"I write my life as it progresses, as it gets worse, whatever," says Aaron Yates, also known as Tech N9ne, who headlines at the Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, January 6. "I'm like a fan inside this cat called Tech N9ne, who writes this crazy stuff. I'm just waiting to see what the beats are going to bring out of me, and this time, it brought out a masterpiece."
That's Tech N9ne's modest assessment of his latest disc, Everready -- and if others are unlikely to place it among the pantheon of all-time-great hip-hop platters, they're apt to enjoy its variety. Tech N9ne divides his personality into three characters -- the King, the G and the Clown -- with music to match. As a result, the songs swing from the sassy "My Wife, My Bitch, My Girl" to "The Rain," an unexpectedly sincere lament about missing his family in which his daughter Alyia delivers a guilt-inducing verse.
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Of these roles, the Clown is the most divisive. Although Tech N9ne decided to rid his offstage activities of Bozo behavior after overdosing on ecstasy a few years back, he insists upon keeping the persona alive on disc and onstage. This move has helped him establish and retain a sizable cult following; he frequently opens for the Insane Clown Posse and is a favorite of Juggalos -- among the most loyal of all current musical subcultures. However, he admits that "the Clown hurts me with my people, and by 'my people,' I mean black folks. They're like, 'See? There he goes -- painting his face for the white folks.' Because the hood ain't never seen nothing like that; they ain't never seen no black dude call his insanity the Clown. But I think it's wonderful that I can bring the evil out of me to teach other people that this is what not to do."
Tech N9ne's insistence upon charting his own course extends to business matters. Since emerging from the Kansas City rap scene, he's gigged with Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and plenty of other A-list talents, and he's among the few hip-hoppers to have developed a reputation as a strong live artist. "I used to be a dancer, so we've got choreographed moves and everything," he points out. "It's not just grabbing your crotch and walking back and forth." Nevertheless, his one shot with a major label -- 2001's Anghellic, which was marketed through Interscope -- didn't hit the target. So he and partner Travis O'Guin are pushing Everready through their own company, Strange Music.
"It's harder being independent," Tech N9ne concedes. "You can't challenge Universal and Sony and BMG, with all their big budgets. So we have to inch -- but as we're inching, we're getting to be gigantic."
Clearly, he remains his own biggest fan. -- Michael Roberts