DMX, Eminem and the Seven Gates Of Horrorcore
“People were literally scared of my records. There have been so many rumors about me and my records. People got the first album, and they would just make up stories. They’d get into an accident and be like, ‘I got into an accident because I was playing that tape.’ It wasn’t like we helped ourselves when we described what was in people’s heads. It wasn’t to shock people, though, but to get people involved in what we were doing. We had to get peoples’ attention. […] We said a lot of things that people wanted to say but didn’t say. We talked about a lot of political and social [issues] that people didn’t want to talk about.”
The American culture has always had a fascination with the twisted and macabre. Maybe not in the literal sense, although America is the serial killer capital of the world. However, it hasn’t stopped us from the expression of horror, especially within the medium of film and music.
Rewind to the ’90s. The religious right was in full swing, and backmasking was a thing. Three teenagers out of Memphis were convicted of murdering children for a demonic ceremony. The speculation was based largely on the fact that the teenagers listened to Heavy Metal. It sounds ridiculous now, but the shit was real. The after effects of early rap pioneers like N.W.A were still being felt, and the general public was blaming violence on films and music. Out of one part frustration, one part expression, a new genre was born.
In the early ’90s, there was a subtle movement of rap that was without a genre label, instead of “bitches and ho’s” or “gats and 9’s,” there were artists that started to replace those tropes with the supernatural and gore. This slowly developed into its own genre, though the label and name of said genre would change over time; it would eventually settle on the name and in some ways a stereotype within rap, it would be called Horrorcore…
Notable acts like Juicy J, C- Murder, Tech N9ne and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony belong in this classification, and I would be remiss not to mention Insane Clown Posse. A group out of Detroit, who has not only embraced but assimilated the entire genre into their own and continue to be one of the reasons, even now, the term Horrocore is a taboo association in rap and hip-hop (also a 30 million dollar a year empire).To thoroughly and properly go through every aspect of the genre would take volumes, so I’ll try and cut this down. So to make this easy, this story is condensed into the most notable benchmarks (gates) of the genre. I have to warn you before you go any farther, the lyrics depicted in this article are extremely graphic so proceed on you’re own accord.
GATE 1: KOOL KEITH
The most intriguing thing about this whole genre, historically, the acts associated with the genre want nothing to do with it. Kool Keith, one of the major artists that brought attention to the style with his 1996 experimental release Dr. Octagonecologyst. The album introduces the titular character as a homicidal, extraterrestrial, time-traveling, gynecologist and surgeon. While the album is heralded as a revitalization of the rap underground, it also shook innocent ears with lyrics such as:
I do indeed in greed, explore meet the patients
Back to brooms with the nurse with the voodoo curse
Holding up office lights, standing at huge heights
Back and forth, left wing swing to North
East and South with blood pouring down your mouth
You have ptomaine poisoning on your tongue
You have bees flying around your rectum
You need a bad operation
Gimme the scissors
Kool Keith would try and dodge the Horrorcore label, instead labeling it himself as Pornocore.
While Keith’s album would be the authoritative underground kickoff, the real push would come from Detroit and a rapper named Esham. An act that would subtly affect a decade in commercial hip-hop while remaining generally unheard of if you weren’t a rap fan from the mid-west.
GATE 2: ESHAM
Detroit underground artist Esham, releases his debut album Boomin’ Words From Hell. The lyrics of “Boomin” would reflect the realities of the crime infested streets of Detroit, and the turmoil brought on by the crack epidemic.
Esham’s long-term effect on rap is impossible to streamline. This includes the other “great” hip-hop artist out of Detroit. I’ll let you guess, he’s also in this article?
GATE 3: Geto Boys
Hailing from Houston Texas, Geto Boys, would cross into the mainstream and eventually become legend with their single “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” Though this song was tame compared to their song released three years earlier, “Assasins.”
Now I knew the girl was ready, she started gettin sweaty
But all was in my head was ‘kill the bitch like Freddy’
I dug between the chair, and whipped out the machete
She screamed, I sliced her up until her guts were like spaghetti
A maniac, I stabbed the girl in her tits
And to stop her nerves from jumpin I just cut her to bits
“Mind Playing Tricks On Me” would go down in the books, a benchmark single in hip-hop history and a mainstay of an era of hip-hop playlists. Geto Boys are one of the earlier artists that were given credit, after the fact, for spearheading the Horrorcore movement. As well as one of the few respected acts not afraid of the label.
GATE 4: GraveDiggaz
Here’s where things really start to come together for the genre with one of the first hip-hop supergroups, GraveDiggaz.
RZA, Prince Paul, Stetasonic’s Frukwon and Poetic — released 1994’s 6 Feet Deep, an album considered the sub-genre’s finest hour.
The group’s first album was originally to be titled Niggamortis, yes, you read that correctly but the album title was changed to 6 Feet Deep for commercial reasons. GraveDiggaz was the alter egos for their work with the group: RZA became The RZArector, Poetic became The Grym Reaper, Prince Paul became The Undertaker and Frukwan became The Gatekeeper. In 1995, the three rapping members (without Prince Paul) released a collaborative EP titled The Hell EP with UK trip- hop artist Tricky.
