1980s, United States
Hardcore hip hop gangsta rap underground hip hop horror fiction / horror film
Rapping drum machine turntables sampler synthesizer programming
Horrorcore is a subgenre of hip hop music based on horror-themed and often darkly transgressive lyrical content and imagery. Its origins derived from certain hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap artists, such as the Geto Boys, who began to incorporate supernatural, occult, or psychological horror themes into their lyrics and, unlike most gangsta rap artists, pushed the violent content and imagery in their lyrics beyond the realm of realistic urban violence to the point where the violent lyrics became gruesome, ghoulish, unsettling, or slasher film or splatter film-esque. While exaggerated violence and the supernatural are common in horrorcore, the genre also frequently presents more realistic yet still disturbing portrayals of mental illness and drug abuse. The term "horrorcore" was popularized by openly horror-influenced hip hop groups such as Flatlinerz and Gravediggaz.
Horrorcore defines a style of hip hop music that focuses primarily on dark, violent, gothic, transgressive, macabre and/or horror-influenced topics that can include death, psychosis, psychological horror, mental illness, satanism, self-harm, cannibalism, mutilation, necrophilia, suicide, murder, torture, rape, drug abuse, and often supernatural or occult themes. The lyrics are often inspired by horror movies over moody, hardcore beats. According to rapper Mars, "If you take Stephen King or Wes Craven and you throw them on a rap beat, that's who I am." Horrorcore was described by Entertainment Weekly in 1995 as a "blend of hardcore rap and bloodthirsty metal." The lyrical content of horrorcore is sometimes described as being similar to that of death metal, and some have referred to the genre as "death rap". Horrorcore artists often feature dark imagery in their music videos and base musical elements of songs upon horror film scores.
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. Following this were groups like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and songs like Dana Dane's "Nightmares," which spun more frightening, imaginative narratives.
Since 1983, Ganxsta N.I.P. has performed horror-themed lyrics which he described as "Psycho Rap", but was not commonly considered to be horrorcore until the term came into mainstream prominence. Ganxsta N.I.P. has written lyrics for other groups, including Geto Boys.
In 1988, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released "A Nightmare on My Street", which described an encounter with Freddy Krueger, and the Fat Boys recorded the similarly-themed "Are You Ready for Freddy" for the film A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and its soundtrack.
While Kool Keith later claimed to have "invented horrorcore", the first use of the term appeared on the group KMC's 1991 album Three Men With the Power of Ten. Nonetheless, Kool Keith brought significant attention to horror-influenced hip hop with the 1996 release of his horror and science-fiction-influenced, absurdist, trippy, experimental album Dr. Octagonecologyst.
Rise in the hip hop genre
The Geto Boys' debut album, Making Trouble, 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. He said that the Geto Boys continued to pioneer the style with its second release, Grip It! On That Other Level, with songs such as "Mind of a Lunatic" and "Trigga-Happy Nigga." The Geto Boys' 1991 album, We Can't Be Stopped, was also influential on the horrorcore genre and contained themes of paranoia, depression, and psychological horror, especially in the track "Chuckie," and "Mind Playing Tricks on Me".
While rappers in the underground scene continued to release horrorcore music, including Big L, Insane Poetry, and Insane Clown Posse, 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).
In 1995, an independent horror film called The Fear was released, which included a soundtrack which consisted entirely of horrorcore songs, including Insane Clown Posse's biggest radio hit, "Dead Body Man".
The genre is not popular with mainstream audiences as a whole; however, performers such as Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid have sold well. Also, horrorcore rapper Eminem sold millions of copies with his horrorcore albums The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. The Slim Shady LP was certified 3x platinum in October 1999 and 4x platinum in November 2000. The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1,760,049 copies in its first week of being released and was certified diamond. Horrorcore has thrived in Internet culture and sustains an annual super show in Detroit called Wickedstock. Every Halloween since 2003, Horrorcore artists worldwide get together online and release a free compilation titled Devilz Nite. According to the January 2004 BBC documentary Underground USA, the subgenre "has a massive following across the US" and "is spreading to Europe". Rolling Stone in 2007 referred to it as a short-lived trend that generated more shlock than shock. New York Magazine put horrorcore in the spotlight by listing off the ten most horrifying horrorcore rappers. Spin asked Violent J of Insane Clown Posse to list off his favorite horrorcore songs. Songs included, The Dayton Family's "What's On My Mind", Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Mr. Ouija", Necro's "Billie Jean 2005", and Michael Jackson's "Thriller".