Horrorcore is a subgenre of hip hop music based on horror-themed lyrical content and imagery. Its origins derived from hardcore and gangsta rap artists such as the Geto Boys and Insane Clown Posse, who brought the genre into the mainstream, if somewhat fleetingly. The term horrorcore was popularised by openly horror-influenced hip hop groups such as Flatlinerz and Gravediggaz.
Horrorcore is the hottest potato within the hip hop genre, upsetting the purists and proving too extreme for mass consumption, it has even seen so-called ‘godfathers’ of the scene distancing themselves as pioneers. It has been argued that Jimmy Spicer’s 1980 single “Adventures of Super Rhyme” was perhaps the first example of anything that resembled horrorcore, due to the segment of the song in which Spicer recounts his experience of meeting Dracula. Interestingly, even this came after the wave of Blaxploitation films which flooded 42nd Street cinemas, the films themselves rarely grasping the opportunity to have an accompanying song to give them even greater visibility outside their niche.
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A year later, groups like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (unclear whether the misspelling was intentional) and songs like Dana Dane’s “Nightmares,” saw releases, though these had more in common with the horror pop craze of the 1950’s and early 60’s, with monsters seen as comical characters and the threat minimal. It wasn’t until the horror film itself embraced a more bubblegum aesthetic, with the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger appearing on television regularly, despite the film’s age rating, that rap and horror films edged closer together.
In 1988, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released “A Nightmare on My Street“, which described an encounter with Freddy Krueger. It was a crossover success and reached 15 on the Top 100 but whilst music was beginning to embrace horror, the film industry was less sure (possibly partly due to Smith referring to Krueger as ‘Fred’ and the song concluding with the razor-fingered murderer quipping, “I’m your DJ now, Princey”). New Line Cinema sued for copyright infringement and the accompanying video was pulled and copies destroyed. The album was emblazoned with the legend “not part of the soundtrack…and is not authorized, licensed, or affiliated with the Nightmare on Elm Street films”; all this despite the film’s producers seriously considering using the song in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It’s telling that a genre which had used themes and imagery from horror films far earlier, metal, had actually beaten the pair to Freddy’s affections anyway, with Krueger appearing in Dokken’s video for “Dream Warriors” which was indeed included in the soundtrack to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors a year earlier.
Playing by the rules were the Fat Boys who recorded the similarly-themed “Are You Ready for Freddy?” for the film A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and its soundtrack. The Chubby Checker-approved funsters even coaxed a rap out of Englund, though he had already flexed his musical muscle with Freddy Krueger’s Greatest Hits in 1987, an appalling collection melodically but a sign that horror was big business in all forms of pop culture.
This was all rather flotsam and jetsam compared to what would truly be recognised as horrorcore, the first example of a darker strain appearing with The Geto Boys‘ debut album, Making Trouble, which contained the dark and violent horror-influenced track “Assassins“, which was cited by Joseph Bruce (Violent J of the horrorcore group Insane Clown Posse) in his book Behind The Paint, as the first recorded horrorcore song. The album had Tales From the Crypt-style narratives which were a world away from the luminous, jokey scares which went before. Their third album, “We Can’t Be Stopped”, featured the classic, “Chuckie”, which sampled Child’s Play.
