Q&A: Tech N9ne Talks About Creating His Own Planet & “Caribou Lou”

Tech N9ne
via Strange Music

It’s been just nearly 19 years since Tech N9ne broke away from the major label system to start his own company with partner Travis O’Guin. Since then, he and Strange Music have become two iconic brands in hip-hop and laying out a blueprint of what it takes to be truly independent.

Positioning himself as one of hip-hop’s biggest indie artists, Tech N9ne is preparing to release (what’s said to be) the biggest project of his career — his 20th studio effort, titled Planet and due out March 2. The project features the likes of Mackenzie Nicole, Darren Safron, and Joey Cool, as well as Machine Gun Kelly and Snow Tha Product.

Planet is led by the first single, “Tech N9ne (Don’t Nobody Want None)”, a replay of Hashim’s 1983 classic “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul).” The record features 1980s-style production from longtime collaborator Seven and is dedicated to the b-boy culture, DJs, and dance crews. Since its release in January, the video has racked up nearly 1.7 million views.

Ahead of the album release, we visited Tech N9ne at the Strange Music offices in Los Angeles and talked about his latest masterwork. He details the inspiration behind wanting to create his own world and the name of his planet, the upcoming “Planet Tour”, and on his most classic single “Caribou Lou” recently being certified platinum.

Tech N9ne - Planet

Are we going on 18 or 19 years now with Strange Music? 

It’s 18 and a half, close to 19 years.

I’ve both heard from people personally and read that Planet is going to be the biggest album of your career. You have such a big catalog, would you agree?

I do… as crazy as it sounds, to be able to say that at this level of the game. After I’ve done songs with Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Gary Clark Jr., Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry, Deftones — its just goes on and on and on… Busta Rhymes, Twista. To say the 20th album and to be able to say this is indeed my best album or my biggest album — It’s going to be, that’s the prediction. We’re supposed to say that every release, but I was so heartbroken by the response of my last release The Storm, because it was called The Storm… off of my very first album in ’96 called The Calm Before The Storm. All those years go by and I do The Storm, I’m thinking it’s going to BOOM! Yes! You did it! But, everyone was like “Yeah, okay.” It broke my heart, so I had to leave this planet mentally and spiritually, and create my own planet with a lot of love and care, which this planet (Earth) is lacking. So, when I came back, everybody had loved what I did. My team and everyone.

How long were you gone away on your planet?

Well in my mind, I was away for four years. That’s when I started building my planet and building my ideas. My last album was The Storm. It came out last year sometime, but I totally disappeared on my planet and created this record. I had to because it was cathartic for me. I needed for that butt-hurtness to go away from The Storm. So Planet was my release.

What was it that people were saying, as far as feedback on The Storm that you didn’t like?

Too many features, always. People would say we want to hear just you. I listen to my fans: good or bad. No features? I love doing features, but okay. I’ll calm it down. Nobody responded to my Boys II Men song “Buddha,” humongous. Nobody responded to my metal song with Jonathan Davis song “Starting to Turn,” humongous. Did nobody respond to me and Gary Clark Jr.?

Being in the “Trump Era” that we’re in now, a lot of people suggest that it was kind of necessary to take this fall and have him as our president in order to grow and come back as a much stronger and united country. Do you feel this is similar in the fact that you had to release The Storm and experienced a little downfall causing you to grow past everything leading to the release of this Planet album?

Yes! I wouldn’t even have the title “Planet” if it wasn’t for The Storm. If it wasn’t for the negative effect of The Storm on me, there would be no desire to construct my own planet. You know what I mean? It’s like if The Storm would have gone good, my next record would have probably been “Sunshine” or something. Let’s say The Storm popped like one of Kendrick’s records. The next album could be “Sunshine” or “Brightness” because the storm is gone. I’ve conquered the storm, so what comes next? Sunshine. I’m in a sunshine state now spiritually, because I went and built my own planet ’cause I was hurt. What came back was a lot more love and a lot more feeling and a lot more will to say “F*ck everything, I’m just going to rap on everything.” Thank God that The Storm made way for planet: Pyune.

Is that the name of your planet, Pyne?

Yes! P-Y-U-N-E! It’s a positive word. it stands for “Peaceful Youth Unit Neutralizing Earth”. So, if it wasn’t for The Storm making it super rainy on me, there wouldn’t be this beautiful, bright, lit planet. Thank God for planet Pyune.

How is the sound and vibe of Planet vs The Storm?

Totally different. People were crying about the beats too. Like, “You need to stop using your producer Seven. His sounds all alike”. I’m like, “No, you can’t prove that.” You cant say that “Aw Yeah? InterVENTion” sounds like “Speedom.” You can’t say that “Speedom” sounds like “The Needle.” You can’t do it… you can’t do it, but they said that and Seven heard that too. All new drum kits, all new synthesizer sounds, everything. The construction of this planet came like water. I didn’t stunt myself not once, ’cause I’m constructing it. I’m the creator. It’s cathartic for me, it’s therapy for me.

