Type the name Tech N9ne into Pandora and prepare to be transported to a rap wonderland, a place where Cheshire cats spit lyrics.
The station is a cornucopia of lyrical stylings, drawing on everything from Midwest rap to The Doors. It’s what we’ve come to know and expect from Tech N9ne, the rapper who refuses to be defined.
“Before I went independent, they had no idea what I was,” says Tech N9ne, whose real name is Aaron Dontez Yates. “It’s hip-hop, it’s gangsta, it’s rock, it’s everything. It’s kind of hard to see what you’re going to start with every time if you go on my Pandora — it’s Eminem and Ludacris all the time, lyrical guys. I don’t know, but Pandora puts me with insane lyricists, so I like that.”
Yates’ refusal to be pigeonholed hurt him early in his career, as major record labels struggled to characterize him. Seeing the graffiti on the wall, he aborted that mission and launched his own label, Strange Music, in 1999. The company, founded by Yates and his partner, Travis O’Guin, started out in a basement. Now they have multiple buildings, with plans to build a studio.
“I never thought we would outgrow the first big empire we built,” Yates says. “It’s hard using your own money to build things, but obviously it was meant to happen, because it’s working and we’re still on the incline this far in, 14 years in, and we’re still building.”
The rapper’s Independent Powerhouse Tour 2013 hits the Theatre of Living Arts on South Street on April 30 in what promises to be organized chaos — imagine "Pulp Fiction: The Musical." Joining him onstage will be up-and-comers Brotha Lynch Hung, Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Rittz and Ces Cru.
“I’m sure people have heard rumors that it’s one of the best shows in hip-hop,” he says. “It’s wild, it’s mild. It’s glad, it’s sad. It’s rock and roll, it’s R&B. It’s sentimental, it’s instrumental. It’s a clusterf—.”
Philadelphia will be stop No. 35 on the tour, which will hit 55 different cities. That’s nothing for Yates, who broke the hip-hop record last year when he did 90 shows in 99 days.
“Nothing’s grueling anymore [after that],” he says. “This is our habitat, keep in mind, that the 90 shows in 99 days … we actually did 96 shows in 105 days.”
Yates stays true to his loyal fan base, too. Technicians, as the hardcores are known, pay up to $150 for VIP packages on tour dates. From 3-4 p.m. – or for as long as it takes – Tech and his crew sign autographs and shake hands with everyone in line.
“It’s wonderful, man,” he says. “You stay until [you meet] the very last person that paid to see you perform in the show.”
Dishing on his new album
Yates is an open book when discussing his lyrical stylings and musical influences. But when the topic turns to his forthcoming album, “Something Else,” he becomes a little guarded.
There have been rumors of collaborations with System of a Down, DMX, Rick Ross, Macklemore and Jay-Z. Yates, confessing that he got in trouble for leaking too much during a recent interview on Fuse TV, would only confirm one guest appearance.
“Serj [Tankian], from System of a Down,” he says. “Serj don’t work with anybody. He’s unleashing a monster for my album.”
Tech gets very cryptic when talking about Jay-Z. He admires the Brooklyn rapper greatly and went on tour with him, including a show in Philadelphia a few years back. Still, the two have never collaborated on a track, a problem that Tech is trying to fix.
“I would love to do music with him. I’ve been a fan since 'Hawaiian Sophie,'” Yates says.
Will Hova get out his seat on “Something Else”?
“I can’t really say what I’m doing,” Yates says sheepishly. “I have a connection, a real close connection. … I have an idea, that’s all.”
Stay tuned. “Something Else” is due to drop June 25.
Five minutes with 'Tech':
Best performer you’ve worked with?
Roger Troutman [lead vocalist for the band Zapp]. We recorded “Twisted” back in 2000. I don’t think anything will ever beat that.
How close are you with Lil Wayne?
That’s my man. I was checking in on him when he had that little mishap with his health. I sent him that UGK line, “I just wanna celebrate ‘cause trill niggaz don’t die,” He wrote back that he wasn’t gonna die anytime soon. I send him titties [pictures] from time to time.
What’s on your iPod right now?
Kendrick Lamar M.A.A.D City, every System of a Down album ever put out, Slipknot, Rick Ross, to name a few.
Explain the meaning behind your stage name?
[Kansas City rapper] Black Walt gave it to me in 1988. It’s Tech, but we never spelled it like the gun [TEC-9], then we added N9ne. The number 9 is the number of completion and Tech is short for technique.