The Midwest is a region filled with a brood of thematically dark, emotional and creative artists and musicians.
From Eminem and Slipknot to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Disturbed, the Midwest has produced a fair chunk of America's commercial angst over the last decade plus.
For every multi-platinum artist, there is an underground artist or group that is just as important to the culture of Midwest music. Acts like ICP, Atmosphere and Kansas City's Tech N9ne have managed to create legions of fans that act more like they're part of a movement than just fans of the music.
Fans of Insane Clown Posse proudly call themselves "Juggalos." Atmosphere's Rhymesayers label was named the best record label of last decade by Urb Magazine. Tech N9ne has sold over 1,000,000 units without the help of a major label, while grooming artists on his own record label and inviting fans to be a part of "Strangeland" as "Technicians."
Tech N9ne, who released a new album called "All 6's and 7's" just over a month ago, saw his new record hit No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart while placing number one on the magazine's Independent Album, Rap Album and R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
A man who exudes the stereotypical blue collar work ethic the Midwest is known for, Tech N9ne – born Aaron Dontez Yates – tours the country tirelessly to help support his music and his passion. The now-clean Yates is stopping in Milwaukee on Thursday for a performance at The Rave. Though he has found a good amount of success through his music, he shows no signs of slowing down and he credits his children for that continual desire to perform and stay off of drugs.
"My children. My three children. They're the reason I got off drugs, off of ecstasy. I almost died doing 15 pills in one night. They're the reason I work so hard, so at the end of the year when I get with them, I take them on cruises – Disney cruises or to the Bahamas – it's so worth it to see my kids grow up," he said. "That is my motivation other than my love for the music, and loving to show off for the fans. That's what keeps me going, working for their future, so they'll be in the best colleges, so they'll make the best choices."
N9ne, who has built a reputation as a spiritually conflicted man through his dark themes and album titles like "Anghellic," explains that his duality isn't as sinister as some critics might suggest.
"My whole career I've been trying to tell them that I'm half angel, half demon, all that," he said. "You know I've always said that about my whole career and 'All 6's and 7's' is another way of saying 'Anghellic.' You know, it's beautiful, it's in a state of confusion and disarray, and it's beautiful because all my fans realize it."
What about the thematic heaviness of the music in the Midwest? Tech believes it's a matter of geography.
"I think it's because we're right dab in the middle, man. You know what I'm sizzlin'? We get it from the West, we get it from the East, we get it from the South. We get it from all different directions. If you're there, to take it all in, it's musical overload," he said.
"That's why I think our style is so rapid, like Twista, like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, like Crucial Conflict, Da Brat, Eminem, just that being right dab in the middle is computer overload. We have so much to say, but so much less time to say it in. We got a long way to go, but a short time to get there. You know what I'm saying? I mean, that's us. Sometimes it has dark overtones because we're in that Bible Belt. We've been taught that Revelations is going to be like 'oh my God!' and scary.
"The religious sh*t can come off dark sometimes, like 'Anghellic' with me on the cross as an angel, like with the hands from hell trying to pull at me and the hands from heaven trying to catch me, if you look at it. So it's like, with all that in the Midwest, the rapid fire, the religious darkness, and everything – BOOM! – that makes Tech N9ne and it's beautiful. I'm glad I wasn't raised anywhere else. I'm glad I was right dab in the middle to get it from every direction 'cause now I'm a wonderful clusterf*ck."
With such a strong classification of himself, and his strong work ethic as a "Do It Yourself" artist, both fans and non-fans raised their eyebrows at the lineup of guest features Yates gathered for his new album. Some fans took to Twitter to call him a sellout for nabbing artists like Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and B.o.B., and for pushing his music videos on MTV.
However, when it came time for the album to be released people were still buying and buying more than they previously had. Why?
"I think it was the anticipation and the things that we let loose," he said.
"All the promotion we did and the skepticism, people being skeptical of Lil Wayne and T-Pain being on it, and Snoop Dogg and E-40 being on it, and the Deftones, and Mint Condition, and B.o.B., and Busta Rhymes, and Twista, and Yelawolf. It's just like, 'All these people are going to be in this big Tech N9ne album, I gotta see what he did.' A lot of my fans were like 'Uh, I don't know about this, Tech is probably trying to sell out for the mainstream,' but when they got the album they knew that I knew what I was doing, that I brought everyone into my world, that I did it the correct way – my way.
"I did music that I thought they would sound good on and not what they usually do with their music because their music is their music; this is my music. They came into my world and it's beautiful."
For fans that still aren't satisfied by his explanation, he goes on the say that his use of T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and B.o.B. on songs that clearly can't be used as singles due to their nature further proves his point that he wasn't trying to blow up off of their name and reputation.
In fact, it wasn't Tech N9ne that went to those artists but those artists themselves coming to him or extending an invitation in some way.
"Lil Wayne was in jail talking to Funkmaster Flex and Funkmaster Flex asked him who he wanted to work with when he got out and he said 'Tech N9ne' out of the blue," he said.
"Busta Rhymes called me and said 'I need you on this song called 'Can You Keep Up' with me and Twista and I was like, 'I have one already for you called "Worldwide Choppers."' Did my verse, sent it to him – BOOM! The Deftones were in an interview and they were like, 'Who do you listen to?' and they were like, 'Tech N9ne.' What?! BOOM! It happened like that. B.o.B., I was in Atlanta recording Yelawolf for 'Worldwide Choppers' and B.o.B. people came into the studio and were like, 'Bob was trying to get you on "No Genre" mixtape. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, they were in the studio that day and I said 'I love what you did for Rick Ross,' and they said, 'You want to hear some beats?' and I said yes and I chose two that were in my world. Everything came to us man, it's so wonderful how it happened."
The list of collaborators could've been even bigger had timing been better.
"The only reason we didn't get Eminem was because he could only do it after a month's time and my mastering date was in two weeks," he said.
"The only two people we didn't get were Eminem and Cee Lo and we didn't get Cee Lo because he was doing some kind of TV show. He was trying, he was trying. I was talking to him every day, but then he had to go overseas."
Though those songs didn't come together the album, "All 6's and 7's" it is still making a positive impression on critics, gaining an aggregate score of 81 on Metacritic and a four out of five on both DJ Booth and HipHopDX.
Known for theatrical and energetic sold-out performances that contain a diverse mixture of ethnicities and musical subcultures, Tech N9ne will hit The Rave with Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Big Scoob, Jay Rock and The DRP this Thursday, with the show beginning at 8 p.m.
To get a taste of what Tech N9ne brings to the table as a rapper, listen to one of his stand-out tracks from the new album called "Worldwide Choppers," a song that features recent Shady Records signee Yelawolf, Chicago double-time rapper Twista and New York legend Busta Rhymes.
The song can be streamed via DJBooth.net here.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.
As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.
Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.