That’s the music video for “Natural Born Killaz” by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. It is the scariest music video of all-time. I won’t hear any arguments to the contrary. For a 10 year old kid–up way too late and watching YO! MTV Raps–nothing messes with you more than watching Ice Cube and Dr. Dre rap while sitting on a cement throne located within some sort of makeshift hell on earth. The lyrics aren’t exactly comforting either: “Journey with me into the mind of a maniac. Doomed to be a killer since I came out the nut sack. I’m in a murderous mind state with a heart full of terror. I see the devil in the mirror.” That’s some pretty dark shit, right? Oh, and then there’s the part where Dr. Dre screams “I don’t wanna die” while quick flashes of a skull are superimposed over his face. It’s terrifying! It still scares me to this day, even after seeing Are we There Yet?
I’m from Northern Michigan, so I was exposed to a lot of ICP when I was younger, but the main thing I remember from my friends CD collections was how the album covers — ICP, Bone Thugs and Harmony, Three Six Mafia– were all reminiscent of the horror movie covers I would see in the video stores. Not so much the big releases, but the stuff you would find in like the two for a dollar section that you would pretty much rent based on the box art alone.
I’m not going to try and pretend I’m a hip-hop expert or anything, but I do like it, particularly hip-hop from the 1990’s. I go through phases where I will make a list of albums that I plan to listen to, and I normally get through about half of the list before I move on to another list. One time I made a list of every Wu-Tang affiliated album ever released and decided to plow my way through it in chronological order. I didn’t make it. I think I made it to Iron Flag. I should pick it back up, actually. Anyway, one of the albums that stood out, and maybe my favorite Wu-Tang affiliated album, was 6 Feet Deep by Gravediggaz. It’s so cool. Featuring songs titled “1-800 Suicide”, “Two Cups of Blood” and “Diary of a Madman”, the album blew my mind as it was as close as I had ever heard to an entire album that felt like a horror movie from start to finish. Where most Wu-Tang albums referenced old martial arts movies, this one was different, and kind of scary.
I found out through intense research (googling the album title and clicking on Wikipedia) that 6 Feet Deep is considered a classic of a hip-hop subgenre referred to as “Horrorcore”. When I researched the term horrorcore (clicking on the hyperlink for horrorcore on Wikipedia) I realized that a lot of the different rappers and artists that fit under that umbrella, were the artists on my friends album covers. I googled a bit more and found a few lists of what fans of the horrorcore subgenre considered to be the cream of the crop. I like horror movies. I like hip hop. What better subgenre for me to take a dive into than horrorcore?
Hip-hop and horror movies intersect a lot. Of course, you have movies like Tales from the Hood and Bones, that feature hip-hop prominently in them, but there are also music videos like “Natural Born Killaz”, and “Murder was the Case” by Snoop Dogg, that play out like mini horror movies. It’s also kind of cool to when musical artists you like namedrop the movies you love as well. When 2pac says, “Your whole camps under siege, and I’m Jason Voorhees”, I get it. I like Springsteen a lot too, but he’s not dropping references to Jason Voorhees. Or even Cropsey. Which is kind of messed up considering their close proximity to Jersey. Maybe if one of them would have killed a mill worker they would have gotten a shout out or something.
Horrorcore started to hit its stride in the mid-90’s, but there are a ton of horror movie references dating back to the earliest days of hip-hop, particularly to Freddy Krueger. Rappers in the 80’s loved Freddy. I guess that makes sense, he is the most talkative of the horror icons around the time, plus he has his own past in hip-hop as well(http://www.dreadcentral.com/news/140322/time-freddy-krueger-rap-star/), but Freddy is super popular among proto-horrorcore songs. “A Nightmare on my Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince is probably the most memorable of these songs, but Freddy is also mentioned in “Assasins” by the Geto Boys, “Three Men with the Power of Ten”, by Kaotic Minds Corruptin, and while it doesn’t specifically reference Freddy, “Nightmares” by Dana Dane feels like it was obviously influenced by the Nightmare Series.
With this background knowledge, I sat down and researched the music I wanted to listen to as I took my deep dive into the horrorcore genre. I used this list by Fangoria, http://rateyourmusic.com/list/alk0/rapped_and_tagged__horrorcores_iconic_albums/, as well as this article in LA Weekly http://www.laweekly.com/music/the-history-of-horrorcore-rap-4168562 , and of course Wikipedia, and I got to listening. Here are the albums that I think are some of the most notable horrorcore albums:
Esham – Boomin Words from Hell – “My father was a priest cold-blooded, he’s dead. And hear the demons screamin’ as his body bled. My father was a priest cold-blooded he’s dead. Poured on the holy water, bless the dead is what I said”. That’s a pretty heavy lyric for anybody, but especially for someone who is 16 years old, which is how old Esham was when he released Boomin Words from Hell. Esham is someone who objects to being labeled a horrorcore artist, and has also been referred to as “Acid Rap”, but regardless of the label this is a pretty good album. This is also a dark album, and one that presents Esham’s hometown of Detroit as a sort of hell on earth. It’s pretty gross album at times too. “P Ain’t Got No Face” is particularly crude, but unfortunately, that’s pretty par for the course for a lot of horrorcore. My favorite track on the album is “Devils Groove” which uses a Carpenter-esque beat for its backing and features references to excorcists, black magic, and the dead rising. It’s really cool.
