With over two million records sold, Kansas City’s Tech N9ne is the most successful independent rapper of all time. Tech has without doubt solidified himself as one of the biggest players in the hip-hop game, but it’s his recent crossover success in the rock and metal circuit, which includes collaborations with Five Finger Death Punch and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, that has both worlds taking notice…because it’s working.
This summer, Tech pushed himself even further into the hard rock game by teaming up with legendary producer Ross Robinson — known for discovering nu-metal pioneers Korn and his work with Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Sepultura, and Glassjaw (to name a few) — to mastermind the groundbreaking Therapy EP.
From a studio in Venice, these “therapy sessions” with Tech and Robinson, along with contributions from Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Glassjaw’s Sammy Siegler, and producer Seven (amongst others), spawned one of the most unexpected and unprecedented releases of the year.
We caught up with Tech and Ross, who were reunited for the first time since finishing the record, at the Venice cafe they spent their off time at during the recording Therapy to talk about how the duo came together, Tech’s thoughts on working with rock legends, and why Ross was able to “conjure the ghost” in Tech.
When was the last time you two saw each other?
Tech: I haven’t seen him since we did it because I went right on tour afterwards. On August 15th I did Canada, then I had two days off before I did my 54 cities domestically.
So how did you guys actually get connected?
Tech: It was through Sean E, I believe — through mutual friends Sean E and Dave. We had a meeting about doing something for that project called “House of Shock” [Sid Wilson of Slipknot, Dave Lombardo of Slayer, and Gary Holt from Exodus]. We did that one song, and really, me working at his spot right here on “House of Shock” is why I called this EP Therapy because it felt like therapy when we got together in the studio.
You guys didn’t really know each other before you started working together…?
Tech: Nah, I just knew his name.
So how did you guys connect so deeply that it became like therapy?
Tech: We didn’t know until we got in the same room. Ya know? I didn’t know…
Just good chemistry?
Ross: Just being interested in him and interested in the song and wanting the song to be a life form. You just can’t help but go there.
Tech: Yeah. It just worked. I mean, we could’ve gotten in there and it just didn’t work — like, “Fuck this! Fuck that!” — but it wasn’t. It was just so…relaxed. It was uncomfortable at first because I’m usually to myself, and I’m usually my own therapist, I’m my own psychiatrist. In this setting, it was Ross, it was Sid, it was Wes Borland, it was Shawnee, it was Dave, it was Ritchie. It was a therapy session, so when he asked me to [Tech begins beat boxing], I had to do it in front of people, and I was like, “Okay…”
Ross: [Laughs] And I’d be like, “Do it again!”
Tech: Ya, “Do it again.” Man, I had to think out loud now — in front of people.
How was it going through your musical process with people from the rock and metal world? Were there more nerves with that?
Tech: Yeah. I was nervous on the first day because Ross put us all in there together in one room. And we were just going. I’m trying to read my rap, Wes was playing right in front me, Ross is right here tweaking buttons, Seven is elbow to elbow with me, and Sammy is on the drums right there. I mean, I can see it right now. Everybody just in there. Gellin’. Ya know what I mean? Crazy.
Ross: That was the first time you did that.
Tech: Yeah, that was the first time I’d done that. It was like being in a band. I’m so not used to it. It’s like, “Oh, what did I do? I fucked up…”
So how long did it take you to do this EP from start to finish?
Tech: I don’t really know, man. I got lost in the days. I know I spent one week here [in Venice], then I had to go do press in New York or something, then I had to come back and do another week of work.
Ross: The work went pretty fast — the actual work.
Ross, how is it for you working with Tech?
Ross: It’s, uh, it’s…he’s open and available. He’s been a soldier. He’s in it to work.
Tech: And in my world, in my comfort zone in Kansas City, I have my engineer. Like when I get out of the booth, we can tweak it to see how it’s going to work. But with Ross, we do it, leave it, go to something else, come back, and when we’d play it. I’d be like, “Oh no, I don’t know if it’s gonna work.” And he’d be like, “Trust me, it’s gonna work,” And he was right. Everything came together like boom — it’s like he knew before I did. I’d be like, “I don’t know about my singing,” and he’d be like, “No. You sing on it and keep it like that.” Now when I listen to it, I’m like, “Man, he was fucking right.”
