DAMIEN KING LEE (3s): Hi, I’m Damien King Lee, and this is the fucked up story of my life and the lives of my guests. In this series of podcasts, I’ll be speaking to unique and inspiring individuals about their life, their personal stories, struggles, and experiences.
THE VOICE (27s): Hi there, and welcome to Life Is with Damien King Lee. This is The Voice, and I am talking to you this week, all the way from the Serengeti in Tanzania. Yes. A remote introduction. So our guest this week is the incomparable Tech N9ne and special co-host is Alex Chisnall with Damien. And I hope you guys enjoy this conversation as much as I did listening to it. Tech is an incredible rapper, entrepreneur and philosopher all around good egg. And in fact, he recorded this entire episode in the car in between meetings and he was still one of the most fascinating people that we’ve met.
THE VOICE (1m 8s): Thank you so much for listening. Enjoy.
DAMIEN KING LEE (1m 15s): So look, so Tech, you know, I just talked a little bit previously about what, what the show is, and Life Is – our show, and it’s really talking to you about your incredible journey, man. And that really you’ve built for yourself to who you are today and finding out warts at all, really from, from your early days, how you got to where you are and how you are today and where you’re going.
TECH N9NE (1m 44s): Well, that’s a, that’s a long story.
DAMIEN KING LEE (1m 48s): Let’s take it right back. I mean, let’s take it right back if you don’t mind. I mean, let’s really hear from, you know, early days, school days, man. Tell us about you growing up as a kid. What was family life for you? You know, tell us all about that. We’d love to know it.
TECH N9NE (2m 7s): Well, I was born in 1971, November 8th, so I have a birthday coming up. You know what I mean? I grew up here in Kansas City, Missouri, Wayne minor projects, where my family taught me rhythm at the breakfast table and dinner table by beating on the table and taking the forks against a glass cups. You know what I mean? And they taught me how to spell my name, Aaron, in a rhythm because I could never spell it right. You know what I’m saying? That’s what he told me, they taught me to do it in a rhythm of capital A, little a, R, O, N.
TECH N9NE (2m 47s): You know what I mean? So I learned how to spell my name like that in a rhythm, rhythm stuck with me. I was a dancer before I was a rapper. In fourth grade I was in talent shows, dancing to a song called Scorpio by Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five. So I was a break dancer and a pop locker back in the day. So the Roger Troutman era and all that, you know what I’m saying? I was pop locking and break dancing, but then the MC Hammer era came and I was like, I was a dancer, like MC Hammer. You know what I mean? Like a lot of my guys that are here from Kansas City went to go dance for MC Hammer, but I stayed back just to start working on my craft lyrically.
TECH N9NE (3m 34s): You know what I mean? And I start rapping in the year of 85. I think that was like seventh grade. I wrote my first rhyme and I started getting into various groups. You know, I was cool with everybody in school. You know what I mean? I didn’t have a lot of, we didn’t have a lot of money, but I always, was popular in school for my talent, you know, to dance and to bust raps, I used to beat box as well. You know what I mean? For other rappers, like ah, I could do it way better back then. And now when I wrote my rap, when I first wrote my first rap in 85, the guys that I was beatboxing for, didn’t speak to me no more because I was better than them.
TECH N9NE (4m 27s): You know, I have this, I had, I didn’t have a name back then. So my, my rap name was my middle name, Dontez, you know, so I have this rap that said D, O, N, T, E, Z, Z devastating beat box. That’s who I be. And when I’ve looked at 40 people and when I walk into the party guarantee to bump down and stop, but when that money dog, I was like, everybody else couldn’t rap like that. You know what I’m saying? So I didn’t have no more friends after that. And in the hip hop game, cause I was better than everybody, getting better and better. And I jump to 1993. Well, I actually got my name in 88.
