Before the internet, for an artist to get noticed they needed a lot of middlemen; agents to get them in touch with the right people, DJs to spin their records at clubs, radio stations to play their music, promoters to get them gigs, and a bevy of others. Nowadays, artists just post their music onto various social media platforms and the middlemen find them rather than the other way around. Being an independent artist before the internet was tough, but that didn’t stop Tech N9ne from taking that route.
The Kansas City born MC paved the way for the internet generation, opting to avoid major labels and instead taking his career into his own hands. Managing every aspect of his rap career, Tech’s Strange Music imprint (which he started with his business partner Travis O’Guin in 1999) has become the defacto model for all independent artists since. He’s amassed a plethora of success, pulling in revenue from streams like touring, merchandising and music, and not having to split it with any record execs – the money stays with him and his team.
All that success didn’t come overnight though. Independence back in the ‘90s was a huge gamble, considering if he didn’t blow up and his rap career didn’t take off, he’d be broke. He ensured his success through believing in himself and his music, and that’s some of the wisdom he shared with Sway while recently chopping it up with the OG radio host. He wanted to let new artists know if you believe in what you’re putting out, success is imminent.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share that inspiration with everybody,” said Tech N9ne. “If you believe in that product man, and you pushing and pushing and pushing, the next thing you know you be the number one independent rapper in the world.”
He can’t take all the credit though. He and his business partner both found inspiration from artists before them who went similar routes. In turn, he hopes artists today will look to him the same way.
“We’re at the forefront of that man, we showed people that you could do it yourself if you have the guts to do it, the guts to lose hella money and keep going,” said Tech N9ne. “We showed youngsters that are coming up now independent that we can do it, we shared the inspiration so everybody is like ‘if Tech can do it we can do it’ and I was like ‘if E-40 can do it, we can do it,’ [and Travis O’Guin] was like ‘if Master P could do it we could do it.’”
Making a splash in the hip-hop world is one thing, but sustaining that success is the tough part. Tech Nina has managed to stay relevant and popular because he believes in the entertainment aspect of rap and continues to put on quality shows for his legions of fans. In his eyes, rappers who only want to make music and avoid showmanship won’t last long.
“If you ain’t doing a show, if you ain’t putting a show together for the people – what are you doing? That show is supposed to make ‘em keep coming back and telling more people, ‘you have to see this show,’” he said.
“If you’re a youngster out there and you just think you can hold your crotch and just rap – some of ‘em can but it would be just a flash in the pan – because it’s about entertainment….Whenever somebody hear of a Tech N9ne show they like ‘you gotta see this’ and they bring more and more people. How are we able to sell out [large venues] every time we go without opening up for anybody, just us, just Strange Music, ten thousand people come in….We’re able to do that because all of the work we’ve done over the years on the road, giving ‘em great quality merchandise, great music, a good product and people will stand by it.”
The full interview with the man born Aaron Yates can be viewed below and throughout the ~30 minutes he talks to Sway (openly and honestly) about: losing money to the IRS, losing more than money in his divorce, learning to rap so he could learn to spell his name, running out of warehouse space for his merchandise, his last album letting him down, spoiled hip-hop fans taking the art for granted and more.