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Tech N9ne’s pitch plunges to a Tyler, the Creator-esque baritone, serving as a chilling contrast to how he’s been casually bantering about upcoming releases, Lil Wayne and the power of Twitter for the previous 15 minutes. “I like fire on my skin, blood on my drawers,” the Kansas City-based emcee spits, delivering part of a verse from his appropriately titled track “Am I a Psycho?” over the phone. He pauses, then chuckles. Aaron Yates is back to normal.
But normal is a rather loose term in this case, considering that the 40-year-old has been releasing horrorcore-leaning rap since before Tyler, the Creator had hit double-digits and only a few years after the Geto Boys dropped the seminal Making Trouble. This is the guy who has been painting his face for shows since ’94, sleeps with a clown mask beside his bed, readily admits that he’s “got psychotic shit going on in my head all the time” and is a staple performer at the bizarre Gathering of the Juggalos. A better way of phrasing it might be that Tech N9ne no longer sounds like he’s going to swing an axe through the phone.
In reality, it’s his willingness to stylistically experiment and constantly “elevate” — as he puts it — that’s granted Tech staying power (which he compares to Dracula’s immortality): it’s the dubstep beat in “Blur,” the frantic yelling in the upcoming “E.B.A.H.” and the AutoTune-saturated Lil Wayne and T-Pain collaboration on “Fuck Food.” His blistering, technical delivery has always been impressive, but a bunch of mediocre peers seem to have figured out the recipe — think Mac Miller, Yelawolf and Machine Gun Kelly — and are chipping away some of the appeal that has helped him sell over a million albums and be awarded the top independent rapper (over the likes of Atmosphere and Raekwon) by XXL.
“I have the responsibility to show the fuck off,” says Tech, responding to the question of how he constantly reinvents himself with the pressure of young rappers. “It will make people look and say ‘wow’ — ’cause then they’ll want to better themselves. That’s what we’re supposed to do. All I gotta do is do my job and do the undoable, just like Eminem does, just like Jay-Z does, just like Ludacris does, just like Drake and Lil Wayne do. It’s our duty to show our asses. Shame on us if we don’t.”
Regardless of what exactly “show our asses” means, it’s obvious that Tech is determined to compete with his peers in the age of the 855-song mixtape. In the past 18 months, he’s dropped two full-length albums (including the magnificent All 6’s and 7’s, which featured Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Twista and Snoop Dogg) and an EP, as well as playing 90 shows in 99 days on the Hostile Takeover Tour. Another EP — E.B.A.H. or Evil Brain Angel Heart — will be released on September 18, with yet another EP coming in October.
To top it all off, another full-length is being prepared with possible features including Eminem, French Montana, Citizen Cope, Clown of Slipknot and Royce da 5’9”. Rick Ross was mentioned amidst the other heavy-hitters, but Tech assures that he called Rozay only to commend him on God Forgives, I Don’t (we can only hope for more of Ross’ trademark bark on every rap album). But amazingly, in spite of all the attention he’s received since his prison visit with Lil Wayne and eventual feature on Weezy’s Tha Carter IV with Andre 3000, Tech ultimately views music more as mental relief than a ticket to fame.
“Quincy Jones told me to write my life,” he says. “Rap what you know. I’m inside out, so I have to, no matter if it’s embarrassing to the person I write about. I have to get it off of me. That’s my therapy. I wish I didn’t have that much sadness and darkness, but I do, but I’m embracing it now. Like, fuck it. Let’s go.”