TECH N9NE (5m 9s): I can’t, I can’t miss that in 1988. He had that walk to Jefferson, you know, and from their own, from 88, 1993, I got my first record deal with Jimmy Jam. And Terry Lewis flew us out to LA. I got to meet Jimmy Jam. And Terry Lewis, if you don’t know who they are, they did music for Janet Jackson. You know what I mean? So they saw something in me, but the people that they hired to run their label, didn’t see the vision. They didn’t know what to do with a guy that was eclectic like myself.
TECH N9NE (5m 50s): You know what I mean? Like when it comes to music tastes like a mixture of a rock and jazz hip hop and blues, everything, you know what I’m saying? Gospel, operatic style music, you know, they didn’t know what to do with that. So I lost that deal like 95, maybe. So 95, I got with a producer and a DJ here by the name of DJ Icy Rock and we started a group called nuthouse and that house, we did a lot of college dates and stuff like that, but we never got to put any music out. That group fell apart.
TECH N9NE (6m 31s): Then I got my next deal in 97 with Quincy Jones. He did Michael Jackson’s music. In there with the Jackson’s somehow. I don’t know maybe I’m the Michael Jackson of rap. So after that deal in 97, that didn’t go well, even though I’m still cool with Quincy Jones and his son was my producer back then, this is just not journey up to where I’m at right now. You know what I mean? I’m at 97 right now around 98. I met my partner, Travis here in Kansas City and he liked what I did musically.
TECH N9NE (7m 13s): And he said, what do you think about partnering up doing a label? And I’m like, yeah. So in 99 we got together and we did our first record through Say-Core Interscope and they didn’t do it the right way. So after that, we were done with the majors, you know, and we just went fully independent. And now we’re 20 years in the game, the number one independent label in the world, Tech N9ne, Travis O’Guin Strange Music. That’s the quick story.
DAMIEN KING LEE (7m 55s): Oh, wow. Wow. So, I mean, so at those early stages, I mean, going back to, you know, you were a dancer, I never knew that you’re a dancer. That’s, that’s incredible. So, I mean, what was your family life back like then? I mean, did you have a supportive family? And you know.
TECH N9NE (8m 15s): It was that my family raised me, Christian. Christian family. I’m talking about to the point to where my relatives have their own church and what my family, I went to church every day of the week, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. You know what I mean? Cause Monday would be the sewing circle, Tuesday would be the choir rehearsal for the, for the, for the seniors, Wednesday would be the choir rehearsal for the sunshine band that was in. Thursday would be something else. I don’t know, midnight worship or something. It was just always something to church. But my Mom married a muslim when I was 12. T
ECH N9NE (8m 57s): So we moved away from my Christian family and I studied Islam from 12 to 17. I ran away from home at 17 because I didn’t understand the strictness of my Islamic father. I mean stepfather, but I didn’t realize that he was trying to make me a stronger, a better man by the things he would do. You know what I’m saying? If I’ve messed up, I was really punished for it, not beat or anything like that, just put on punishment. You know what I mean? And I took some of the teachings from Islam with me and Christianity with me, of course, because that’s how I was raised, with both.
TECH N9NE (9m 37s): I ran away from home at 17 and just started working on my craft. And around, around that time is when I started moving from house to house. I was a nomad. I didn’t have any money for real, you know what I’m saying? I just had my talent. And with all that talent, I got my name Tech N9ne in 88, got my first deal in 93, got my second deal in 97. Got my last deal in 99. I mean 98. DAMIEN KING LEE (10m 2s): And never looked back, yeah. Yeah.
TECH N9NE (10m 8s): I went back home since.
DAMIEN KING LEE (10m 10s): Wow. Wow. And I mean, yeah.
TECH N9NE (10m 15s): You know, from my mom’s house, I lost her in 2014 to lupins rest her soul. But she is always here in spirit in my chest, you know what I’m sizzling. So it was like she never left, you know what I mean? But yeah, man. So
DAMIEN KING LEE (10m 31s): What about your mom at the time? I mean, what, and your stepDad. I mean, what, what sort of career did they hope for you? I mean, were they musical and theatrical and let you follow that passion or they had a different idea for you?