Ross: It could have gone farther.
Tech: Yeah, I know. I wanted to do more songs.
Are you guys going to?
Tech: I hope so. I tell people, I say, “I’d take another therapy session with Ross.”
Tech: I would — at the drop of a dime. This is where I live now. In fact, I didn’t even know we were coming here [to the cafe]. I’m on the phone talking to people back home like, “Hold on, we’re at the spot! We’re at the spot! This is my hood!”
Ross: It is.
So when you start Therapy, what is the ghost you’re talking about?
Tech: Oh my goodness. This man [gestures to Ross]. For somebody who doesn’t believe in ghosts, for him to tell me to conjure “the ghost,” to me, it’s like that thing inside of you that you don’t know is inside of you. It comes out, you know what I mean? It brings everything out inside of you. That’s how I figured out what the ghost is, and he made me conjure it. Ya know what I mean? He might have a different…
Ross: No, that’s it. Basically, when someone does a great performance, everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, you did good.” And everything’s technical and good, but the thing that we’re all dying for is this essence that communicates from here [points to his head] to there [points to his heart]. Not here, not the ears.
Ross: And when he clicks out and goes into it, it turns into like a radio and he transmits something so special. It lets people really know they’re alive. [Tech] can sing basically anything, rap anything with that conviction, that opening. It’s important. It’s beyond the body. He has the ghost.
Did you find it easier tapping into some of those emotions through rock and metal?
Tech: I’ve always been the type of person to let everything loose. Ya know what I’m saying? Even my hip-hop music, which has always had a rock edge to it. But this, this was totally different and had a totally different atmosphere to it. This was a totally different way of looking at things. Like [starts singing] “I come in narcissistic thinkin’…” I have said everything. I know everything when it comes to me.
So I get with Ross and he says, “You’re from Kansas City. What does it taste like? What does it smell like?” And I’m like, “I never thought of it like that!” He made me think about shit different. So when I came out here to write, I’m already on that page, like I’m trying to take it somewhere else. That’s why that music is not like anything I’ve done ever. That’s why when people ask me, “Why did you do this kind of music?” I’m like, “It just happened — it ain’t like we planned it.”
How was the writing process? Did you come in with ideas already prepared or did it all come together organically in the studio?
Ross: Well, we tried to do stuff with Sid [Slipknot], but that didn’t work out. Seven had all the tracks written and everything. It was really good. So we basically took all of those and just mutated them.
Tech: Mutated them.
Ross: …into rock. Well, we basically came together in the comfort zone and made it uncomfortable.
Tech: It went from totally uncomfortable to totally, “I don’t want to leave.”
Ross: It’s cool to watch you jump into cold water. I think no matter what, you just grow and grow, and the next thing, whatever it is, will just be another level. I can see talented dudes kind of doing the same thing over and over, then you’re comfortable, you’re settled into it. People are still about it, but as an artist, you gotta reach.
Tech: Yeah. Every song sounds exactly…different. [laughs]
Ya know, the tracks (on Therapy) are all incredibly different. I really liked “Hiccup.”
Tech: Me too. It came out of a dream.
What was the dream?
Tech: It came to me two days after we were working. In my dream I was sitting at his desk in the studio, looking at the screen, and he pointed down to a black record with white letters that said “Hiccup.” Then he looked at me and said, “Hiccup.” So I woke up and was like [starts beat boxing] and told him, “I’ve got this idea. We gotta do it!” And he made me do it in front of people on his phone. I went up to the Terrace to eat, and when I came back, he already had something.
Ross: We hacked out the song really fast. It was fun.
Tech: Yeah man. Wes, him, and Seven, Sammy…they just came up with the beat.
To be continued…
Therapy is available now. For more on Tech’s latest releases, check out his website.