Good things may come to those who wait, but they won't come unless you bust your ass in the interim. Horrorcore rapper Tech N9ne is proof of that. The limber-tongued rapper is on a bus to Portland, supporting his July release Something Else when we speak. Tech's new album — his 13th collection in 14 years — debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts.
Something Else features guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, T-Pain, Wiz Khalifa, System of a Down's Serj Tankian, and the remaining members of the Doors (including the late Ray Manzarek) on a cover of their song "Strange Days," which inspired the name of Tech's label, Strange Music. Indeed, he's released four albums solely of collaborative tracks, known as his Collabos series.
"I just work with people I really like, and as I get better, the collaborations get more elite," Tech says. "Now the elites want to mess with me. Next thing you know I'll be on a song with Jay-Z and Kanye. It's not that far. Next thing you know I'm going to be on a song by Metallica or [Korn's] Jonathan Davis."
It's been a long road for the 41-year-old Kansas City musician. Born Aaron Yates, Tech remembers seeing Carrie when he was five with Friday the 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to follow. This is the wellspring of his gruesome tales, it's quite possible he was born this way.
"I've always been infatuated with the dark side," he says. "I think that it's because of the Bible Belt. You first get the teaching about the Holy Ghost, and it's spooky as hell. Everything is so dark. The Exorcist is so dark. Religion is so dark. So for us growing up in the church, why wouldn't we have a dark cloud over us?"
Tech had some success in the early '90s and signed a deal with Jerry Jam and Terry Lewis' Perspective Records as a member of Nnutthowze. They were dropped without releasing an album, and the group quickly disbanded. Another deal came in '97 with Quincy Jones' Warner Brothers imprint Qwest Records, and then finally, in 2001 with JCOR Records. That deal failed as well prompting Tech to swear off major labels altogether.
"A black dude that paints his face and has red spiked hair — nobody knew what to do with that," he says.
"I've always been diverse when it comes to music, thanks to my family. Gospel, rap, R&B, rock— it was all in my house. So I thank them for it. They're the reason why I'm the clusterfuck of music that I am," Tech continues. "It's hurt me in the past because people didn't know where to put me, but it's helped me now, because I can express anything and everything whenever I want to and people will receive it how they do."
While always a capable and colorful lyricist, Tech took it to another level with 2008 double album Killer. The disc's 32 tracks run the gamut from booty-music ("Wheaties") to graphic, twisted R&B ("Pillow Talkin'"), and old-school party stomp ("Drill Team").
In between two Collabos albums (2009's Sickology 101, 2010's The Gates Mixed Plate), Tech released a three-act concept album, King of Darkness, a creepy carnival of anger, madness, and redemption. It was followed by his breakthrough disc, 2011's All 6s & 7s, which also went to No. 4 on the album charts, and featured guest spots by Lil Wayne, the Deftones' Chino Moreno, Snoop Dogg, and Yelawolf among others.
For Tech's latest collection, he unveiled a revelation that shocked his fanbase. Something Else features the track "I'm Not a Saint," which opens with a gospel sample, and later reveals that his seventh grade teacher molested him.
"Some of the things I said hurt my wife because she did not know, so it's like those little things I have in my closet — deep, dark, and in the back of my skull or my cerebral cortex, I have to keep them there," Tech says. "But sometimes I let something seep through."
Despite the success, Tech's not slowing down. Next month he'll release a full-on rock disc, Therapy: Sessions with Ross Robinson. The seven-song EP was produced by Robinson (Korn, Slipknot), and features guitarist Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), drummer Sammy Siegler (Glassjaw), and percussionist Alfredo Ortiz (Beastie Boys).
"I'm going to keep on changing as I get older, and as I get better, not worse. But if they gravitate to one thing, they gravitate toward the song I did with Kendrick Lamar and the song I did with Khalifa and B.o.B. That doesn't mean I'm going to do a whole album of that shit," he says. "I did that then and that's working now, but this rock thing is something I had to get out of me, and nothing resembles that."