TECH N9NE (10m 44s): My stepfather didn’t want me to be a rapper, but my mom respected music because she played the clarinet and stuff like that. She always pushed me to be what I wanted to be, but my stepfather, I don’t know what he wanted me to be. You know what I mean? But, but I know he said something to me when I was younger. He said, why do you want to be a rapper? You don’t have anything different than everybody else. What’d you got, it sounds different than it. You sound like everybody else. So that made me want to do something different. You know what I mean, being that he said that I probably wouldn’t make it as a rapper because everybody does the same exact thing and copies each other, you know? And that made me want to go a different way.
TECH N9NE (11m 25s): And, and I, I appreciate him for saying that to me at a younger age, because maybe I would have tried to do exactly what Run-DMC was doing or, you know, N.W.A was doing, public enemy was doing, but I just took everything that I heard and that I liked from Slick Rick and Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and Eric B. & Rakim, and, you know, N.W.A, LL Cool J and all that. And I’ll put it together, man. You know what I’m saying? And put it on top of the love that I had for ah, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, you know, all that old school rock, you know what I mean?
TECH N9NE (12m 9s): And then it just got harder in the nineties, you know what I mean, with Nirvana, Pearl Jam. And then it got real hard in 99, with Slipknot. I fell in love with Slipknot and ah, man, just, just that love for all that different types of music, all the while loving opera style music and jazz and everything. And you could hear it all in my music, all those and infused together, you know, and my style lyrically, you know, being sort of like percussive , like a drummer, you know what I’m saying?
TECH N9NE (12m 55s): So always danced on beats because I was a dancer.
ALEX CHISNALL (12m 59s): Sorry Tech, so do you take, do you trace that back then to, to your stepfather and you know him saying that to you about what different, what’s going to differentiate you from from these other rappers? And it sounds like, you know, you, you really evolved your style and you take it influences from right across the spectrum to make it so unique.
TECH N9NE (13m 21s): Totally, man, I’m glad you said that to me because I didn’t want to look or sound like anybody or anything that anybody heard before. So when I created Tech N9ne, I wanted Tech N9ne to be the complete MC you know, lyrically. I could go fast. I could go slow. I could, I could tell stories. I could use my imagination. Just no barriers, no genre barriers, no cultural barriers, no nothing. That’s why it’s like a melting pot at my shows. You know, I want it to be that, that superhero of rhyme.
TECH N9NE (14m 4s): And so when I stepped out on stage with red spiked hair and a Bishop’s robe and a painted face, those major labels didn’t know what the hell to do with that. So there was like, okay, it’s metal. Okay, it’s hip hop it’s gangster and gospel. Like what the hell the hell is that? So we had to start Strange Music, me and my partner to show the world how to do this now and doing that. It made it a harder and longer road for us, but we’ve been sustaining over the years.
TECH N9NE (14m 46s): You know what I mean, decades of sustaining, you know what I mean? Because we went another route for one being independent, using your own money as a hard route. Once you lose money and you put more money in, you know, they say, they say that’s insanity, but not in this case because we kept putting money in expecting a different outcome and different outcomes kept coming. It was a point in time where I wanted to give up around 2005 because I felt like people weren’t getting what we were saying. You know, I was, I was making songs like why you ain’t call me? You know, like talking to all the artists like back then, like Jay Z and Ludicrous and all these people that I know y’all see that I’m dope.
TECH N9NE (15m 32s): But you know, it wasn’t about that. It was like I had to, I had to build my own road in my own lane to show people. And when people started recognizing the lane that I started independently and thriving in it, you know, then that’s when the big features start coming, like Wayne taking notice and T.I. taking notice and getting the verse from Eminem and me a song with Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Serge Tonkin and Jonathan Davis. You know what I’m saying? Korn, Gary Clark jr. I think it just goes on for days, man.
