Independence is something highly celebrated by many in the music industry today. While independent labels have been around for years and years, it wasn’t until the decline in music sales that indie labels then became the best way to get your music heard.
In hip-hop, labels such as Amalgam Digital and Koch, now known as E1 Entertainment, are two of the biggest names in the indie market, and then there was of course Rawkus Records once upon a time, who introduced the world to acts such as Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, and a certain white boy by the name of Eminem.
There’s one label name missing though; and while they might not be a household name quite yet they are in fact one of the most successful indie labels on the planet; Strange Music.
With partner Travis O’Guin, Kansas City rhymer Tech N9ne started Strange Music in 1999. Since its launch the label has had big successes in the form of multiple album releases, sold out tours, and one of the biggest selections of music merchandise any label has to offer.
Taking time out from his busy European tour schedule, Tech N9ne sat down with Soul Culture at his first ever UK show to discuss independent sales, Kendrick Lamar, and battling with his dark side.
Strange Music is one of the biggest indie labels in the land. With countless artists all doing their thing on the underground, and some on a slightly bigger scale – Tech N9ne himself has recorded music with the likes of 2Pac and Lil’ Wayne, as well as hitting Billboard Top 200 a few times – what’s the secret?
“The key was actually having good music I think.”
“Then getting out there and showing people that we have good music. You know what I mean? Touring being number one. Number two being merchandise. We just did it from the beginning. We didn’t jump on anybody’s bandwagon. We just knew that beautiful music would spread.”
Many indie labels in the past have got to the point where they were so successful that they ended up getting in to bed with a major, or even sell the label to a major. Tech N9ne believes you should be heavily compensated for your hard work – “Would I ever consider going major? They would have to offer us a lot of money for our blood, sweat and tears. I can’t even put a number on it. We’ve got a lot of people [signed to the label] now. We’ve got Rittz, MayDay, Stevie Stone, Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Prozak, Ces Cru. We’ve got so many people. It would cost is a lot of money.”
Unaware of how well his most recent EP, Boiling Point, did sales-wise due to his non-stop travel itinerary [he was on an airplane when the numbers were announced], when told that it did 13,000 units in its first week Tech responds with, “To sell that many on an EP that’s bananas… and I don’t even use that word. That’s bonkers!”
Discussing the monetary reward, he adds, “I get to keep that money but we put back into a company… If you ever saw Strange Music [HQ] you’d be like, “Wow.” We just bought another building also. We’re building a studio. We do a lot of good things with our money. We sign other artists that we believe in. It’s all boom, boom, boom.”
Keeping on the subject of sales in respect to the money taken home from it, Meek Mill’s first week sales are brought in to the conversation. “I get to keep it. He has to pay his back,” he claims. “In fact I really don’t know what his deal is so I can’t say that. Big up to Meek Mill for doing those numbers (167,000 units), and also Kendrick Lamar for doing around 250,000 or something. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Staying on the subject of Kendrick Lamar, Tech N9ne was on the Compton emcee way before many other people due to his own signee Jay Rock. “He was touring with us with Jay Rock. Kendrick was his hype man,” he explains. “On that tour I heard some music that he gave me and there was that one song [starts singing], ‘Pussy and Patrone make you feel alright.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah! This shit is dope.’ I then listened to a whole lot more.”
The pair ended up working together on “I Love Music,” taken from Tech’s album All 6’s & 7’s. “I love lyricists. I love people that can go. [Kendrick Lamar] is a well rounded lyricist… He can do a lot of things like change his voice inflection. It’s just beautiful to see.”
After spitting an example of his rapid fire flow, Tech breaks down his reasoning for why he, as well as everyone else in the Midwest area of the United States can rap as fast as they do; “I think it’s just us being in the middle of everything. We get music from everywhere – the east, the west, the south – we’re just right dap in the middle of everything and have so much to say.” Listing other Midwest emcees with the power to flick their tongue at a mile minute – Twista, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Da Brat, Shawnna and Do Or Die – “There’s just all those styles in one mouth.”
Sometimes Tech N9ne is misunderstood. He’s been labelled a devil worshipper, as well as someone who constantly embraces the darkness. Having told his fans that after his K.O.D. (King of Darkness) album he would never make another dark inspired album again, Boiling Point, which is classed as an EP, feeds into the darkness once again. When asked about this, Tech’s response comes down to record format technicalities.
“I told people I would never do a dark album again,” he states. “But I didn’t say that there wouldn’t be seepage here and there. Boiling Point is a little bit of that seepage. You know what I mean?”
“K.O.D. will be the only one of its kind because to write that kind of music it puts you down a hole and I’ll stay there. [Boiling Point is] seven more songs that are caused by the same thing; my everyday life, problems with the IRS and stuff like that. It’s always gonna be there. So as it comes I’m gonna write it.”
Tech N9ne’s K.O.D., E.B.A.H. and Boiling Point projects are available to purchase via iTunes.
Keep up at therealtechn9ne.com