Tech N9ne Discusses Prolific Career Before Denver Fillmore Concert | Westword

The Elite Process Behind Tech N9ne's Success

Tech N9ne discusses his somber but special connection to Denver ahead of his concert at the Fillmore this weekend with Hollywood Undead.
Tech N9ne is anything but PG-13.
Tech N9ne is anything but PG-13. Courtesy Sam Levi
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Aaron Dontez Yates is a chameleon, a sonic shapeshifter, even if he prefers to see himself as a killer clown whenever he performs. The Kansas City rap god, who goes by his longtime stage name Tech N9ne, is best known for creating a new, chopper-style flow while collaborating with everyone from 2Pac to Slipknot’s Corey Taylor over the past thirty-plus years in the game.

Being non-discriminatory helped Yates, who is obsessed with horror films and imagery, build an underground musical empire, complete with his own label, Strange Music Inc, and sixteen studio records that sold millions of copies without regular radio play on mainstream outlets. Not that he really needed the help.

You see, genre lines are meaningless to Tech N9ne. Yates only looks at pure talent when it comes to who he wants to team up with in the studio, and he still hunts for it himself, even sending out DMs.

“It’s real easy, man. I work with who I deem elite. Not just in hip-hop, but in other genres as well,” he shares. “People don’t know I have a weed song with Boyz II Men [“Buddha”]. Elite. Corey Taylor and Slipknot. Elite. Serj Tankian and System of a Down. Elite. For real, for real. Kim Dracula. Elite. You know what I’m sizzling? Jonathan Davis [of Korn]. Elite, you know what I’m saying?

“That’s how I do it," he adds. "I have people I deem elite. Eminem. Elite. Joyner Lucas. Elite. King Iso. Elite. Tech N9ne. Elite.”

It sounds so simple — easy, even — when he breaks it down like that, but Tech N9ne is far from ordinary. Very few, if any, artists have compiled a résumé worthy of comparison, one that includes playing the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse’s Faygo-soaked backwoods festival, and fronting a forty-piece orchestra, which he'll do next May at Kansas City’s Midland Theatre.

“I always wanted to have an orchestra behind me,” he says. “I cannot wait.”

Currently on tour promoting new record BLISS, at the time of our interview Yates was also busy working on a PG-13 set list for a one-off special event at Wichita State University. It was a last-minute request and, for anyone who is familiar with his work, a somewhat silly one. But he had some time before the show, as well as the ability to come up with creative ways around the curse words that regularly make up his rhymes and live banter.

“You ask for a PG-13 Tech N9ne show, and they want sixty minutes, it’s not going to happen. I can try, but it’s not going to happen,” he says with a laugh, adding that he just “won’t do all the cursing in between songs.”

“But there’s only one way I can do ‘Einstein.' ‘Who got this motherfucking house on lock?’” he asks, quoting one of his most popular songs. “You want an hour, and you want it all PG-13? All right, nope.” (The event went off without any problems, for the record.)

But don't worry: Yates will share his extensive catalogue in all its profanity-laced glory and gore when he plays Denver's Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, October 21. Co-headliner Hollywood Undead is also on the bill.

Yates has a somber and special connection to Denver, and shouts out Red Rocks in his new song, “They Know Meh.” It's not only that he regularly sold out gigs here over the years, but there was one 2014 Summer Jam concert at Fiddler’s Green he'll never forget.

“I thought I had one more day to do my show in Denver, then fly back to Kansas City to see my mom off because she was really sick,” he recalls. “But when I landed that day in Denver for my big-ass Fiddler’s Green show, my partner told me my mom was gone.”

Yates keeps Maudie Sue Yates Khalifah’s memory alive through his music and performances, particularly since she started his lifelong obsession with horror by taking him to see such movies as Halloween and Carrie when he was growing up.

“My mom took me to haunted houses during Halloween. She took me to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses,” he explains. “I was petrified of clowns. I became the clown. I got over my fears. But this horror is my Christian mom’s energy.”

Yates's flair for the macabre and morbid, including wearing masks and psych-ward scrubs during shows, also made him one of the forefathers of the hip-hop subgenre horrorcore.

“I became the lyrical Michael Myers,” he says, and that’s hard to argue. Violent mosh pits regularly break out during his set, particularly during fan favorite “Riot Maker.”

“That still happens, but now I just don’t stop the show for it,” he explains, adding that he used to pause the song whenever crowds whipped themselves into a fury. Now it’s all part of the Tech N9ne experience.

“Man, when it comes around October time, this is the vibe of my mom," whose birthday was October 26, Yates concludes. “She’s the reason why the horror follows me to this day and to my dying day. Without Maudie Sue Yates Khalifah, there would not be a Tech N9ne. Thank you, Momma.”

Tech N9ne, 6 p.m. Saturday, October 21, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 North Clarkson Street. Tickets are $87-$413.
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