After two decades and twelve albums, Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne is finally ready to hit the mainstream. His new album, All 6’s and 7’s was released on June 6, and features appearances by, among others, Lil Wayne, B.o.B., Snoop Dogg, T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Yelawolf, and the Deftones. The album is also the highest profile release thus far for his label, Strange Records. Tech says during the interview that he always has a lot to say; what follows is an abridged version of a twenty-minute video chat about All 6’s and 7’s and the state of rap music in general. What cannot be translated in this format are Tech N9ne’s enthusiasm and cadence in talking about his album and craft, the new “6” and “7” tattoos that were still raised up from his arms, and his dead-on T-Pain impression.
How did you challenge yourself this time out?
I always challenge myself, but this time I sat at home and words I didn’t know I could rhyme, I did it anyway. For instance, a song like “He’s a Mental Giant,” I end with “narcissistic” and I have to figure out where to go from there. I went to “hard to grip it” and “dark and wicked.” I just kept going. I did a song a day. I never have time to do that, and I didn’t have it this time either, but it worked out somehow. Sometimes when I got stumped- I have the TV on and I’m sitting on my couch and there are DVDs lined up. I can just look at a letter, if I used “narcissistic” and the top DVD says Halloween, I’ll take that “h” and come up with the “hard to grip it.” I pushed myself lyrically to find new words- ones that I didn’t know that I could rhyme.
Explain the title of the record a little bit. Where does the expression come from? How does it describe the record?
The expression comes from playing craps. They say a person is “at 6’s and 7’s.” It’s saying you’re in a state of confusion and disarray. I first heard it a long time ago when I was watching The Wiz, a movie that Quincy Jones produced. After she got done singing her song and everything, Glinda tells Dorothy not to be all 6’s and 7’s. It stuck in my head, and when I looked it up later in life, it means that you must be out of sorts to be putting all your money on such a slim chance. You’re rolling blind. You must be crazy. That straight fits me. I am in a state of confusion spiritually- wanting to know if God is listening to my prayers when my mom is sick. And the world is in a state of disarray right now. There are wars all over the globe and people talk about breaking down our own government. It’s crazy and fucked up. All 6’s and 7’s is perfect. It’s me and the world as it stands.
Was there any thought about making this a double record or two albums?
I really didn’t. I bought thirty-one beats for this album, and when I buy the beats, I want to use them all. I still have seven beats left that are connected to this album. On top of the twenty-four selections on the album, I did extra- four for iTunes, three for Best Buy, some video stuff for FYE. I did so much music, but I still have seven tracks that I haven’t touched yet that will be attached to this album some way. Originally Travis wanted to do only sixteen songs, but the album just ended up this way. I just have so much to say all the time.
How did you decide who you wanted to be on the album? How did you get them all?
I didn’t decide. The beats that I have on the record decided and the people decided. I had no idea that Lil Wayne knew of me and my movement, but Funkmaster Flex asked him while he was in prison who he wanted to work with; he said Andre 3000 and Tech N9ne. I got in touch with his people and they got me into Rikers. We talked for three hours and he said it was on when he got out. He wasn’t lying. I went down and recorded with him for Carter and he came up and did mine. T-Pain was the same way. He stole my producer, YoungFyre. He found him somehow, and when Fyre started working with T-Pain I couldn’t get enough beats. When I met T-Pain last year at my Atlanta show, he said, “Hey man, I stoled your producer” I didn’t get it, and he told me again, “I said I stoled your producer.” I told him that he owed me a verse then, and he ended up throwing me a hook. The Deftones came about in a similar way. I heard that they said in an interview they loved listening to Tech N9ne, and I was like, “Whoa. The Deftones? Come on, man.” We contacted them, and they came in. That’s how a lot of this album happened. B.o.B., I had no idea that he knew me, but his people found me in Atlanta and said that he wanted me on his mixtape but that they couldn’t find me. I told him later I was sorry to have missed it, but he said that it meant we needed to do something bigger, so he gave me “Am I A Psycho?” It’s amazing to me how this album came together. I don’t know how much it’s going to sell, or how many people are going to be aware of it, but I’m proud of it as it stands. I don’t care if it sells twenty copies- I’m proud of every part of it.
Is there a song on this record that surprised you, one you thought you knew but maybe didn’t?
Yes. “Boogieman,” which features Stokley Williams from Mint Condition. I have been a long-time fan, and I didn’t know if he would even consider doing a song that strange. My voice is really pitched down- that really crazy Tech N9ne shit- and he heard it. He said, “Tech, this is not an accident. This is meant to happen, and I’d love to do it.” I put this really crazy guy called First Degree the D.E. at the end of it for four bars and it ended up sounding really cohesive. It’s so weird and beautiful at the same time. I was surprised that it ended up that way.
Do you look at the record differently as an artist and a label head?
No, I don’t. It’s all my baby. I treat everything, from the touring to the merchandise as my child. This is how we survive. This is how I take care of my children. My partner Travis O’Guin is the same way. We treat everything with the same respect. All artists get the same big push, because we believe in everything that we do. I think fans can see that too, and we’re grateful to them for it.
Who inspires you?
I’m going to use “inspire” in the past tense, as in who inspired me to do what I’m doing. Public Enemy, N.W.A., Eric B. and Rakim, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Schooly D, Bizzy B. The old school- Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane. You know what it is. The old school gave me an education. I went to those shows and learned how to rock a crowd. I learned how to touch people spiritually, mentally, and physically. It’s not saying that the new schoolers can’t teach me anything, but a lot of these youngsters don’t know how to move a crowd. You can’t fault them. Nobody ever gave them that teaching.
How have you grown as an artist?
I still see myself pushing limits. I try to be free with what I’ll say. I say whatever the fuck I want to say, and I don’t have a filter. That’s a beautiful feeling. Back in the day I might have laid off because I didn’t want to offend somebody, but lately, if I feel it I have to spill it. I’m like totally inside out now. Even if it’s ignorant, I’m going to say it. I love that about me right now.
What is the most exciting thing about hip-hop music?
The most exciting thing about hip-hop music today is that it’s still getting people up out of poverty doing something positive. Even if the message isn’t necessarily positive, it’s still working. I turn on the television and see somebody like Roscoe Dash or Tyga really doing it, getting up out of poverty- that’s a blessing.
What would you change about hip-hop?
I would change the major labels’ tendency to try and clone successful acts. We need people who are visionaries and take chances, like Def Jam took chances. I want the labels to stop trying to make Jay-Z clones and to make Eminem clones. I want them to break some new artists.
What advice would you give to young rappers?
If you feel it, deep in your heart– and everybody swears they can rap or do music or sing, and they can’t– you still might not have what it takes. When I listen to demos or mixtapes, I realize that these guys may not have a lot of money and probably could sound a lot better, but I can hear talent. A lot of people, even some of those getting put out now that say they can rap, can’t even stay on beat. You can’t be the only one who thinks you’re dope.
Who doesn’t know that Tech N9ne is into them?
I would love for System of a Down to know that Tech N9ne is into them. I’ve adored their music since I first heard it. The style is schizophrenic, and I think we have similar attitudes toward verses. The collaboration would be bonkers.