Tech N9ne — The man behind the painted face

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Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko on stage (Photo from '' via Flickr)

Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko on stage (photo from '' via Flickr)

Aaron Dontez Yates, better known by stage name Tech N9ne is a powerhouse independent hip-hop artist who has brought you hits like “Caribou Lou” and “Like Yeah”. Born November 8, 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri, Tech N9ne started his rap career because of a dare from a school mate. Now, with over 750 shows in the last four years at sold out venues from Los Angeles to New York, you might have caught one of his electric live performances.

Known for his no-holds-barred approach to lyricism and painted face, he has attracted a large following over the past decade — but it hasn’t been easy. After unsuccessful stints on several labels, Tech N9ne formed his own Strange Music label in 2002 with Travis O’Guin. Strange Music has solidified Tech N9ne as the number one independent artist in the country, and the number one independent hip-hop artist in the world. Under his label, Tech has released six albums, which have risen to the top of the charts. Fortunately, the Strange Music crew have a lot more to look forward to, with an international tour at the end of the month and release of the ‘Strictly Strange’ tour DVD in September.

The Entertainer was privileged to sit down with Tech N9ne and right-hand-man collaborator Krizz Kaliko after their performance at the 2009 Rock The Bells tour at the San Manuel Amphitheater. Our interview took place in the close setting of their tour trailer, where Tech provides us an intimate look into what fans can start getting excited about.

Tech, you’re the number one independent artist and have a lot of buzz on the web with over 50 million songs played on MySpace. How does it feel to have such a large following?

Crazy days man. Because we write our life, as it progresses, as it gets worse. [We’re] not sure who’s going to bite or who’s going to latch onto it. And you wake up one day and you’re the number one independent artist in the country. Touring did it. Getting out here shaking hands, kissing babies. It feels wonderful to have these fans, and gaining them day by day.

Is it more difficult pushing your efforts independently? And what advice would you have for those aspiring artists, who are finding it difficult to work with a label?

If you’re me and been on record labels half your life and they all went sour, you’d possibly want to try doing it yourself. If I had advice for upcoming artists, I’d say keep on keep on. Even if your family tells you it’s a hobby and you need to get a real job, just keep going. If you believe in it, you will achieve in it.

We know of your musical alliance with producer Krizz Kaliko, that has been spanning over a decade now. How did you first come together?

(Krizz): We met through a mutual producer, Icy Rock. We had this undeniable chemistry, and he’s like my brother. We really meshed socially, and really meshed creatively. Tech never needed help, but it sure didn’t hurt to get a second opinion. I always tell people that you can tell when I came into his creative circle. Things changed, not necessarily got better, but different. It’s just perfect chemistry.

You have collaborated with the likes of E-40, Eminem and 2 Pac. Anyone else you would like to collab with?

I’ve always wanted to collaborate with System of a Down. I just finished a song called “Killing You” with Corey Taylor of Slipknot for the new album K.O.D.

And the infamous question our readers are interested in: what do you keep in your iPod?

Gnarls Barkley, Slipknot, System of a Down, Shinedown, Avenged Sevenfold.

With the Strictly Strange DVD set to come out in September, what can fans expect to see? Possibly a different side of Tech N9ne and Strange Music?

September 22nd is the release date. For people who have never seen my show. I have never been to Turkey, Japan, Switzerland or Amsterdam. It‘s for people who have never seen my show, but have heard about it. Those people who want to see the show or just see Tech N9ne backstage, you’re going to love the Strictly Strange DVD. All my DVDs have been like ‘Behind the Music’.

(Krizz): This DVD is in front of the music. (laughs)

Yeah, and you get to see us about 70 pounds heavier also. I stopped drinking for the entire tour [to lose weight]. Now its, ‘no pasta, Skyy vodka.’ Cus they say vodka is not fattening. I never drink before the shows — I have to be 100 percent (begins rapping fast).

What can fans look for in the next album?

Its dark, my darkest album ever. K.O.D, with my mom being sick.

(Krizz): I was thinking the other day as we wrapped the album up. It is dark, that’s just like the overall concept of the album; but it is elite.

It is very dark, but it is beautiful music. Dim, but it’s beautiful music.

The Martini, beautiful song — the last song on the album. Because in movie terms, the directors call the last shot of the day the martini, because they usually go get a Martini after. It’s talking about three different people that are having to deal with infidelity, and I am going to kill you if you cheat on me, or I might kill myself too. My boy died from it, and I am talking about three different real stories.

(Tech sang for us a sample):  “This is the martini, the last shot’s for you or me.”

(Krizz): It’s crazy. It makes me tense up when I hear him telling you what the songs about. But then you hear the hook and it sounds very pretty.

The album will be out October 27th. I have to still write two songs for it. I have missed two of my dates already, I wouldn’t normally tell you about that. So I have two extra days on the 18th and 19th to wrap it up.

Everything in my life is so beautiful, I’m the number one independent artist in the country. I’m on Rock The Bells a major tour. On this album I’m getting international distribution, everything’s going so wonderful. But yet I have the situation with my mom. I should happy, but I’m forcing my smile — I don’t feel like being in society.”

You can learn more about Tech N9ne and Strange Music as well as find up to date information by visiting his website at

I am the project manager for Epsori Business Solutions, I assist in managing the San Diego Entertainer website. San Diego is my city, and I absolutely am enthused about The Entertainer being brought back to life in an easy to use digital format.


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