For more than 25 years, Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne has been shocking and surprising audiences with his hardcore rhymes. But if you want to know what makes N9ne drop his own jaw in disbelief, all you have to do is tell him that Elton John is one of his biggest fans.
When news broke that Elton John was record-shopping in Vancouver last March, and one of the artists he was looking for was N9ne himself, it caused a lot of folk on the Interwebs to do a double-take. N9ne was one of them.
“I was flabbergasted,” says N9ne (government name: Aaron Dontez Yates), 45, on the phone from Dallas. “It felt like a huge validation that someone of his stature in music – a genius, to be exact – was looking for my music.”
N9ne made sure that the Rocket Man got the hookup. “My lawyer out in LA knows his manager,” he says. “So, soon after that, we sent him records – vinyl and the new LPs on CDs. And I can’t wait to talk to him to see if there is something that we can do. I really would like to see what song or songs inspired him to walk into the Vancouver record store and ask for Tech N9ne. I’d like to know what led him there.”
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John isn’t the only celebrity fan of N9ne’s. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been singing his praises for more than a minute. He recently said in a CNN interview that he loves N9ne’s music. A N9ne track was also featured on the first season of Johnson’s HBO show “Ballers.”
“I’ve never talked to him on the phone or met him personally,” he says of Johnson. “But hopefully, when I get to Florida, if he’s there and not working – I’m sure he’s always working – hopefully he’ll get to see a show.”
If these celebrity co-signs still don’t convince you that N9ne is a force to be reckoned with, consider that for nearly the past two decades, N9ne has been releasing and distributing music without a major label backing him (way before Chance the Rapper began taking the indie route, BTW) on his own label, Strange Music, Inc. Sure, he did the major game back in the day, being on the roster of such labels as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s Perspective Records and Quincy Jones’s Qwest imprint. Unfortunately, all those labels “did not know what to do with a black guy with red spiked hair, a painted face and a bishop’s robe onstage. Luckily – no, by the grace of God, not luckily – I met this guy named Travis O’Guin who wasn’t afraid to push something that hard to sell.”
But N9ne will immediately let you know it’s not just about him at Strange Music. He also has a strong stable of artists alongside him – many of them are joining him on the “Strictly Strange Tour 2017” (which will make a stop at The Ritz on Monday). They’re also featured on “Dominion,” the recently-released album in the “Tech N9ne Collabos” series.
“Because we have so many artists on our label, it would be stupid to not advertise the ones that have been on the label that are elite and the newer ones that we’ve signed that are elite that need exposure as well,” he says. “So, it’s a good way to expose myself and, more importantly, all of our artists.
“We believe in working our artists and pushing them to the point to where they wanna be. You know, just because a Tech N9ne album sells all these copies, because I’ve been around longer and gained more fans, don’t mean that we, you know, push the other artists aside.”
Even though he excels at being the anti-Diddy over at his label, that doesn’t stop N9ne from doing his own thing. He says he’s working on an upcoming project inspired by Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” (That’s what he said.) As usual, he will continue to be as independent as he wants to be, and will encourage other artists to do the same.
“If you truly believe in something, you can push forward and still give it to the people, like we did,” he says. “And we were one of the first ones to dive into that – you know, hardcore … I think since people saw how well we’ve done with touring, with merchandise, with our own independent label and signing artists and making it a lucrative business venture, I think people saw that and was like, ‘Yes, I can do that too.’ ”
Who: Tech N9ne, with Brotha Lynch Hung, Krizz Kaliko, Stevie Stone, Ces Cru and Stitchy C
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: The Ritz, 2820 Computer Dr., Raleigh
Info: 919-424-1400 or ritzraleigh.com