Pre-Eminem, Detroit’s most prominent hip hop artist was Esham, regularly cited as the most influential horror core artist of recent times. Contrarily, Esham denounces such labels (as did New York-based Kool Keith of Ultramagnetic MC’s, though both are prone to changing their minds) and, in fairness, the supernatural is more-often overlooked in favour of real-life horrors, with the troubles of his home city being a metaphor for Hell itself on his debut, “Boomin’ Words from Hell“, embracing rock and metal samples to enhance the effect. Extreme violence was to the fore, with occasional nods to familiar foes:
Esham – “Red Rum” (1989)
“More like Jason, but it’s you I’m chasin’
And once I catch ya, I’m micin’ and acein’
Runnin’ through your mind like Loki
And the reason you don’t see me, cuz I’m low key
I’m the Saturday shocker, horror flick routine
Showin’ you shit, that you never seen
Michael Myers, the crucifiers”
“Respect me, when I whip your brain
Skip your brain and dip your brain
In the lotion while I deck ya skull
I’m like a bird when I’m pecking ya skull
Til it hurts and swell, puffs, bleed, blood”
KMC became the first act to actually use the phrase, “horrorcore” (disputed, naturally) in 1991, whilst other artists throughout the United States began to use similar styles of delivery and themes to distinguish their music from other forms of hip hop; of note are Brotha Lynch Hung, R.A. The Rugged Man, Backyard Posse, The Flatlinerz and The Gravediggaz. R.A. The Rugged Man, in particular, used themes and imagery from the horror films he loved; his debut album (eventually released several years after production) was titled “Night of the Bloody Apes” and featured a track called “Toolbox Murderer”. Under his real name of R.A. Thorburn, he became involved in the horror film industry himself, appearing in a number of shorts as well as co-writing and acting in Frank Hennenlotter’s Bad Biology.
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The boiling pot for these new acts was The Fear, a horror film which horrorcore used as its muse, the reverse of Singles which had used Seattle’s rock music scene for its own purposes. Consequently, frontrunners Esham and Flatlinerz combine forces to cover the title track, whilst Insane Clown Posse, the breakout mainstream stars of the genre, enjoyed huge radio play with “Dead Body Man”. Similarly, Gravediggaz developed a devoted following, their debut, “6 Feet Deep”, not only referencing horror films but using minor chords, atmospherics and effects used in the films themselves.
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While rappers in the underground scene continued to release horrorcore music, the mid-90s brought an attempted mainstream crossover of the genre. In 1994, according to Icons of Hip Hop, “[Horrorcore] gained prominence in 1994 with the release of Flatlinerz’ U.S.A. (Under Satan’s Authority) and Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep (released overseas as Niggamortis), the latter aided by the early incarnation featuring Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, the former Redrum (Jamel Simmons, nephew of Def Jam label co-founder, Russell Simmons).
Flatlinerz were possibly the pinnacle of the genre, despite only releasing one full-length album and only being resurrected as a going concern in 2014. Their track, “Live Evil” samples Jerry Goldsmith’s Ave Satani, from the film, The Omen.
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The genre is not popular with mainstream audiences as a whole; however, performers such as Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid have sold well. The genre has thrived in Internet culture and sustains an annual super show in Detroit called Wickedstock. Every Halloween since 2003, Horrorcore artists worldwide release a free compilation online titled Devilz Nite.
Branching off slightly is Necro (who took his name from the Slayer song, “Necrophobic”), whose merging of rap and death metal prompted him to coin the term “death rap”. He has based his tracks on subjects ranging from The Manson murders, to suicide, to sexual violence, to cannibalism. His music was cited as an influence on the child murderers Michael Rafferty heard testimony from convicted murderer and Terri-Lynne McClintic, who were said to have repeatedly listened to Necro’s music. Necro has stated he would never condone the harm of children.
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A final word for a performer, who, whilst not only creating songs in the horrorcore style, did at least practice what many of the other acts preached. Big Lurch (real name, Altron Singleton), so-called due to tall, looming frame, only released one album, initially called “The Puppet Master” but later changed, for understandable reasons, to “It’s All Bad”. On “I Did It To You!” he sings:
“Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson
And all of your friends I’mma finsta school ya
‘Cuz murder’s a hobby
I’m using a torture chamber and not a Ruger”
On April 10th 2002, Tynisha Ysais was found in her apartment by a friend. Her chest had been torn open and a three-inch blade was found broken off in her shoulder blade. Teeth marks were found on her face and on her lungs, which had been torn from her chest. An eyewitness reported that, when Singleton was picked up by police, he was naked, covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street, and staring at the sky. A medical examination performed shortly after his capture found human flesh in his stomach that was not his own. High on PCP, Singleton had attacked, murdered and partially eaten his victim, a court later pointing to his lyrics as an indication that he was prone to such thoughts, let alone deeds. He is currently serving a life term in prison.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia