Strange Music

In the realm of independent rap labels, Strange Music is among the more powerful institutions, with founders Travis O'Guin and rapper Tech N9ne having built their empire from the ground up. Founded in 1999, Strange Music, with Tech N9ne as its flagship artist, has accounted for millions of albums sold and has become a haven for untapped talent and accomplished veterans alike, resulting in the label having one of the stronger, yet unsung rosters in rap. Continuing to establish himself with his 2016 release, The Storm, Tech N9ne looks to shine the spotlight on his label mates with Dominion, the latest in his series of collaborative albums.

With the tracklist for the deluxe version of the album running 24 tracks long, Dominion is an ambitious effort and features every member of the Strange Music roster receiving airtime. However, the two constants throughout the project are Tech N9ne, who steers the ship with his guiding hand, and producer Seven, who produced all but one track on Dominion solely by himself and showcases his own versatility with an array of beats that complements each artist's strengths and sensibilities. Although Tech's role on Dominion is a complementary one, the rapper takes center stage on a pair of cuts, the album opener "Drama" featuring Krizz Kaliko, and "Wheels Like Hill," a rock-influenced offering celebrating riding on chrome.

"K-C-M-O is the place that I'm from/If you live in my city, you grippin' a gun," Tech N9ne declares on "Drama," a track that finds the rapper locked in and ready to go to war while repping his native land of Missouri. After throwing down the gauntlet, Tech unleashes his stable of spitters on "Casket Music," a track by Strange Music rap duo Ces Cru featuring Wreckonize and himself. Dominated by tumbling drums, "Casket Music" is a lyrical exhibition, with Ces Cru members Godemis and Ubiquitous both running roughshod over the bombastic production. "It's killer city, anyone'll run up/You from around here, I ain't gotta tell you to duck," Godemis warns in the midst of a dynamic opening verse, while Wreckonize handles the hook duties. Ubiquitous, the other half of Ces Cru, also reels off a string of explosive couplets, barking, "Bitch when I'm winning they're bitter, really what matters most/I learned the twist of these catacombs while I sat alone/My DNA incompatible with an average Joe/I catapult and I'm flying into the battle zone," before Tech N9ne anchors the track.

Of the Strange Music artists that appear on Dominion, Ces Cru are among the more impressive, with both members churning out high-powered contributions as a unit and individually. "The Answer," which pairs Ces Cru with Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko, is another highlight from the duo, with Ubiquitous shining with lines like, "I am what I always been, white kid with the rapping skill, maintain that I'm self-sustained/Still CES came as a package deal," and Tech N9ne dropping quips at will, rhyming, "Sayin' I should hang it up in music you're a plum liar/A dumb guy or you're a bum sire tellin' me I'm inadequate knowing it's not anyone higher."

Lyrical miracles are spun throughout Dominion, but the album also infuses melody into the proceedings, courtesy of Strange Music vocalists Darrein Safron and Mackenzie Nicole. Saffron, a native of St. Louis equally capable of crooning a hook or getting off a few bars of his own, steals the show on "Put Em On" featuring Tech N9ne and Stevie Stone. Produced by Seven, "Put Em On" finds Saffron delivering the bridge and hook, while Tech N9ne and Strange Music rapper Stevie Stone both navigating the uptempo soundscape with ease, with the latter dropping standout lines like, "Wanna give a shout-out to my A ones/Better view from my day ones/Win or lose, there's a bitter feud/Nigga, I'ma be the liaison."
Showcasing his varied skill-set, Safron showcases his abilities as a double-threat on "Reloaded," tackling the first verse with an aggressive stanza and following it up with a syrupy bridge.

Mackenzie Nicole, on the other hand, appears on "Shoe Game" alongside Krizz Kaliko, as well as on "Take You Down," a duet with singer Ryan Bradley and featuring a verse from Stevie Stone. Dominion also includes contributions from the likes of Murs, who pops up on "Salute," one of the more lively offerings from the album, as well as "Mo' Ammo," which features Tech N9ne and Rittz. Speaking of the latter, Rittz also helms "Morning Till the Nightfall" a hazy offering that doubles as a posse cut and finds Tech N9ne, Wrekonize and Krizz all delivering intricate flows that are as nimble as they refined. However, the finest moment on Dominion may be "Fish in a Pita," a hilarious cut by Tech N9ne featuring Krizz complementing him vocally. "Got me fired up/Might wanna keep that tied up," Krizz belts out while Tech N9ne recalls three separate accounts of his encounters with women with bad hygiene.

Tech N9ne, who is one of the more prolific artists in rap, scores another home run with his Dominion album, waving the flag for the past, present, and future of Strange Music. While not devoid of an occasional slight misstep, the highlights on Dominion far outweigh the filler, making for another strong long player from the Missouri-based camp. This project can only expand their reach even further. Strength comes in numbers and Strange Music prove that with Dominion, a melting pot of sounds, styles and vibes that showcase all that the indie powerhouse has to offer.

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