While he debuted in the underground realm of horrorcore and seemed destined to be a future footnote, rapper Tech N9ne grew to be an indie rap superstar. In the process, he built his Strange Music label into a Psychopathic Records-styled empire with an accompanying loyal fan base, but when it comes to influence, Tech arguably topped underground trailblazers Insane Clown Posse thanks to collaborations with mainstream artists and a style that evolved from horrorcore to hardcore and confessional.

The Calm Before the Storm Born Aaron Dontez Yates in Kansas City, Missouri, Tech learned to read and do math through educational raps. Later, music helped him deal with his mother's ongoing struggle with lupus, while an interest in horror and ghosts would offer an attractively dark form of escapism. He brought these qualities to his own work as he joined groups like Black Mafia, 57th Street Rogue Dog Villians, Nnutthowze, and the Yukmouth project the Regime. In 1996 he signed with Quincy Jones' label Qwest before moving to the indie Midwestside Records, where he released his debut, The Calm Before the Storm, in 1999. The Worst followed on the label in 2000, and then the Interscope-associated imprint JCOR picked the artist up for 2001's Anghellic, a horrorcore effort that introduced Tech's own sublabel, Strange Music. Touring certainly helped spread the word, and the rapper's over the top stage show locked some fans in for good, but Tech didn't feel his label was being honest about sales, so he left JCOR and took Strange Music with him. The label released Absolute Power in 2002, with Strange artists Krizz Kaliko and Kutt Calhoun making guest appearances on the album along with Eminem's dark crew D12. Everready (The Religion) followed in 2006 with Krizz and Kutt joined by Brotha Lynch Hung to represent the Strange Music roster, while an E-40 guest spot continued Tech's crossover journey, which came to include his music on video game soundtracks (25 to Live, Madden NFL 06). The album debuted at number 50 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

Misery Loves Kompany The 2007 album Misery Loves Kompany launched the rapper's "Collabos" series where every cut came with a guest artist, although mostly it was Kutt and Krizz, with a visit from old friend Yukmouth. The next year's album, Killer, came with a cover that mocked Michael Jackson's Thriller and debuted at number 12, as Tech was joined by Krizz, Kutt, Ice Cube, and Scarface along with the rapcore group (hed) p.e. Krayzie Bone joined for 2009's collabs album Sickology 101, which introduced Big Scoob as a Strange Music artist. The album also featured Suburban Noize group Potluck as guests, and with Tech making an appearance at that year's Gathering of the Juggalos festival hosted by ICP, Strange claimed their rightful place next to Suburban and Psychopathic in the pantheon of indie rock-rap labels. By the end of the year, the concept album K.O.D. had landed with Three 6 Mafia on the guest list, and 2010 kicked into high gear with the release of two EPs (The Lost Scripts of K.O.D. and Seepage), a collabs album (The Gates Mixed Plate with Devin the Dude, Glasses Malone, and many others) and an XXL Magazine-sponsored mixtape (Bad Season).

All 6's and 7's The slick crossover effort All 6's and 7's followed in 2011. With guest appearances from Lil Wayne, B.o.B, Kendrick Lamar, Twista, T-Pain, and Snoop Dogg, Tech had arguably become mainstream with the release while the album's debut at number four -- and its eventual climb to number one -- made it official. The collabs album Welcome to Strangeland appeared by the end of the year and 2013 saw him return with Something Else, an album featuring guest shots from System of a Down's Serj Tankian, Kendrick Lamar, and the remaining members of the Doors. A fifth collection of collaborations titled Strangeulation appeared in 2014, and the LP Special Effects landed a year later. The album featured guests like B.o.B, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, plus Eminem, and debuted at number four on the Billboard 200. The year 2015 also saw the release of the sixth collabos album, Strangeulation, Vol. 2, with guest shots from Big Scoob, Ces Cru, and Murs, the last of whom had just signed with Strange Music.

The StormTech's 17th studio album arrived in late 2016. The Storm featured a typically diverse roster of guests, including Korn's Jonathan Davis, Boyz II Men, Gary Clark, Jr., Logic, and his Strange signees Krizz and Scoob.

Brotha Lynch Hung

Hip-hop ambitions are often described in terms of "hunger", but no known MC has an appetite quite like Brotha Lynch Hung. This is not simply the peckishness of a seasoned artist still making music while his former contemporaries have long passed their sell-by date. This is the ravenous hunger of Mannibalector, Brotha Lynch Hung's flesh-chomping, gore-streaked altered ego and the antagonistic protagonist at the dark heart of Coathanga Strangla, the genuinely stunning new album by Brotha Lynch Hung.

Coathanga Strangla re-introduces listeners to the not so nice but strangely sympathetic guy they met on Lynch's 2010 album Dinner and a Movie. The "autocratic automatic reaper" instantly joined the entertainment biz pantheon of indelible killers like Mannibalector's cinematic predecessor, Silence Of The Lambs sicko Hannibal Lector. "I watch a lotta horror movies and I really love meat," says Lynch, "so I put that together and out came Mannibalector."

