Thursday, May 10, 2007
There are rappers like Nas and Mobb Deep who rap about life in the streets with gritty realism that sheds light on the outside of legal society without glamorizing it. There are those like, Jay-Z and T.I. who brag about their hustling past while celebrating being over it. There are those like Rick Ross who make being a coke dealer seem sexier than being a movie star. And then there are those rappers who turn the whole argument on its head.
Gravediggaz were the first to brand themselves "horrorcore" and it was meant to replace gangsta rap as the topic of choice in hip hop. Their 1994 album Six Feet Deep riffed on the dark gangsta mythology that the Wu had established in 1993, and cut out the gangsta. Instead of talking about the horrors of the street, the went medieval on our asses, rapping about chopping people up, committing suicide, blood, guts, and mayhem.
The group was a collaboration between producers prince paul and the wu's own RZA, and it reflects both Prince Paul's twisted sense of genius and the RZAs dark, cinematic beats and byzantine mythology. Mostly, though, it's funny, clever, and has incredible beats.
Six Feet Deep was a critical success, but the group failed to steer rap into a new direction. Horrocore didn’t become the new gangsta rap. Their two follow-ups weren't as good or successful, and I think the project is pretty much dead by now.
I lump Cannibal Ox's 2001 "The Cold Vein" in the same category of the Gravediggaz, even though they didn't consider themselves horrorcore. Rather, Cannibal Ox used the same sense of dread of a horror movie to riff on life in the Rotten Apple. Where the Gravediggaz were tongue in cheek, Cannibal Ox were decidedly serious. They described the horrors of violence and disenfranchisement as if they were telling a horror story, and the claustrophobic, paranoid beats by El-P backed it up.
"And if there's crack in a basement
Crack heads stand adjacent
Food Stamp arangements
You were a still born baby
Mother didn't want you, but you were still born
Boy meets world, of course his pops is gone
What you figga
That chalky outline on the ground is a father figure
So he steps to the next stencil, that's a hustler
Infested with money and diamond cluster
Lets talk in laymen terms
Rotten apples and big worms
Early birds and poachers
New York is evil at it's core, so those who have more than them
Prepare to be victims”
The Cold Vein is a brilliant record, and was for a time seen as the rebirth of underground hip hop. Then they broke up.
More recently, there are Jedi Mind Tricks. This duo has a name that sounds like some shitty jam band or crappy pop punk act, and album covers that rival those of epic metal bands like Iced Earth. However, they are neither shitty nor metal. Instead they combine RZA-inspired beats with horror-imagery-filled rants on the state of the bullshit. And vietnam. I checked out “Servants in Heaven, Kinds in Hell” from my local library, and I was impressed by their rhymes and beats, which often sample mafia-type songs
The combine war imagery, horror imagery, gangsta violence and good old boasting to come up with line like "You don't gotta go to church to get to know your god” or:
You ain't safe if the bomb exists
so I side with the Vietnamese communists
if you wit me mothafucka raise your arm and fist
and we can bust a fuckin' cap and see if God exists
I scarred your wrist, with a poisonous rusty razor
if its Jedi Mind Tricks then it must be flavour
At sixteen tracks, it’s a little too much darkness for my tender ears, but five or six albums in, they are still cooking.
So there you go. Three scary-ass hip-hop albums that also happen to be innovative and good.
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