It's not often that a hip-hop album begins with a tortured plea to a higher power. Yet such is the anomalous case on "Show Me a God," the first track on K.O.D., Tech N9ne's newest album. Not that the opening song, or any of the 23 tracks on the darkly visceral album, will surprise Tech's massive fanbase. Kansas City's most successful rap artist long ago turned his back on, scoffed at and otherwise distanced himself from the confines of traditional hip-hop. Call him the Marilyn Manson of rap music. The face-painted Tech prefers to do things his own way. While his spiritual detours have proved off-putting for some, Tech currently stands as one of the most successful independent rap artists in the country. (As of this writing, K.O.D. is No. 1 on Billboard's Independent Albums chart.) Few can argue with the marketing success of his road-less-traveled strategy. In both lyrics and gothic, piano-laden production, K.O.D. is perhaps Tech's darkest album — a feat in itself, considering his prior releases. The album, which includes a cameo interview by Jason Whitlock, also features a bouncy, trunk-rattling track appropriately titled "In the Trunk." Tech slides and twists his way through a detailed fantasy wherein he kidnaps a female by throwing her, predictably, in his trunk: I threw her in and let the beat bump, he boasts without remorse. The biggest surprise of the album comes on the third track, "Demons," for which Tech is joined by indie compatriots Three 6 Mafia. The Grammy winners spit hell-breathing gangster fire, providing a streetwise flesh that gives shape to Tech's otherworldly fascinations. The combination forms a sneak peek into a potential evolution — a merging of the old gangster and demonic personae — that could be enough to bring hip-hop purists back into Tech N9ne's orbit.