Gone is the signature explosion of spiked, red-dyed hair a look that was inspired during the rapper's long affair with Ecstasy.
No longer rolling on pills but still riotous onstage, Tech's rocking the close-cropped, sophisticated-older-guy look. Tech's jutting, pharaoh goatee has strands of white in it which is common for men his age, which, as of November 8, was 35. A ripe old age for a rapper.
"I had to cut it because it was falling out," he says of his hair. "I cut it two months ago, and for me, that was a bad thing because the hair was an extension of me, and I know what people would think, but for a black man on tour, without a woman with him helping him take care of bleached hair ..." he trails off, comparing the act of bleaching his hair to strewing weeds across his scalp.
"It was getting to where I was looking like a stupid clown," he admits. "Do I look like a stupid clown, or do I cut it all off and start from scratch?"
And then he adds, "If I would have known how much female attention this would get me, I probably would have cut it a long time ago."
We're at the table in the corporate-looking conference room of Strange Music's headquarters hell, music and merchandise factory at a small strip mall in Blue Springs. Among the people at desks and computers is Travis O'Guin, a large white man in comfortable athletic clothes and the business brain behind the operation.
The distribution center is in the back. It consists of high-ceilinged factory rooms stocked with boxes of CDs, clothing, posters and the like. A fresh shipment of Tech N9ne hoodies has recently arrived. Folded neatly, the Chiefs-red garments practically glow from the boxes, their logos crisp and artistic. In keeping with the fashion, there's no elastic on the sleeve cuffs or waists of the hoodies.
"We do more merch than all other industry artists, period," O'Guin says. Hoodies, tees and ski caps line the walls of the merch-guy training booth booth like a sporting-goods-store display.
"They call us a mini Wal-Mart on tour," Tech says. O'Guin objects to this comparison to the world's largest dealer of cheap crap. Strange's stuff is quality.
They'll peddle their wares at a projected 150 concerts this year, with support from the various other artists signed to the label (Kutt Calhoun, Krizz Calico, Scatterman & Snug Brim, among others). Last year, they did 134, and that was without a new Tech N9ne album to pimp.
Everready is Tech's first album in four years, promoted in advance by thousands of giveaway samplers. (You've probably seen the customized truck cruising around town in the past month, album art screaming off the sides, street teamers passing out shrink-wrapped CDs to people on sidewalks.) Out November 7, the full album is being distributed by Fontana, the independent-artist branch of Universal Music.
O'Guin is a businessman. Before he hooked up with Tech, he ran a furniture company that handled warranty orders (he still owns it) and a clothing company.
"With a local clothing company, you want all the local celebrities to wear your clothes," he says.
That's how he found Tech.
The two endured two failed partnerships with record companies before Fontana and are now at a stable place. But even during the hard times, Strange managed to move a considerable number of discs more than 550,000 copies of Tech's albums Anghellic, Absolute Power and the retrospective CD Vintage Tech.