From Hip Hop to Hops: How Tech N9ne Turned an Iconic Track into a BeerJune 04, 2019
The world may have transformed dramatically over the past three decades, but Tech N9ne’s rap style has changed little in his 33 years in the business. His inspirations and drinking preferences, however, are another story. Last year, the Kansas City-native and hip hop legend partnered with Boulevard Brewing Co. to release Bou Lou, a beer based on his infamous Caribou Lou cocktail. The beer hit the brewery’s near- nationwide distribution footprint in April.
The 47-year-old rapper has sold more than 2 million records, and launched his own record label, Strange Music, in 1999. Today, he’s on a 100-plus-stop international tour promoting his newest album, N9na. The album dropped the same day as his beer with Boulevard Brewing was released nationwide.
I spoke with Tech N9ne during a tour stop to discuss beer, music, and finding balance in between it all.
How did the partnership with Boulevard come together?
It started a year ago, out of nowhere. I’ve been aware of their brewery but in doing my work with Strange Music, my time’s limited. They called last year and said, “Hey man, we’re a fan of Caribou Lou, the drink you created in 1995. We want you to know the pineapple and coconut goes well with a wheat beer and want you to come taste it.”
I said, “No way.” We went down and tasted it and it’s Caribou Lou — it’s what you’re tasting. It was perfect. Non-beer drinkers will love it, tried and true. I’m such a pup in the craft beer game and wasn’t aware I would ever sell beer. Thanks to Boulevard, that’s what I’m doing. It was a limited run last year. We only got to five different markets and it did really well. We primed the pump last fall. Now, since April 19, it’s been nationwide.
Naturally, I have to ask about Caribou Lou.
I was with a record company, Qwest Records — not only a studio but they brought concerts together. We were at this club on 25th and Prospect [in Kansas City], with E-40 and The Click. At the time they had a Sluricane Hurricane. The next day we were cleaning up after the show in the bar and me and two of my friends said, “Man, we should have a drink with 151 since E-40 does. Let’s get to mixing.”
We grab some pineapple. What goes good with pineapple? Coconut. Oh my god, it tastes like a Caribbean drink. We tested it from 1995 to 2005, when I wrote the song, and it came out in 2006 on the Everready (The Religion) album, and since then it’s become gold and then platinum.
It’s a big thing for my fans. They’ve been waiting on Caribou Lou and now it’s a beer.
You said you were a pup when it comes to beer. What were you drinking?
I was just into drinking beer, but I’m a mixologist. I’ve been mixing drinks for a long time.
When I went to Amsterdam, I drank Stella or Amstel. Back in Kansas City, I drank Corona or Bud Light, Mickeys—but I haven’t had Mickey’s in a long time. Just whatever it may be. Dos Equis. I've always been a light beer drinker, never had an idea of the world that’s out there. Now I’m exploring. Boulevard is teaching me a lot about hops and I’m learning. Whenever I’m down there, I get an education. I can’t wait to just go down there and hang out.
Will there be other beers beyond Bou Lou?
I don’t know, we were at Boulevard and were thinking about doing the cocktail, Caribou Lou. You never know—we’re just trying to go nationwide. We’re still looking at it and it’s gotta be so humongous that we can do that next thing. I know there was talk before about Bou Lou having a fall beer, a fall ale.
How has the music industry changed in your 30 years?
Thirty-three years—just had the 20th anniversary of Strange Music. Just social media has changed everything. It’s easier, more user-friendly. The only thing it did was it created a time where physical product took a dive. The big difference is the platforms make it easier for discovery. The people in it for a long time, like us, we’re used to a certain pattern. We’ve learned to adjust. It’s strange you get pennies for music, your crafted creations. We care about the music, we just need to get the people over at the stream services to care about it too.
Rap has also changed a lot in all these years. How has it shaped you?
It’s ever-changing. There’s always a wave of something different, always. Some people, they stop in the ear with what they liked the most at one time. We don’t. It’s always changing, from Blowfly to Sugar Hill Gang. Blowfly was vulgar, Sugar was polished and on the radio. Grand Master Flash had costumes. From there, Afrika Bambaataa “Planet Rock,” they had bigger costumes from the jungle. A different style came about. From there it kept going to Run DMC to LL Cool J. For years, it’s been changing, Public Enemy to NWA to Tupac. There’s always something new. So I’ve always seen hip hop as a chameleon.
Has your personal style changed at all over the years?
I’ve been clean, off of hardcore drugs for 13 years. That changed me. But I chose a style that is forever. I’m everything. I never really needed to adjust, because when that fad dies so do you. So I try not to cling on to fads but pay attention to beat selection. Beat selection is everything. As long as I keep original and still stay abreast and stay on top even as things change, I don’t have to change much, just change my attitude and whole being to live with friends and family and stay more polished, way more polished.
And your lyrical influence?
That changes with life. I write my life. It changes by the minute. Entropy, deterioration within the body and brain. It changes every day. I’m changing. Later on in my life, I don’t want to be as flashy as I used to be. Things getting more and more… I just don’t want to look like anyone else the older I get. I’ve always been different, I keep it that way. It’s changing by the day. Someone might say something to change me. I might say something to make you think different. Things are changing in me every day and that affects how I write.
How do you balance selling beer, business, and touring with life?
It’s hard to balance life. I try to get time to vacation somewhere in there for my sanity since it’s always working. I need things to really relax me. It’s hard to balance all of this touring and all these appearance and commercials and videos and everything. It’s hard to balance and have a regular life with love and affection. A mate has to be involved in a lot of that to have time. I’ve lost a lot of time with children and I can feel it these years when they’re older that they missed me back then when I was working a lot. It’s hard right now. But I’m blessed to have a partner that’s involved.
Once this tour is over, it sounds like you’ll need a break. What’s the plan?
The last show is October 19 at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado. After that, I’m relaxing. I have Halloween off for the first time in years. People love having the painted-face guy on Halloween, been doing it for decades. But it’s my favorite holiday, and I’m going to spend it in Honolulu.