How fast is too fast?
Rapper Tech N9ne's supersonic lyrical delivery tests the boundaries of human comprehension. The Kansas City-based MC was bestowed his name thanks to his ability to spit out words with the speed of a TEC-9 semiautomatic weapon. Tech N9ne later gave his handle a double-entendre by stating the "tech" was short for "technique" and with nine completing all digits -- his name signifies his total ability to rhyme like a champ.
The rapper got his start moving from one hip-hop collective to another. In the 1990s, he went from Black Mafia to 57th Street Rogue Dog Villians to Nnutthowze to the Regime. But in 1999, he decided to become independent, not just as a solo artist but by starting his own record label, Strange Music. The name of his current tour, Independent Grind, celebrates his status.
New Times caught up with Tech N9ne a couple of days before his Fort Lauderdale show to discuss the secrets of putting on a great hip-hop show and the importance of clarity over speed.
New Times: What's the secret to rapping with such quickness?
Tech N9ne: Years of practice. Back when I did my first rhymes, in seventh grade, everyone had the LL Cool J style [rapping slowly], "All the money I'm gener-a-ting" back in 1985. I was going like [rapping much faster], "I'm getting all the money crumples." I guess I talk kind of fast. But it's years of practice which makes perfect.
Is there a formal method to your practice?
You have to rehearse because with a style like that, you have to get your tongue ready for that kind of thing. I guess you can wake up and just do it because I just woke up and just did it, but it's practice. I don't have no mantra, but sometimes when I'm writing, I have to loosen my tongue up. You can't pinch hard on the roof of your mouth. That way you don't slur, and words come out much clearer.
Have you ever timed how many words per minute you can get out?
No, I've never done that because it's never been about how fast I can go. I'm from the Midwest, where all of us -- from Bone Thugs N Harmony, Ludacris, Eminem -- crazily have that fast flow. It's never been about how fast I can do it; it's been about if I do this style, how clear I can do it. A lot of guys go way faster than me, but you can't hear what they're saying. I don't think that's worth it.
What can we expect on this tour?
OK, Fort Lauderdale, Culture Room, they can expect it's very, very hot and loud. They have tile on the stage, so we can slip. But the reason it's so sweaty and hot in there is because we have so many fans in the area. Everybody's really turned up because I'm doing songs like "Einstein." It's going to be really rowdy because it's family. There's no confusion in our shows because it's so much energy, so much love, so much sweat. Culture Room, oh my God, I'm going to be slipping and sliding on the stage.
Are you working on something new, or are you still recovering from last year's album, Something Else?
I have a new collaborative album with all my artists called Strangeulation. It's not "strangulation"; it's Strange Music artists having you in a chokehold, everybody on the roster. It comes out May 6. We've been touring a lot. We have 78 dates in something like 84 days.
Since you're speaking about your label, Strange Music, can you talk about the differences of having your own label and being on someone else's label as you were earlier in your career?
It's a lot more work, but if you are willing, it's greater later. You will see artists flourish before your eyes. You see artists going from being waiters to working at T-Mobile to having their own home, having kids, buying their own car. It's so wonderful to build something and be a job creator.
How do you know when an artist is right for your label?
I go for people who are the same caliber as myself or better. I'm not the kind of guy who wants somebody not as good as me so that I can shine. When we go through our roster, it went from me to Krizz Kaliko to Kutt Calhoun -- just right there, those are all winners. I go seek people out that convey lyricism and those stories through the microphone. And if they can't do it live, then it's not going to work.
What is the key for a rapper to be able to do it live?
Rehearsal. Getting it perfect. I'm not saying everybody has to do what we do to put on a good show. I've been to a lot of shows; you have to respect those shows for what they are. But if you want to see a rapper who's holding his crotch for an hour and having a million people onstage, I don't mind it, but that ain't us.