The History of Horrorcore

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Def Jam Records
The Flatlinerz

While hip-hop is a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry at this point, a big part of what's kept rap music so fresh and vibrant for almost 40 years now is the constant innovations coming from its various regional sub-genres. While tracing the lineage of rap styles has been made easier with the advent of the internet and the sharing of archives, for some reason there's always been a challenge with properly tracking the dark corner of the music known as Horrorcore. The blackest sheep of the hip-hop family tree, a proper history of Horrorcore has always been hindered by both the divisiveness within its niche fanbase, as well as so many of the oft-attributed pioneers not wanting to take credit for it. But why has Horrorcore carried such a stigmata stigma?

See also: Poetic of Gravediggaz: Rap's Unsung Genius

The elaborate fantasies of early '80s rap music lent itself well to incorporating elements of popular films and pop culture touchstones. That in mind, if we're talking the strictest of terms here, perhaps the first instance of proto-Horrorcore could be Jimmy Spicer's 1980 single "Adventures of Super Rhyme." A substantial part of the 15-minute long track consists of Spicer telling broadcaster Howard Cosell about the time he met Dracula. From there also came groups like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde who, while not overly demonic in their music, used the spooky fun of horror imagery in their aesthetic, as well as tracks like Dana Dane's "Nightmares" which began the shift of rap narratives into more frightening dimensions.

By the late '80s, this resulted in the more haunting narratives becoming commercially viable. In early 1988, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released "A Nightmare on My Street," an unauthorized hip-hop take on Freddy Krueger, followed later that year by the completely authorized A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: Dream Warriors soundtrack cut "Are You Ready for Freddy" by the Fat Boys, which boasted a rapping Robert Englund. But while these were both relatively friendly frights, in other parts of the country, things were no laughing matter. That same year, Prince Johnny C recorded "Assassins" for the Ghetto Boys' (pre-Scarface and Willie D and spelling it "Geto") debut album Making Trouble. A brutal Tales From the Crypt-style series of horrific narratives, it became a signature song for the group, later remade by the group's changing line-up.

On the otherside of the country at this time, you had 16-year-old Detroit-based Esham whose landmark 1989 Boomin' Words From Hell album used the metaphor of the Motor City as the pit of eternal damnation to color his tales. Esham's influence on the midwest hip-hop scene cannot be overstated. Along with inspiring the more macabre elements that would go on to inspire a chain reaction of several generations of Horrorcore artists, his independent DIY-approach is rivaled only by Too $hort, E-40 and Master P in terms of building an independent empire. Of course, what has to be noted every time Esham's name comes up in Horrorcore conversations is his complete and utter rejection of the term. Esham claims he makes "Acid Rap," which differentiates itself by its usage of rock elements and usage of the more unsettling imagery as metaphors for real life horrors as opposed to Horrorcore's more fantastical elements. Another artist who similarly rejects branding his work Horrorcore is Kool Keith, who, among other things, pioneered brutally killing MCs in-between the absurd chaos of everything else he innovated on Ultramagnetic MCs 1988 debut Critical Beatdown, and would become frustrated with the title being thrown at his work from "Poppa Large" to Dr. Octagon. He once said he wasn't Horrorcore, but "pornocore" on 1997's Sex Style. Esham and Keith would later work together in 2001 on some of their strongest full-lengths Esham's Tongues and Keith's Spankmaster.

The first use we could find of the actual term "Horrorcore" was Santa Ana, California, group KMC's 1991 album Three Men With the Power of Ten. The group, whose name stands for Kaotic Minds Curruptin, released the album on Priority Records. The word slowly began popping up more along the west coast amongst fellow horror minded groups like Los Angeles' Insane Poetry who, prior to that time, was referring to their brand of sinister rap as "Terrifying Style," as well as Sacramento's Brotha Lynch Hung. It could be theorized that the close proximity of this more horrifying strand of rap music to the emerging lucrative gangsta rap market is what put dollar signs in the eyes of label bigwigs thinking Horrorcore could very well be the next big thing as the successor to gangsta rap.


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9 comments
AMKR
AMKR

Any artist who makes a fuss about "not being horrorcore' needs to stop worrying about stupid labels and just DO THEIR THING. Dark subject matters, grim reality, and horror influenced fantasy aren't going anywhere whether or not you like the sub-genre name. No one's pigeon holing anyone. Genre is a box, do it all and break out of it. For christ sakes... Like making up a 1000 and 1 different names for the same dark influenced rap music is going to make a bit of diffference.

AMKR
AMKR

One question, how is G Child from The White Rapper show Horrorcore in the least? I watched that whole clip (ICP is in an episode ahah). Dude from Third Bass hosts the show (granted Serch is more talented the van. ice but I love how he looked shocked at the vanilla ice commet LOL, dude's still beefin' in his head like its 91/Derelicts of Dialect shit LOL - come on now.)