TECH N9NE (16m 13s): People that praise what Tech N9ne is. And it’s been a long, hard road because I’ve always been different. But my stepfather said, what did you going to do? That makes you stand out and boy, did I stand out
DAMIEN KING LEE (16m 32s): But did you ever along the way early on feel the pressure to think shit, this isn’t working. I need to start to go, what they’re telling me I should be doing or more mainstream or you stuck to your guns?
TECH N9NE (16m 45s): The thing, the thing about it is I felt that way, but myself wouldn’t let myself join the bandwagon because I understood that if I did what the fad was at the time, then when that fad goes out. So do I. And that’s why I’ve seen so many major artists rise and fall because they fall when everything changes. You know what I mean? I know a lot of rockers felt a way about Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all that grunge, and it said it took away all the hair bands.
TECH N9NE (17m 26s): But I think what they saw later on in the years is that those hair bands were aren’t going to always be respected once they kept going and didn’t give up. And that’s what I did, man. You know, I didn’t ever have to adjust my music to sound like what’s hot at that time. It’s just that the people that were hot at that time wanted to do music with me and did my stuff on their stuff.
DAMIEN KING LEE (17m 52s): No, stay true to yourself, man. True to yourself all the time. Yeah. Yeah. Damn. So. I mean, you know, for me as a kid, I grew back up in Australia, you know, that’s where I grew up and you know, I’m a little bit older than you.
TECH N9NE (18m 7s): What part from Sydney? What part of Sydney? Sydney? I love Sydney. I’m talking about. I’ve had days off in Sydney where I went to the zoo and everything.
DAMIEN KING LEE (18m 20s): Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. You’ve been out there quite a few times?
TECH N9NE (18m 25s): Yeah. Like I’ve probably done Sydney, like maybe seven times in my life. I don’t know. Cause every year we usually, every year, every other year we usually go down and do all of Australia and New Zealand as well. You know what I mean? We go so to Christchurch.
DAMIEN KING LEE (18m 49s): Christchurch too? Working holidays or a bit of both you’re mixing pleasure and business down there.
TECH N9NE (18m 56s): No, just, just working, just working. No, I haven’t. I haven’t. Yeah, but I’ve had, I’ve had off days, like I said, and I’m sitting here, you know what I mean? My last birthday I spent in Melbourne.
DAMIEN KING LEE (19m 9s): Okay. Yeah. Damn. All right.
TECH N9NE (19m 10s): So I had a couple of off days in Melbourne. My lady came down and kicked it with me on my birthday in Melbourne, you know? Yeah. I got a lot of friends down under.
DAMIEN KING LEE (19m 21s): You have man. You have, I mean, what’s your favorite Ozzy food?
TECH N9NE (19m 27s): You like veggie mine. I don’t know, man. I can’t remember man. Cause you know, we smoke a lot of weed down there.
DAMIEN KING LEE (19m 39s): <laughs>
TECH N9NE (19m 39s): All I know is my drink of choice down there was the cosmopolitan.
DAMIEN KING LEE (19m 45s): You’re serious. You’re doing cosmopolitans in Australia? Not very macho man. Wow. That’s awesome. Yeah, no, I, I miss home. I live here in the UK now, but you know, Sydney’s a beautiful city and you know, it’s got a great harbour and beaches and a great quality of life. That’s for sure. So do you get out to here to the UK as well? That often?
TECH N9NE (20m 13s): Totally man. I was there all last year. I did two tours in Europe last year. Let me see. Hold on. I did, I did Australia and New Zealand in January. I think, then February I did Canada, then March I think we flew to Europe, then April, May, we did 56 cities domestically here in the us. Then we went back for some festivals in Europe.
TECH N9NE (20m 55s): So I did five tours last year. That’s why when COVID hit this year and we were supposed to start a tour in April and we didn’t. I was cool on that view.
DAMIEN KING LEE (21m 11s): You were happy with that, you got a break. I hope you enjoyed what you heard. We had fun doing it. There’s another part to all this. So tune in next week and if you have a chance, subscribe, thank you.