Insane Poetry – Grim Reality –This is a pretty cool album and was the first one that sounded like what I recognize as horrorcore. They even say, “Listening to my lyrics is like watching a horror movie” at one point. The album itself also plays out like a sort of inner city slasher. “Angel of Death”, in particular, is pretty gruesome. “Lookin for your daughter? Here’s where you oughta start. Here in this cookie jar, I got your daughters heart’. That’s pretty hardcore.
Brotha Lynch Hung – Seasonofdasickness.- This album is gross! It’s also the one that had me nodding my head the most. I’m happy nobody asked what I was listening to, or I would have had to tell them it was a song called “Rest in Piss”. Whatever. It’s a good song. Brotha Lynch Hung is also a maniac. I think he shoots a baby in one of the albums skits, which then leads into “Return of the baby” which is about him bringing home human baby meat for his own child. What!?! Like a lot of the albums I listened to, this album would probably work best for a 13 year old looking for shock value. It’s also way too long, but it certainly lives it up to its title.
Natas – Doubelieveingod– I liked this one a lot. It has some really cool synth beats, and there is a polish to it that isn’t really common among horrorcore albums. It says “acid rap” on the cover so maybe its more that than horrorcore. Maybe I would like acid rap better.
Esham – kkkill the fetus. I liked Esham’s first album quite a bit, so I went ahead and listened to this one as well. Esham is good and there’s an internal struggle going on with him that makes him one of the more interesting horrorcore artists to me. That struggle is highlighted on “Voices in my head”: “Voices are callin’ me, but I can’t call ’em back, I drown my sorrows in a bottle of Kodiak. People say what’s the matter, the sounds of pitter patter, I’m losin’ my mind as I’m walk up Jacob’s ladder.” There are a lot of lyrics like this that make it play more like a psychological horror, as opposed to a lot of the other horrorcore, which mostly play out like splatter films.
Three 6 – Mystic Stylez – The only academy award winners on this list! Honestly, Three Six Mafia borders on horrorcore, especially on their earlier albums, but I wanted to include this album due to Three Six member, Gangsta Boo. Gangsta Boo is about the only female voice I can remember on any of these albums, and it’s welcome because horrorcore is a straight up sausage fest for the most part. Gangsta Boo is just as raunchy as the men and she even references a Jason mask in “Now I’m Hi, PT.3”, so she’s cool with me. Gangsta Boo is still around, and still raunchy, recently showing up for a verse on “Love Again” by Run the Jewels.
Necro- Gory Days– A lot of horrocore fans seem to really like Necro, but I don’t know, I think this album is pretty shitty. I was also pretty tired of the whole experiment by the time I listened to this, but this felt like it was 5 hours long. Honestly, this entire subgenre might be something that works best in short bursts.
Faltlinerz – USA –I remember these guys! They had a video that I saw as a kid; “Satanic Verses”. It probably scared me as well. There is a reason I remember them as they were signed to Def Jam Records and one of their members was a nephew of Russell Simmons. Honestly, they’re not very good, and this album is pretty corny. It is notable though because it’s Def Jam’s attempt to hit the mainstream with horrorcore, but it never really caught on, much like horrorcore as a whole.
Gravediggaz- 6 Feet Deep – This one is the best, and if you’re going to listen to one horrorcore album, this should be it.
Today, for many, the label of horrorcore is seen more as a stigma than a badge of honor. Even Esham, one of the artists who many see as a pioneer of the genre, rejects the label completely, claiming that his music should be known as “Acid Rap” because it uses realistic, and not fantastic, imagery as metaphors for real life. I don’t know. To me, that’s kind of like when people have arguments over whether Seven or Silence of the Lambs are horror movies. Esham, and a lot of horrorcore musicians, use graphic imagery to convey their thoughts and life experiences, and to me, that’s horror.
Horrorcore is not my favorite subgenre of music. It made me feel kind of gross a lot of the time I listened to it, and I really don’t think the music itself is good enough to be defended to any great extent. But I’m glad I dove into it. I think it’s interesting to look at art like this, because the best horrorcore material is very similar to a good horror movie; It takes a person’s voice and experiences and filters them through the imagery and tropes of horror. When it works, (Gravediggaz, Esham, scattered singles throughout the 90’s and 00’s) it really works, and it provides a look at the world from a different perspective, which is one of arts most important functions. I just wish there were more stuff like Esham and Graveddiggaz, and less feeding human meat to babies. Well, maybe the same amount of cannibal babies, and more of the psychological horror stuff. Balance is important.