The History of Horrorcore Rap
But 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 fanbase, as well as so many of the oft-attributed pioneers not wanting to take credit for it.
So, why has horrorcore carried such a
Early '80s rap music lent itself well to elements of films and pop culture touchstones. And so 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, used the spooky fun of horror imagery in their aesthetic, as well as tracks like Dana Dane's "Nightmares" which shifted rap narratives into more frightening dimensions.
By the late '80s, this resulted in the more haunting narratives becoming commercially viable. In 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 got quite dark. That same year, Prince Johnny C's group Ghetto Boys' (this was how the group's name was spelled before Scarface and Willie D) recorded "Assassins" for their 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 new line-up.
On the other side of the country at this time was 16-year-old Detroit-based Esham, whose landmark 1989 Boomin' Words From Hell album used the metaphor of the Motor City to represent the pit of eternal damnation.
Esham's influence on midwest hip-hop cannot be overstated. Along with inspiring the more macabre elements that would go on to inspire 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, Esham completely and utterly rejected the term horrorcore. He claims he makes "acid rap," differentiated by its usage of rock elements and more unsettling imagery as metaphors for real life horrors (as opposed to Horrorcore's more fantastical elements).
Another artist who similarly rejects horrorcore branding is Kool Keith, who, among other things, pioneered brutally killing MCs in-between the absurd chaos of everything else on Ultramagnetic MCs' 1988 debut Critical Beatdown. He would become frustrated with the title being thrown at his work from "Poppa Large" to Dr. Octagon.
On 1997's Sex Style he said he wasn't horrorcore, but "pornocore." 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 among 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.
With the popularity of gangsta rap, perhaps label bigwigs thought horrorcore could be the next big thing.