Tech N9ne on "That Fast Flow," Strangeulation and Being a "Job Creator"

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How fast is too fast?

Rapper Tech N9ne's supersonic lyrical delivery tests the boundaries of human comprehension. The Kansas City-based MC was bestowed his name thanks to his ability to spit out words with the speed of a TEC-9 semiautomatic weapon. Tech N9ne later gave his handle a double-entendre by stating the "tech" was short for "technique" and "nine" representing the number of completion -- therefore his name signifies his total ability to rhyme like a champ.

The rapper got his start moving from one hip-hop collective to another. In the 1990s, he went from Black Mafia to 57th Street Rogue Dog Villians to Nnutthowze to the Regime. But in 1999 he decided to become independent, not just as a solo artist but by starting his own record label, Strange Music. The name of his current tour, Independent Grind, celebrates his status.

We caught up with Tech N9ne in advance of his St. Louis show on May 4 at the Pageant to discuss what it takes to put on a great hip-hop show and the importance of clarity over speed.

David Rolland: What's the secret to rapping with such quickness?

Tech N9ne: Years of practice. Back when I did my first rhymes, in seventh grade, everyone had the LL Cool J style [rapping slowly], "All the money I'm gener-a-ting" back in 1985. I was going like [rapping much faster], "I'm getting all the money crumples." I guess I talk kind of fast. But it's years of practice which makes perfect.

Is there a formal method to your practice?

You have to rehearse, because with a style like that, you have to get your tongue ready for that kind of thing. I guess you can wake up and just do it, because I just woke up and just did it, but it's practice. I don't have no mantra, but sometimes when I'm writing I have to loosen my tongue up. You can't pinch hard on the roof of your mouth. That way you don't slur, and words come out much clearer.

Have you ever timed how many words per minute you can get out?

No, I've never done that because it's never been about how fast I can go. I'm from the Midwest, where all of us -- from Bone Thugs N Harmony, Ludacris, Eminem -- crazily have that fast flow. It's never been about how fast I can do it; it's been about if I do this style, how clear I can do it. A lot of guys go way faster than me, but you can't hear what they're saying. I don't think that's worth it.

Are you working on something new, or are you still recovering from last year's album, Something Else?

I have a new collaborative album with all my artists called Strangeulation. It's not "strangulation"; it's Strange Music artists having you in a choke-hold, everybody on the roster. It comes out May 6. We've been touring a lot. We have 78 dates in something like 84 days.

Continue to page two.

Since you're speaking about your label, Strange Music, can you talk about the differences between having your own label and being on someone else's label, as you were earlier in your career?

It's a lot more work, but if you are willing, it's greater later. You will see artists flourish before your eyes. You see artists going from being waiters to working at T-Mobile to having their own home, having kids, buying their own car. It's so wonderful to build something and be a job creator.

How do you know when an artist is right for your label?

I go for people who are the same caliber as myself or better. I'm not the kind of guy who wants somebody not as good as me so that I can shine. When we go through our roster, it went from me to Krizz Kaliko to Kutt Calhoun -- just right there, those are all winners. I go seek people out that convey lyricism and those stories through the microphone. And if they can't do it live, then it's not going to work.

What is the key for a rapper to be able to do it live?

Rehearsal. Getting it perfect. I'm not saying everybody has to do what we do to put on a good show. I've been to a lot of shows; you have to respect those shows for what they are. But if you want to see a rapper who's holding his crotch for an hour and having a million people onstage, I don't mind it, but that ain't us.

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