Tech N9ne and the Strange Music roster prove their talents on collaboration album.
In his “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of a Man,” Thomas Reid made the claim that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When the philosopher said this in the 1700s, the concept of a compilation album (or an “album” for that matter) was hundreds of years away and yet the words could not apply more appropriately. When reviewing Young Money’s recent Rise of an Empire, the general consensus among listeners was that the entire weight of the album fell on the shoulders of three emcees (Drake, Wayne & Nicki). When the Big Three weren’t on the mic, the album collapsed on itself. Reid’s philosophy was true; Lil’ Twist just couldn’t hold his own. There is, however, one element that Reid did not account for: chemistry between the links. A chain made of 10 strong links means absolutely nothing if one link does not connect to the other. In other words, a collaborative track between Kendrick Lamar and Pitbull, as bizarrely intriguing as it may sound, is a recipe for disaster. You can't deny that both artists individually are good at what they do (Kendrick at rapping; Pitbull at making hits), but together their individual strengths mean nothing. Few labels can achieve unanimous strength. Even fewer can achieve chemistry amongst the entire roster. Few labels are Strange Music.
To be clear: Strangeulation is not a compilation by traditional definition. Unlike Rise of an Empire, the group’s leader, Tech N9ne, headlines every track on the album. Appropriately, the project is labeled as a “Tech N9ne Collabos” release, not a Strange Music album. So, right off the bat, every song is pretty much guaranteed to have at least one hot verse. Tech is one of the most consistently intriguing artists in hip-hop right now and his work on the album does not disappoint. The three solo tracks that he grants himself (“Over It,” “Fear” and “The Calling”) are all standouts. Tech has earned a reputation for wearing his heart of his sleeve, but “Fear” particularly may be his most personal track to date. Touching upon his mother’s sickness, the track questions the existence of a higher power, closing out on the powerful “My fear now is that this God I’m prayin’ to for my mother is not real.” Connecting with the mind and heart, the song becomes Strangeulation’s greatest lyrical achievement—a must listen for fans and newcomers alike. That being said, the album’s goal is clearly to promote the rest of the crew and the last thing Tech would want to do is steal the spotlight from his peers. Lets talk about the rest of the roster.
On an artist-to-artist level, only G.O.O.D. Music has the consistency in skill that Strange demonstrates here. Rittz, Jay Rock, Ces Cru, Krizz Kaliko, MURS, Brotha Lynch Hung, Stevie Stone and especially ¡MAYDAY! are all spectacular artists in their own right; each with acclaimed solo careers of their own. But what really makes this album work is that every member of the pack sounds like they were meant to perform with each other for their entire lives. In fact, the best songs on the release generally involve heavy mix and matching. On just about any other label, eight artists on a single track would be a risky move, but the “Nobody Cares” remix featuring Tech, Krizz Kaliko, Stevie Stone, Mayday & Ces Cru sounds like destiny. A lot of this perceived chemistry is derived from the music itself. The team of in-house producers (shout out to Seven) does an top-notch job of giving the album a unified sound. If one were to strip the lyrics away, the album (minus "Na Na") would flow beautifully on just its instrumentals. Tracks flow into each other seamlessly.
The project, however, is not without fault. Like most Strange Music releases, Strangeulation suffers from a bloated run time (an hour and 7 minutes, not including bonus tracks) that makes it difficult to play the album from front-to-back in one sitting. The cypher interludes (“Strangeulation I, II, III and IV”) too are a cool concept, but, like most cyphers, you also only want to hear them once or twice in your life before moving on to something with more substance--no matter how hot the verses are. There’s also a confusing amount of “shit” allusions that border on the lazy (“My shit is hard/Constipated” and “No, my shit don’t stink” are featured prominently on the hooks of “Hard” and “Stink” respectively). But the biggest disappointment of all is a complete and utter lack of Jay Rock. MURS just joined Strange a few months ago and managed to snag three full verses. Rock, meanwhile, has been on the label since before Kendrick blew up and only manages 30 seconds of material on “Red Rags” before calling it a day. Hopefully this implies that he’s hard at work on a solo release and not trying to sever ties.
Overall, Strangeulation accomplishes its mission of promoting the roster and boasts some of career bests for many of its features (Rittz on “Make Waves” and Wreckonize on “We Are Free” being the best examples). Tech obviously still runs the show, but the chemistry and skillset of the collaborators is wonderfully highlighted. Strange Music has no weak links, but sometimes the strange choices (like four single-instrumental cypher tracks and the heavily-distorted "American Horror Story") are strange for a reason.