“A lot more people are watching us now,” rapper Tech N9ne says. He’s just awakened, stretches in his black tank top and red athletic shorts, and ambles toward the front of his tour bus. “So it’s really time to show off again.”
Tech, born Aaron Yates, is right: In the 13 years since he and his manager/label head Travis O’Guin started the independent label Strange Music, the rapper, known for his impossibly quick flow and hard-hitting rhyme schemes, has emerged as that rare independent hip-hop artist who produces major-label numbers. (His 2011 album “All 6’s and 7’s” has sold 229,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and was his highest-charting set, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.)
Now the industry is taking notice. So while the Kansas City, Mo.-based MC is in Chicago to perform a concert, he’s more than excited to talk about his bold new 13th studio album, “Something Else,” due July 30 on Strange Music. “It’s so massive,” he says of the three-part, 24-track concept album that outlines the fictional devastation and eventual rebirth of a world overcome by a meteor, and contains a track listing that boasts a who’s who of both the rap and rock worlds. Guests include surviving members of the Doors (Tech recorded with them last year in Paris prior to keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s death), System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, B.o.B and Cee Lo Green.
Dabbling in the world of rock is nothing new for Tech — his third album, 2001’s “Anghellic,” kicked off with a rock track. “Tech N9ne has definitely forged his own path,” Tankian writes in an email. “It’s rare to come across artists in both the hip-hop and rock world today who are both adventurous and powerful.”
O’Guin says that he plans to still market the album as a hip-hop release, but sees its cross-genre appeal as a vehicle for a multifaceted attack: He’ll leverage the Doors and Tankian collaborations to tap the rock market, while relying on the prominent hip-hop features to stay true to his rap base. “It doesn’t deter me in the slightest of how to market a record like this,” he says.
Radio is still a priority for Tech. He unveiled the T-Pain-featuring single “B.I.T.C.H.,” and other potential singles include cuts with Lamar (“Fragile”) and Khalifa (“See Me”). He’s also shooting eight music videos. Thanks to consistent touring and stellar merchandise sales, O’Guin says album sales aren’t his primary concern. “I got to be brutally honest with you: I could give a shit [about numbers],” he says.
Tech will be on the road for much of the year promoting the new album. He begins a Canadian tour on Aug. 14, before heading out on his 56-city “Something Else” tour that runs from mid-September through early November. He’ll also perform at all four stops on this year’s Rock the Bells tour. And while late-night TV appearances sound enticing to O’Guin, he says Tech will only do them if they fit into his schedule. “I’m not going to cancel a show because someone [at late-night TV] is calling,” he says.
O’Guin says that due to Tech N9Ne’s independent status, brands are very receptive to approaching him for synch opportunities largely because, unlike a major label, he can get a song cleared in a matter of hours. (In the past, the rapper has licensed his music to the film “Alpha Dog” and EA Games, among other brands.) Still, Tech and his team are highly selective. “We’re always on the lookout,” O’Guin says of potential partnerships. “But we’re very careful. We look at ourselves as the Saks Fifth Avenue of independent hip-hop.”