Longtime fans will, of course, recognize these deviant tendencies. Brotha Lynch Hung's 1993 debut, 24 Deep (Black Market Records) found his "human meat pot luck" already underway (who can forget the image: "find your brain cookin' in a barbecue pit"?). The 1995 release of the Sacramento (CA) native's certified Gold classic, Season of da Siccness, followed and Lynch has released a steady stream of music ever since, making him an ideal match for the do-or-die work ethic of his current label home, Strange Music.

Kansas City-based Strange Music is currently the most successful outfit in independent hip-hop and home to Tech N9ne. Dinner and a Movie was Lynch's first album released by Strange, but Tech N9ne and Brotha Lynch have history: Tech appeared on "187 On A Hook" from Lynch's Blocc Movement in 2001, and in 2006 Lynch delivered a standout verse on "My World" from Tech N9ne's Everready album. "Strange Music understands me, they've really given me a fresh start," says Lynch. "As strange as it sounds, I feel like I'm just getting going with my career."

Make no mistake however: what feels like a fresh start for Lynch is coinciding with a high point in his artistic evolution. Always one to look to movies for inspiration, Lynch says that repeated viewings of the Hostel films had a direct effect on Coathanga Strangla. "Some horror movies are too ridiculous," he says, "but Hostel has a very realistic feeling. It's not scary like boo! — it's more like this could happen. That's an authenticity I'm going for in my music."

It's that sense that gives Coathanga Strangla its compelling core. With its bowel-bothering bass line and toothpick percussion (courtesy of producer Michael "Seven" Summers), "Mannibalector" is a cannibal lecture (replete with requisite slaughter) the reveals the crucial facet of Lynch's artistry: his alter ego is not a two-dimensional creation but a character full of humanizing doubts, fears and paranoia. Allmusic.com's David Jeffries has noted Lynch's facility at going "from gross to scary to sympathetic and personal, and then back again, all without losing a step or trying your patience."

When it comes to digesting Lynch's art however, it helps that his raps are leavened by what can only be called "gallows humor." Who else would refer to his manner of cooking victims as "Operation McPasta", as Lynch does on the new album's "Mannibalector"? While Brotha Lynch Hung is often credited as the originator of the rap genre known as "horrorcore", most so-called horrorcore rappers would be content with a standard disemboweling; Lynch goes all the way, a meal plan immortalized on the new album's "Spit It Out" wherein Lynch chortles: "If anything taste funny spit it out."

"Friday Night" features Lynch's fellow rap madman C.O.S., thumping production by Michael "Seven" Summers, and Brotha Lynch's "body sweatin' like a Juggalo." "I love the Juggalos man," says Lynch of the cult-like, face-painted fans who have embraced him. "They're good people with good hearts who are looking for an outlet from life's pain. I can relate to that." Standout cut "Blinded By Desire" is a sadistic travelogue following Lynch as he drives from California's Bay Area southward towards Los Angeles ("524 miles to SoCal..." begins Lynch) where mayhem will undoubtedly ensue.

Coathanga Strangla is the middle album in a conceptual trilogy, which began with Dinner and a Movie and is slated to conclude with 2012's Mannibalector. Each of the three albums has spawned three videos, which together will comprise the visual document of the terrifying times of Mannibalector. "The three albums and nine videos are about a rapper who's having a bad life and is about to give up on the world," explains Brotha Lynch Hung. "You can hear he's about to walk the thin line, past the thin line, and then go way over it."

Join Brotha Lynch Hung as he continues to obliterate that line like no other artist can do.

Krizz Kaliko

It's not every day a musical genius is born. On July 14, 2009, KRIZZ KALIKO will release his second solo CD, GENIUS,. Along for KRIZZ KALIKO's aurally eclectic rollercoaster ride are E-40, Kutt Calhoun, Big Scoob and, Strange's flagship artist, Tech N9ne. Powered by a fusion of funk, rap, rock, R&B and opera – a self-made style KRIZZ KALIKO calls "Funkra" – GENIUS covers the entire spectrum of genres, from the slow and seductive "Get Off" with Tech N9ne and the rock-flavored "The Chemical" to the street anthem "Back Pack" and the album's crossover single, "Misunderstood."

Ces Cru comes up with a new acronym for each of its releases. But after feeling held somewhat captive by the title of 2013's Constant Energy Struggles, Ubiquitous and Godemis felt creatively liberated when they settled on Codename: Ego Stripper as the title of its second Strange Music album.

"On Constant Energy Struggles, I felt like we were constantly defining what that meant from song to song," Ubiquitous says. "On this one, we're not spelling it out for you."