AMKR
AMKR

and as far as Kool Keith other than some Ultra Mag material, Dr. Octagon and Dr. Doom (and thier successor proejcts, and if you must Thee Undertakerz but the effects on the voices kill me on that one :-d) isnt really horrorcore. I mean - you've gotta have more than a few albums in your repitoire that could be called horror before you earn the title IMO. He raps way more about all kinds of different things (space elvis record? lol sex style, etc etc)

AMKR
AMKR

lol Acid Rap, Horrorcore, Wicked Shit, Death Rap. Its all the same to me. (People are HEAVILY opinionated about this so to each his own). Early esham and Insane Poetry resonates together, whilst boomin words from hell uses metaphors to craft the grim realities of being crack dealer, as a young kid in the streets of detroit (listen to Eshams Boomin') INsane Poetry's Grim Reality does much the same, in showing you the grim side of reality (for the "reality" half the album, and the other half is more horrorcore straight raps "grim side")

AMKR
AMKR

Also nice spot on that Adventures of Super Rhyme, never heard that before. REMINDS ME ALOT of the Contempary (who was inspired by the best of the 80s, early 90s rappers) EDAN. His albums Primitive Plus & Beauty and TheBeat (esp. the latter is a work of ART). Not horrorcore but if you listen to Edan, the listen to Super Rhyme, you can tell what era he gets his inspiration from.

AMKR
AMKR

*achem - I actually forget the other name for Cyco's style pre-hororcore/wicked shit lable. But I know his highschool friend 'madman' (I think that was his name) came up with that "Terrorfying Style" freestylin' at lunch. Very happy with this history of horrorcore - doesn't try to claim late-runners like Gravediggaz/Flatlinerz started the shit, and doesn't focus simply on more mainstream acts like Insane Clown Posse, Necro, etc.
5
There are alot more epic under-underground groups out there too. (Too many to name, but heres some classicks - KGP (necCology 1996 - and Tha Ungod 2001, most prolific but you cant go wrong with KGP - hatred 1 & 2 and united corpse of america are both ill as helll - Bedlam - Chemical Imbalancez Vol. 2 is a must have. Q Strange-Creation 2 ExeQtion, Syck Syde's White Crosses (2001) and Sometimes They Come Back (2008 - which actually featured Insane Poetry on the song Flashlite!) - KryptiK - Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (2000-2001?) and The Beyond:

From The Beyond: The Se7en Songs Of Death (2008). Bloodshot - The Black Rose Revisited, The Saw Is Family, Bloo(dshot Inn, (and so many more), KannabalistiK - Blasphemy; True Words of Worship,

Thats just some REAL classicks from the under-under ground yall should check out if you dig Horrorcore. The scene is huge.

KGP in 95-96 played Hallowicked with Insane Clown Posse (and Simken Heights).

Speaking of which Simken Heights - Smoke Box, Religion of The Beast, Redrum & Coke, and Cap Ones solo Holy Water are must haves (can be found in a box set / with all their material on "The Eternal Flame Anthology" 3 discs and 5 albums (plus rare unreleased and hard to find tracks). Can't beat it really. No one was like Simken in the Detroit wicked shit scene.

LU Cipha - Witchez Caludron, Witchez Night, Deadly Nightshade, TOXIC2000, Keystoned and Mental Hellth - and the side project Spaced Out - Fortean Phenomena are must haves.

The J. Hexx Project - The Seven Doorz To Death/ Twitch Of The Deadz Nervez - must have.

I could go on but I this is a nice little primer into the under under ground. If you like the blasphmey of Esham - you'll love hearin it pushed to the ultimate extreme with KGP, Beldam, KannabalisitIK and the like. Simken Heights is more gangster horrorcore, but definetly horror - just with a sort of gangster feel with out the gangsta content. LU Cipha is really unique and their topics are original for their time, witchcraft, h6llow66n, toxic chemicals, nuclear explosions, etc. They've got the TOXIC style, their Keystoned laid back weed style (Marijuana and Hororcore Lovers - LU cipha is a match made, IN HELL muahaha). Spaced Out is about fortean phenomena produced by Scissor hands and just featured Hex of LU Cipha - raining frogs, ufos, the unknown/unexplainable.

J. Hexx Project is a new breathe the the genre, with his classic release Seven Doorz/Twitch - and his follow up Mountain of The Cannibal God which is a full story, track 1 to 2 with voice over interludes, the works. It really plays like a movie. Great albums. KryptiK are Komatose & Rukus - two zombie from the Black Blood Cemetary - content follows suit haha. Syck Syde has some of the most unique voices in all of the underground scene, can be a detractor or attractor but me I love it. Their albums are pure halloween creepy horror story awesomness, with lots of members!

AMKR
AMKR

I was about to say, as a long time horrorcore fan (since 1996). Im surprised you mentioned KMC before Insane Poetry (1988 - 12 Strikes Til Midnight 12", even before that Cyco was in a group called His Majesti they released some cuts in 87). KMC was dope no doubt but to me, Insane Poetry is more prolifiic (I mean he's stilll around an ill as ever, Grim Reality is a CLASSICK and Faith In Chaos 2001 was a MASTERPEICE, Blacc Plague though less HC was G-Funk Horror. I believe he just released his Creative Destruction mixtape. Cyco also called his style "

AMKR
AMKR

* KGP - Necrology (1996) - one of my favorite albums of all time easily. Gotta make sure its spelt right ;-)

AMKR
AMKR

and *track 1-till the end

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