lil Wayne cameo a big tipping point for you?

Yeah, for my people. My people were like, “I knew he could do it, all these years.” My fans are like [feigns a scratchy whine] “Why did you do it? Lil Wayyyyyynnnnne?’

I went into Rikers Island and I talked to him for three hours. I had no idea what we were going to talk about. We had a lot in common. He’s a good guy and I always dug what he did. People just try to slam him because he’s mainstream. He worked his way up to being what he is, so when people say bad things about him, I feel like I want to fight. I know him as a person—good guy—and I have to separate myself and say, “People have their preferences, it’s cool.” But [inside] I’m like, ‘Say one more thing about Wayne, and see what I do!’ [laughs]

We keep in touch with each other and everything. Every once in awhile, I hear something about him, “I’m like, ‘Don’t let the demons bring you down brother.” It’s a friend thing.

Your fans don’t like that he’s “mainstream.”

I just said his name on one of my new songs, “808 Bendin” with Stevie Stone on Stevie Stone’s new album. I say, “You know I can’t sing without a guitar string/ Roll around town and I’m bumping Lil Wayne/ Everybody know that we’re in the same gang.” People are saying, “Why’s he have Lil Wayne’s name on his tongue? Uhhh. Why’d he say that?’ It pisses me off because that’s my bro. I said his name because I gave him a shout-out, you stupid ba-da-da-da.

Technicians are protective. They feel like they had this secret thing that nobody else knew about.

They gotta realize, they did this. They burnt my CDs and spread it to everybody who shunned me. I thank them. Wherever I go—you did it! You pushed me to the top. They’re still pushing me and I love it. I want my music for everyone.

What do you have in common with Wayne?

The religious thing, we touched on. Of course, we’re gonna have women in common. They’re a wonderful thing. We love women. That’s why you can get this wonderful conversation when I wake up and it’s not like one-word answers: “No. Yes. Good. Okay, bye.” Know what I’m saying? My publicist knows a woman can get more out of me. So when I found out [you were] a woman, “I was like, yeah, okay, let’s go.” A guy, I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, bye.”

I’m lucky I guess. So you recently recorded a collaboration for your new album with the Doors?

I’ve been a fan since I don’t know how long ago. I never knew that I’d get to work with them. I was inspired by Jim’s words on “Strange Days” and “People Are Strange,” so I named my label Strange Music.

What did you love about them?

Jim Morrison is a rebel. Keep in mind that he died when I was born, ’71, so I got his music later in my life, from DJs I lived with when I was 19 and stuff like that. I’m 40 years old now. Songs like “Five to One,” “Love Me Two Times,” “The End”—just the rebel of his mind. He was a poet, he didn’t care what people thought. That was so me. I’m just free with myself. I give all of me and that’s what I felt through their music.

In 2010, when I was first called to Paris to do a show, I discovered Père Lachaise [Cemetery] was there. We went and found his gravesite and we drank with him. I told him “Thanks for the inspiration.” Because Strange Music saved my life. I had no idea what I was going to do. I was going to be a psychiatrist, but I left school in my 12th grade year, on the honor roll.

You wanted to be a psychiatrist?

It turned out that I’m my fans’ psychiatrist. People tell me, “I was gonna commit suicide, but your song ‘Suicide Letters’ really touched me.” It feels soooo wonderful that I get to do both.

When I was in school, I wanted to know why people did what they do. I was infatuated with serial killers. Why would that evil be within somebody’s brain? How could John Wayne Gacy do that? How could Ted Bundy do that? I wanted to understand. I bought all these books on serial killers. When girls come by my house and they look and they see serial killer, serial killer, serial killer, they’re like, “Oh my God!” I’m like, “No no no, I’m just reading them. I’m not trying to learn!”

What’d you drink with Jim?

I drank Jack with Jim. I had some red wine too.

Tech N9ne headlines Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Saturday and the Highline Ballroom on Sunday with Machine Gun Kelly and Mayday.