What would you say was the most memorable session recording the album?

Probably “Brightfall”. It’s like a movie on the record. I linked with a composer once again. Joseph Bishara of The Conjuring, Insidious, Annabelle. It’s a real-life story about me running from my dark past. And, every time I try to get away and get brighter, something dark tries to pull me back. The music was done while I was on my Canadian tour, and my producer Seven hooked up with Joseph Bishara. They hooked up with an orchestra and a choir and this big, humongous beat came about. It was challenging to write to it, but it was the most memorable because I put everything in it that I could remember from my journey. It starts with the story of my life.

The song “Tech N9ne (Don’t Nobody Want None)” exudes the b-boy spirit and aggression. It’s for the DJ culture and breakdancers. If you’re a real hip hop head, you know Tech N9ne reps for hip-hop culture always. For anyone who thinks different, can you talk a little about why you wanted to make this record?

I’m an old school b-boy. In ’83, I was dancing to that song “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul).” I thought “It’s Time” [singing] would be perfect for “Tech Nine” [more singing]. I was praying that the owner of that music, whoever it may be, Hashim, would let me use it. We replayed it. We didn’t sample it. We replayed everything to make it sound like the original. That’s what I told my producer Seven, “I want it to sound like the original, man.” We did it and he said yes. Paul said yes, they got a big chunk of it, but they said yes.

For years I’ve been doing b-boy classics. I’ve always dabbled in the b-boy culture because I am that. So, on this planet, still, for the b-boys, I had to get “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul),” ’cause that was something we loved back then. The song is called “Tech N9ne”, the subtitle “Don’t Nobody Want None”, is because of my late bodyguard, “Big Nick.” Nicholas Ellingburg died of heart complications a couple years ago. He was our bodyguard and after the shows, we would have drunk people outside of our bus trying to get on, asking “Is Tech N9ne on there?” He would have to go out there like, “No no, nobody’s coming on the bus”. We’d have like six drunk dudes mad and he’d be like “Don’t nobody want none.” And, he had a high pitched voice like Mike Tyson, but he was big. We used to tease him, like “How you gon make everybody run with ‘Don’t nobody want none’ in that voice?” This is a dedication to him as well. It’s doing all those numbers and I’m thinking it’s Big Nick, like thank you, brother.

Do you plan on retiring in four years?

That’s my plan. That’s my plan because I’ve been going hard for so long — Touring, rapping my ass off. I’ve got other artists that are trying to come up. I’ll help them. After four years, I’ll be 50. In Pyune years, I’m still 24. I’ve got music in my veins and in my blood, so if I can stop in four years, I will ’cause that’s my plan. I say we’re gonna hit these four years starting from Planet when it drops.

With everything that you’ve built from Strange Music to the different types of music that you create and everything in between, people believing in the Strange movement, how proud are you of yourself?

I think every day when I’m sitting up in that big house, coming up with ideas for the show, this has been an amazing journey. I’m extremely blessed to still be here talking about a record that could be my biggest release ever. At this level of the game, everything I’ve done — songs with Tupac, Ice Cube, Scarface and MC Ren and Yukmouth and E-40 and Spice 1. Every step of the way in hip-hop I’ve been involved. I’ve grown up with hip-hop and the artist and everything. I have a catalog to prove it. It’s been documented. I’m so proud of what we’ve built. I’m so proud of my journey and I’m so proud of where we’re going.

Can you talk a little about “Caribou Lou” going platinum and what that means to you? 

Yea. “Caribou Lou” just keeps making its way into my life somehow. You can’t do a Tech N9ne show without “Caribou Lou” — you can’t. I wrote it in ’05 or ’06 and it keeps coming back. First, it went gold. That means generation after generation is drinking 151 and pineapple juice — Something we created in Kansas City in 1995. I saw it pop up in restaurants all around the globe.

I didn’t know until we had the lawsuit with Caribou Coffee and they said all these people are using this (Caribou Lou as a drink name), I was amazed. “Caribou Lou” keeps finding its way back into my life, and it did it again recently, where something really big about to happen — in the name of “Caribou Lou” at the end of this tour. I can’t say what it is, but you’re going to know it when you see it. You’re going to say “WOW!”

The drink… we’re still working on with some people, trying to get it perfect, but something else happened, that’s a spin-off. You’re going to say WOW! It came to us. “Caribou Lou” keeps coming back and saying “Hey, remember me?”

When I took my kids to Hawaii two Christmases ago, one of the days I was sitting at the bar while the kids were swimming and on the beach and everything. This elderly white man comes to sit by me. I was sippin’ on my drink enjoying the beauty of my vacation because I work hard. This guy says, “Excuse me, but are you, Caribou Lou?” And I thought about, I said: “As a matter of fact, I am.” Nobody has ever called me that before, but that’s me.

Crazy you asked me about “Caribou Lou,” it made me talk kinda about what I wasn’t supposed to talk about. Surprise.

Planet is available now for pre-order here.