“Diary Of A Madman” would be the only song to chart from the album, but it was enough to lend credibility to the genre as the GraveDiggaz were also one of the first credible groups to embrace the Horrorcore tag.
Blending the production genius of Prince Paul and Rza, 6 Feet Deep is almost a classic, a complete album from an artistic achievement standpoint, as well as a must listen for any hardcore hip-hop heads.
When you get home, just seal up your windows and you doors
Turn your oven on high for about four hours
Light you a blunt, kiss your ass goodbye
You gassed yourself, ’cause it’s a suicide
Suicide it’s a suicide, biddy bye bye
Suicide it’s a suicide
GATE 5: FLATLINERZ
This would be Def Jam’s attempt to make a dent into the genre as record execs from every corner of the industry were trying to peg what “the next thing” would be.
Comprised of Redrum (Jamal Simmons, Russell Simmons nephew), Gravedigger and Tempest- Flatlinerz would be the only other mid-’90s act that would rep the genre with any sort of respectability. While acts like GraveDiggaz would use the horror based lyrics as doubles for other issues, Flatlinerz dove in head first, leaving little to the imagination. In 1994 they released USA (Under Satan’s Authority). The album only charted one song, “Live Evil.” A large part of Flatlinerz commercial disappointment was simply that they weren’t commercial. The group received little to no airplay due to its controversial (mostly satanic themed) lyrics and videos. In the video for “Satanic Verses,” it depicts Tempest eating the guts out of a corpse while rapping his verses. Seems a bit over the top, but they had flow.
I make bodies disappear, like David Copperfield
Evil lurks in the dark and all you see is the whites of my eyes
Don’t look at my eyes! Don’t look at my eyes!
I kill and massacre and burn away all the body flesh
Cremating more bodies than David Koresh
Feel the fire and the flame and the way I word this
Quotes from my Satanic Verses
GATE 6: EMINEM
Remember the “long-term effect” Esham had on the Detroit rap scene? Well, here it is if you didn’t already figure it out.
It would be an oversight not to credit the midwest and Detroit as a whole for adopting a style that is most commonly associated with Horrorcore, but let’s face it, Detroit, to the general public, is Eminem.
With the release of Slim Shady in 1999, Marshall Mathers would go on to paint the entire musical landscape red with the blood of his lyrical subjects. Eminem eased into one of the most controversial spaces in popular music history. His first album flirted with the ideas of murder, rape, and other devious functions.
While Slim Shady might have been considered dark, Marshall Mathers LP is straight brutal. “Kim” depicts Mathers himself, in a fictional (but fantasizing) narrative. Over the course of the song, he murders his ex-wife for cheating on him.
Here I’ll scream with you!
Ah somebody help!
Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you?
Now shut the fuck up and get what’s comin’ to you
You were supposed to love me
Now bleed! bitch bleed!
Bleed! bitch bleed! bleed!
I’m not sure that Eminem ever actually dodged the Horrorcore tag, so much as he was simply too big of an act to be known as anything other than a rapper.
GATE 7: DMX
…And then there was X. DMX is his own beast in so many ways; he could hit club anthems like “Up In Here” and then transition to some of the darkest shit ever to hit mainstream ears. Take the lyrics to “Bring Your Whole Crew,” from his sophomore album, Flesh of My Flesh Blood of My Blood. The cover of the album depicting a shirtless X covered in blood, in fact, so much blood that it’s visually dripping from his body (one of the greatest album covers of all time).
I got blood on my hands and there’s no remorse
And got blood on my dick cause I fucked a corpse (C’MON!)
I’m a nasty nigga – when you pass me nigga look me in my eyes (WHAT!)
Tell me to my fuckin face that you ready to die (C’MON!)
You be a dead motherfucker, red motherfucker
The scariest part about DMX was that he was one of the few artists that it felt like his lyrics were actually biographical. He had that raw, real, feeling that was equally apart of his success as much as his skills as a performer. While DMX might not have rapped about haunted houses or satanic rituals, he would rap about real shit, real scary shit. But this is also why he’s one of the greatest to ever do it. DMX is the seventh and final gate.
Genre tags will always exist. Some will stick and some will fade away. Current acts like Odd Future (who are technically retired) were given the label of Horrorcore though they vehemently denied it with expletives to spare. Recently XXXTentacion came out with an album almost entirely about suicide and depression. In the same vein, we are now seeing this movement of mumble rappers, a title they refute in press and interviews very much the same way we had a slew of Horrorcore artists denying affiliation with the genre in the ’90’s. It was simply young artists experimenting with their craft and that is what’s at the heart of the whole genre. Before Horrorcore came gangster rap and all the taboo that came with it, especially in the ’80’s and ’90’s. You had racism, classism, and segregation, (“had” might not be the appropriate tense here) and these young artists like the Geto Boys and Rza were blamed for societal violence because of their lyrics. I’m speculating here, but it seems that part of this is just gaming the system; if violence is what you expect, we’ll give you real horror and fuck it, we’ll have fun while we’re doing it.