Motor-mouthed Missouri MC Tech N9ne might have surprised some casual rap watchers when his latest underground hip-hop opus, All 6' & 7's, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 last June with 56,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, despite lacking a radio-friendly single or major-label promotion. (The album has sold 200,000 to date.) But anyone paying attention to the 40-year-old rapper's public outreach -- his fans call themselves "Technicians" and identify as both rock and rap supporters -- and touring efforts for his Kansas City, Mo.-based independent Strange Music during the past decade understood Tech N9ne's ability to peddle his own unique brand.
Founded by the rapper (born Aaron Dontez Yates) in 2000, Strange Music has given him a platform to release 10 albums in 11 years while accruing fresh talent like Krizz Kaliko, ¡Mayday! and Prozak. All three artists were featured on Tech N9ne's Hostile Takeover 2012 tour, which features 90 U.S. performances in 99 days, has included rising Bad Boy/Interscope rapper Machine Gun Kelly and will conclude July 6.
The Hostile Takeover trek is the latest example of Tech N9ne's relentless road work (he played 82 shows in 85 days supporting All 6's and 7's in 2011) -- and, with MGK onboard, another instance of the artist massaging his ties to commercial rap. Tech N9ne snagged guest appearances from B.o.B, Busta Rhymes, T-Pain and Snoop Dogg on All 6's & 7's and popped up on Lil Wayne's mega-selling Tha Carter IV last year with a flashy guest verse. Frequently awash in face paint and ignoring choruses, Tech N9ne is still a hip-hop oddball, but his relentless, highly respected drive has made him a profitable one. - Jason Lipshutz