In exactly 18 days the GRAMMYs will announce their 2016 nominations. In exactly 19 days the internet will gather their proverbial pitchforks and torches and take to the streets social media. In exactly 87 days, when that album that we got mad about being nominated 67 days ago wins, the world will act so shocked that the GRAMMYs got it wrong even though we already knew exactly what was going to happen from the jump.
Not me man. I’m over it and now I’m just l-i-v-i-n. No longer do I worry about who gets snubbed or how many GRAMMYs Iggy Azelea wins and now I kind of love watching the GRAMMYs. I put on my finest PJs, make a big bowl of popcorn and sit and enjoy all the performances, relishing in the awkward celebrity reactions and celebrating some of my favorite music of the past year. You see award shows aren’t meant to be taken seriously or be the end all be all. It’s just a chance to get some of music's most talented artists in the same room and have a little fun.
The same goes for compilation albums. Compilation albums aren’t meant to be viewed in the same light as regular album releases. You likely won't find too many deep-rooted, interwoven themes or even a narrative. Compilation albums are a chance for artists to get together and flex; a chance to showcase what they can do when paired with (and up against) elite company. It’s fun; fun to make (probably) and fun to debate (definitely). There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pure, rap-doused fun.
With all of that in mind, I’d like to invite you to the first (and probably last) Strangeulation awards. Joins us as we celebrate the release of Tech N9ne's Strangeulation, Vol. II by dishing out some Snake and Bat trophies to some of the best moments and the artists who made them possible. There is so much talent on this album--as you would expect from the independent powerhouse that is Strange Music--it has to be celebrated properly. This album is meant to be a fun, balls-to-the wall showcase of talent so let’s have a good time breaking it down, cool?
Best Cypher: “Strangeulation Vol. II Cypher V”
I LOVE that sample on “Cypher I” but in the end a MURSDAY reunion on “Cypher V” made me feel all tingly in my nether regions, so I have to give it the award. Mursday was one of my favorite projects from last year, but somewhere along the way I became saddened when I realized it might have only been a one time thing. Thanks to “Cypher V” we get a Mursday reunion where MURS, Bernz, and Wrekonize pepper a distinctly Mursday-ish beat (thanks to the percussion chops NonMS). I’d love another album from these guys, but I can certainly settle with this cypher. Anytime you can’t get these cats on a track together it’s worthy of an award. Celebratory shots of Jack for all!
X-Factor Award: Darrein Safron
Strange Music’s diversity is what sets them apart from any other hip-hop label out there (that and a dude who paints his face, flicks his tongue and out raps your favorite rapper). I’m always amazed at the different sounds they foster. From face melting rock numbers to marauding, sinister rap cuts, to trap tunes, Strange Music does it all and does it well. That essence is captured here on Strangeulation, Vol. II and that’s due, in large part, to Darrein Safron.
Signed to Strange in October, Safron brings a new pop/R&B oriented style to the table; something I’ve never really heard from Strange Music. I know fans of the snake and bat may cringe at the term “pop/R&B,” but it’s perfectly executed on this album. “We Just Wanna Party” is just one example of how Safron brings a new element to the table. I love the way his glossy hook is juxtaposed with the crisp flows of Tech and Rittz and it really helps hammer home the liquor-soaked vibe of the cut. With his fingerprints on nine different songs, Safron is a catalyst behind Strangeulation’s edge, that “different” feel that Strange prides itself on. He’s been signed for a month but already sounds woven into the fabric of Strange Music.
Out Of Nowhere Award: Mackenzie O’Guin
Real talk, I was going to also give this one to Safron, but then I heard “Actin Like You Know,” and my jaw dropped. When the vocals kicked in, out loud I said “shit!” There was an immediate and visceral reaction to Mackenzie’s vocals and I had to dole out an award just for that. Fun fact, Mackenzie is the daughter of Strange Music CEO Travis O'Guin, but there’s no nepotism here; she has the chops to run with anyone on the label. She might not be a “newcomer” per se (she has appeared on songs with Tech before) but clearly I've been sleeping; this was my first real introduction to her talent and what a first impression it was. I’m telling y’all, she has “it.” Very unexpected, very out of the blue, but amazing nonetheless. In fact it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Best Producer: Michael “Seven” Summers
Fun-fact: Every single song on Strangeulation, Vol. II was produced by Strange’s in-house producer, Seven. Some of you might be wondering why we are giving an award to someone who has no competition. DID YOU LISTEN TO THE ALBUM?! Come on! To not give Seven credit would impugn the credibility of this prestigious award ceremony. Strange Music has their own distinctive sound and it’s due in large part to Seven’s ability to incorporate so many different sounds and styles. Strange beats are exhausting, virulent, dark, edgy and potent. They consume you. They melt your fucking face. They aren’t just beats, they are experiences. It’s almost exhausting just trying to listen, but imagine making them; imagine making 22 of them. The depth, diversity and attention to detail is a testament to Seven’s skill set and his beats are the engine of the album. I couldn’t let that go unpraised. He produced the whole damn album! He definitely deserves an award, a vacation, and a brunch date with Zoe Kravitz or something.
Best Guest Verse: Rittz on “Slow To Me”
If you don’t think Rittz’ verse on “Slow To Me” is fucking amazeballs chances are you are a rapper he's eviscerated with his surgical yet rapid-fire flow. Now rappers often say they are better than 98% of rappers out there, but how often do they show it? It’s more of just something you say rather than a thing to prove. Well, Rittz proves it on “Slow To Me.” His confidence and technical ability are palpable; he shows you why he is better than the rest. The cherry on top this Strange sundae is how the ATL native changes up his flow at the very end of the track when the guitar kick in. This verse represents everything I love about Strange. It’s brash, aggressive and takes a Chipotle-sized dump on everything that’s wrong with hip-hop.
Best Song: "Muah"
I don’t know man, there’s just something about this track I absolutely love. It’s a fun, raunchy, charismatic cut with a left-of-center approach and it really fucking works.That string-splashed beat has a unique bounce to it and I love the way they switch up the cadence to fit; the spacing is really interesting. The cut ends on a high note, with Kaliko flexing his vocal chops immediately after ripping up the track. It’s raunchy - it’s going to make you laugh and make your mom cry - but it’s still so flawlessly executed. The record has a different, more unconventional feel than any other song on the album and that's what makes it my favorite. Leave it to the two eldest Strange Music artists to create the best track on the album.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Tecca Nina
It wouldn’t be a award show without a sappy but necessary tribute to an OG. With that in mind let’s take a minute to celebrate Tech N9ne and everything he has built. I remember back in high school listening to “Riotmaker” before lacrosse games to get me pumped up. A decade later, Tech has kept that attitude, style and energy intact and turned it into an empire, the leader in independent music.
Strangeulation, Vol. II is a testament to all of the talent Strange Music has added to their roster. It’s not just about Tech N9ne, but it’s important to remember that without him none of this would be possible.
Oh, what a night! We laughed, we cried, we dished out some awards and we celebrated the release of Strangeulation, Vol. II in fine fashion. Be sure to take home your award for being the best rap fan ever by grabbing Strangeulation, Vol. II when it drops this Friday.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. You can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]