Following on the heels of gangsta rap, hip-hop sub-genre horrorcore arrived towards the end of ’80s. Pushing creativity to the extreme by combining hardcore rap with sinister, horror film-inspired themes, the genre uses lo-fi beats, haunting key arrangements, dark 808s, slasher film samples and twisted tales of murder and mayhem to scare listeners. Since it’s Halloween this week, here are some of horrorcore’s most terrifying moments.
Tyler, The Creator, ‘Yonkers’ (2011)
Originally made as a joke to mock New York hip-hop beats, the jarring second single from Tyler’s debut album ‘Goblin’ was never intended to garner the attention it did. According to the Odd Future rapper, he made the beat in just eight minutes and the lyrics, which touch upon blasphemy, suicidal tendencies and references to high school shootings, are taken from random verses he had laying around.
Killer lines: “Still suicidal I am / I’m Wolf, Tyler put this fucking knife in my hand/ I’m Wolf, Ace gon’ put that fucking hole in my head”
Gravediggaz (Feat. Killah Priest & Scientific Shabazz), ‘Diary Of A Madman’ (1994)
Formed in 1994, Gravediggaz brought together legendary producer Prince Paul, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Stetasonic’s Frukwan and rapper/producer Poetic. With a plethora of grindhouse horror sagas to choose from on their menacing debut album, ‘6 Feet Deep’ (or ’N***amortis’, as it was titled in Europe), ‘Diary Of A Madman’ stands out for its chilling portrayal of paranoia and mental anguish in a courtroom setting, told over a haunting vocal loop that is hard to forget.
Killer lines: “Ahh!! I cry / As the blood drips inside of my eye refusing to die/ Visions of Hell tormented my faith/ So I chewed my fucking arm off and made an escape”
Flatlinerz, ‘Live Evil’ (1994)
Flatlinerz might not be as well known as the other artists on this list, but they were the first to use the term ‘horrorcore’ on record. Signed to Def Jam Records in the early ‘90s, the group, which consists of Tempest, Gravedigger, and Redrum (Jamel Simmons, a nephew of Russell Simmons), released their one and only album, ‘U.S.A.’ (an acronym for ‘Under Satan’s Authority’), in 1994. Its third single, ‘Live Evil’ is a cold-blooded anthem that plays like a supernatural hip-hopera.
Killer lines: “666, I’m sick, so sick, your body’s on the crucifix / Or chopped up and buried inside of a grave”
Geto Boys, ‘Assassins’ (1988)
Widely regarded as the record that kickstarted the horrorcore genre, ‘Assassins’ is as terrifying as it gets. Taken from the Geto Boys‘ 1988 debut album ‘Making Trouble’ – before Scarface and Willie D joined the group – it sees Prince Johnny C. and Sire Jukebox share disturbing accounts of torturous, cold-blooded murder. The track also touches on sex and the supernatural, as well as the rejecting of religion in favour of a more theatrical Satanic belief.
Killer lines: “I dug between the chair, and whipped out the machete / She screamed, I sliced her up until her guts were like spaghetti”
Eminem, ‘Kim’ (2000)
On 1999’s ‘Still Don’t Give A Fuck’, Eminem proclaimed he was a cross between Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne and horrorcore godfather Esham. His catalogue is littered with twisted tales and deranged fantasies that are often disguised with humour, but ‘Kim is easily the most disturbing. A prequel to 1997’s ‘’97 Bonnie & Clyde’, the Led Zeppelin-sampled track hears Slim Shady indulge in a fantasy where he murders his wife Kim Scott, her boyfriend and a child the pair share.
Killer lines: “You and your husband have a fight, one of you tries to grab a knife / And during the struggle he accidentally gets his Adam’s apple sliced”
Flatbush Zombies, ‘Death 2’ (2013)
The most recent track on this list, ’Death 2’ opens with an excerpt from a 1987 interview with Charles Manson. “Maybe I should have killed four-five hundred people, then I would have felt better,” the infamous cult leader is heard saying, before Meechy Darko’s unique growl manoeuvres its way through a sea of screeching synths. Flatbush Zombies have been incorporating horror themes into their music for years, but this unnerving short is one of the most daunting.
Killer lines: “I crack your fucking skull and use it as a bowl for cereal / I’m so serial, Ted Bundy give me money”
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, ‘Mo’ Murda’ (1995)
Offering a more melodic take on horrorcore, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s euphoric, double-time sound often camouflaged their love of the occult – never more so than on the DJ U-Neek and Tony C produced ‘Mo’ Murda’. Taken from their genre-defining second album ‘E. 1999 Eternal’, it combines distorted demonic voices with sinister harmonies, climaxing with a show-stealing verse from Bizzy Bone. Who knew listening to murderous tales and Ouija chants could be so enjoyable?
Killer lines: “Chalkin’ up bloody mo victims get ’em get ‘em / That’ll be little Ripsta, sinister killer/ Y’all, put ’em in the river / Bodies shiver, – fuck that n***a”
Three 6 Mafia, ‘Favorite Scary Movie’ (1998)
Three 6 Mafia could have filled this entire list by themselves. With one of the most extensive catalogues in music, much of their early work was dominated by schizophrenic, lo-fi beats which saw them pioneer a syrupy new wave laced with paranoia, Satanic rituals and murderous tendencies. ‘Favorite Scary Movie’ hears the Memphis crew, led by DJ Paul and Juicy J, rapidly trade verses over a slab of unsettling production that samples Wes Craven’s slasher classic Scream.
Killer lines: “I shall fulfill your every desire / Tied up to my bed made off hot barbed wire / Demons dance to the chants of the ritual / Black magic wicked Voodoo”
Necro, ‘Dead Body Disposal’ (2001)
When you think about some of rap’s greatest storytellers, names like The Notorious B.I.G., Slick Rick and Ghostface Killah come to mind. However, one of the most underrated teller of tales in hip-hop – likely due to his violently controversial topics – is Brooklyn rapper Necro. Leaving no stone unturned, the devil is literally in the details for the King of Death Rap, whose step-by-step guide on how to dispose of a dead body plays out like a film written by Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie.
Killer lines: “For those that don’t know what to do after ya foes are killed / Shit could get messy when the blood flow spills”
Esham, ‘Nine Dead Bodies’ (1992)
While the exact origins of horrorcore have never been determined, Detroit is often cited as one of its earliest homes. The motor city has bred its fair share of horror-loving MCs, but none have been as influential as Esham. In 1989, the then 16-year-old helped establish the highly provocative sub-genre – which at the time he referred to as acid rap – with his debut album, ’Boomin’ Words From Hell’. What followed would be a lengthy run of hellish tales blended with both metal and electro beats, immersed in controversy, including the stomach-churning ‘Nine Dead Bodies’.
Killer lines: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall / Then their head pops off and rolls down the hall”