"The thing that appealed to me about that name is that you couldn't put a finger on exactly what that meant," Godemis adds. "I felt like that was a good angle to come from in writing the music, with no preconceived ideas. I thought that it would open up our writing and draw people in."

The Kansas City duo showcases this newfound latitude on the skeletal "Sound Bite." Sans chorus, Ubiquitous and Godemis deliver stunningly intricate, braggadocio tag-team raps for three-and-a half minutes. "It really showcases our lyrical talent," Godemis says of the Internet hit that has logged more than 70,000 YouTube views in about two weeks. "The beat's kind of empty in a way to where your ear's not taken away by a lot of other different things. The lack of a hook is suicide in a way, I guess, but it's for another MC or a connoisseur of hip-hop."

Ces Cru then flexes its sociopolitical muscles on the masterful "Axiom," a meditation on everything from making a positive change in the world to the War on Drugs and the concept of freedom. In addition to the lyrical heft Ubiquitous and Godemis demonstrate, producer Michael "Seven" Summers adds stirring sonic layers throughout the song. "I really like the pianos that start popping up during Godemis' verse," Ubiquitous says. "The whole front half of the song feels different than the back half. By the end, you're rocking out to the piano. It's a beautiful, thoughtful piece."

While "Axiom" explores stark subject matter, "Hope" celebrates the bliss of enjoying life. "It reinforces the philosophy from the last record about optimism and magnetism and envisioning what you're trying to get for yourself, do for yourself," Ubiquitous says of the cut, which also features ¡Mayday!'s Bernz. "It's on some 'Seven Chakras' stuff as far as keeping a positive outlook on things regardless of whatever you're up against."

To this point, Ces Cru illustrates how it responds to stress on the soulful, laid-back "Pressure," which also features Rittz. "Pressure implies a manic mind state, but the song is about what is pressure for us: chillin'," Ubiquitous says. "I think a lot of rap these days is very turnt up, trap, high-energy rap with this fast lifestyle, glamour content. That's very prevalent on radio and we made a chill record. That was on purpose. It's not all about rapping your head off. It's about chilling out, vibing out."

The duo ratchets up the intensity on "Whips," a concept cut about cars that features an impressive succession of sound effects. "You can kind of close your eyes and see everything that's going on in the song," Godemis "We took a lot of time to get it right so that it does sound like we're on the highway with big rigs passing by and there is a helicopter in the air. It's a lot of fun."

Ces Cru keeps the sounds scintillating with "Que Lastima," which features a hyper, boast-heavy verse from Angel Davanport. She was featured alongside Game and Tech N9ne on the latter's "Priorities," a cut from his 2013 album, Something Else. Ubiquitous was happy to feature the talented act on one of his group's songs. "I kind of look at Angel Davenport as our secret weapon because she's going to be virtually unknown to most people when they hear the record and I think that is a delight to the listener, to give them something fresh and new and good," he says. "That's what I wanted to do with Angel and her talent is maybe only 30 percent exposed on that track. She's got a lot more tricks in her bag."

Ditto for Ces Cru. The group formed in the early 2000s and became a duo after the release of its debut album, 2004's Capture Enemy Soldiers. The pair appeared on a string of local releases before releasing its next album, 2009's The Playground. Buoyed by such songs as the break-up anthem "DYT," the chest-thumping "Float" and the politically-charged "Teeter," The Playground impressed Strange Music co-owner Tech N9ne.

In 2010, Tech N9ne featured Ces Cru on his Bad Season mixtape and had Ubiquitous and Godemis open for him at Kansas City's The Beaumont Club. The group then joined the Strange Music roster in 2011, released the 13 EP in 2012 and followed that up with 2013's Constant Energy Struggles. The acclaimed collection features several singles whose videos have become viral hits: "When Worlds Collide" (more than 1.1 million YouTube views), "Seven Chakras" (more than 900,000 YouTube views) and "Juice" (more than 750,000 views) among them.

As it is wont to do, Ces Cru looks at its older material as it evaluates its new work. "When I think about our catalog and how it's evolved, I feel like Constant Energy is a super-dope album, a very important album," Ubiquitous says. "But, when I hear it, it sounds like we teamed up, cliqued up with some new guys – and we did. With that, I feel like the new album is back to us being us. We kind of took the reins back and it sounds more like our earlier work, more like Playground. We were very hands-on with this album to make sure that it sounded different than our last project."

With that mission accomplished, Ces Cru shows with Codename: Ego Stripper its ability to refine, update and enhance its music while creating special material. "We want to make something that will last," Ubiquitous says. "We don't want to do something that has a hot single on it, nine throwaway tracks, a couple average ones and then just pump out a record 10 months later. I feel like all of our albums should be able to last a couple years. People still bump Playground and that came out in 2009. That's a five-year-old album. That's the standard."

Wiley F.L.E.W. ft. MONSTA

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