Kansas City, Mo., native Tech N9ne grabbed the spotlight more than 20 years ago and never let go. He gained fame with his flowing rhymes and dynamic stage shows.
And while the constant travel can sometimes grow wearisome, N9ne says he never tires of meeting his fans.
"It is a wonderful day here in Portland," he said, calling in from a tour stop in Oregon. He had just come from a meet-and-greet with about 100 fans.
"Everyone was hyped. Some are crying like I am Michael Jackson," he continued. "I don't deserve this. That's amazing. One lady was telling me, 'Your music got me through so much.' And I am like, 'Thank you.' And I mean it sincerely. ...
"They feel like they know me through my music. And they do. They want to touch you and say thank you -- and I want to say thank you back, and do. It is the most beautiful part of this, you know what I'm saying?
"You got to put yourself in their place. Just imagine if we were able to have an hour with Michael Jackson, or with Prince or Jim Morrison of the Doors? To take pictures and sign our stuff? You know, I would have loved that. ... So when someone says I am their favorite rapper and they get to visit with me for an hour, it is very special."
N9ne and his cohorts are playing in Utah on Saturday, May 12. It's a tour stop he makes at least once a year, and more often when possible.
"Over the years I have built a following there," said N9ne. "I started out at a place called Vortex, a little club. We did two Halloweens there in a row. Then I moved to a little bigger clubs -- little at a time. I've done summer jams there with something like 20,000 people out there. Now I've moved all the way out and up to Magna, to Saltair, to headline. Last time we sold out the Saltair. The people there treat me real good."
N9ne got his start in Kansas City, first as a b-boy, or break dancer, while still a youngster in the 1980s. In 1990, he went pro as a rapper. Known for his high-energy shows, the artist said he learned all he could about stage presence and mesmerizing a crowd from the founders of rap.
"A lot of these rappers coming on today are younger," he said. "They didn't get the teachings that we got. They didn't grow up with Slick Rick and LL Cool J. They didn't get to see Public Enemy perform, or see N.W.A., or BDP, Boogie Down Productions. I was blessed enough to be in the crowd when Eric B. and Rakim took the stage, learning from Run-DMC and them all how to rock a crowd."
N9ne said his early years as a b-boy also shaped how he performs to this day.
"I incorporate everything I learned from then to now. And it has this weird energy and it is so wonderful -- it's like no other."
Rhythm and rhyme
Tech N9ne credits his lyrical rhyming style with understanding music as a whole. It was a lesson learned first as a dancer.
"With rhythm came rhyme. It took time to develop my own style. We all wanted to be Ice Cube, we wanted to be Chuck D. We wanted to be Slick Rick. Through all those early years, you emulate those people, and then you find your own."
He got his first record deal in 1993, but his big break came in 1997, when Quincy Jones took him under his wing.
"He did music for Michael Jackson, you know what I'm saying?" N9ne said, the awe of it still evident in his voice. "One thing I learned from Quincy is this -- he said, 'Rap what you know and people will forever feel you.' So I started honestly writing my life and started gaining fans. Thank you, Quincy Jones."
N9ne said another way he believes he was fortunate was being from the center of the United States. As a result, influences flowed over him from North, South, East and West. And it wasn't just rap that caught his ear, either.
"We were in the heartland, and it all came at us," he said. "Really I am one big cluster of music, all styles. I love rock, rap, jazz -- everything. Quincy Jones told me back then I was the Charlie Parker of rap. I try and take it all in and use it."
N9ne has also done a little bit of acting, including in the upcoming fall release "Vengeance," produced by tough-guy character actor Danny Trejo. It also stars Baby Bash and 50 Cent.
"Yeah, I've done some acting, but I don't think it is my thing," N9ne admitted. "I will try it some more, but I am not good at being other people. I am 100 percent me, so it's hard. My video director says, 'He doesn't know it but he is really good.' But I don't know about that. Every time I look, it looks stupid."
"I even done some work right there in Salt Lake City with Danny Trejo. I got shot through a door! That hurt. I am also in this other movie, as an avatar -- 'Night of the Living Dead: Origins.' I am a zombie. Now I can play a zombie, easy! A flesh-eating zombie. I admit, that was fun.
"But with acting, I ain't really checking for it. I like my own life -- I'm an MC. If they want to put me in a movie as me, I'd love that."