Nothing screams Fall quite like walking through the neighborhood and admiring the bright orange pumpkins perched up on stoops or cuddling up under the covers and watching scary movies. While Halloweentown and The Addams Family are a bit more my speed, I understand the appeal of jump scares and unmerciful villains. If I didn’t live by myself, I’d be more inclined to watch them. Unfortunately, just the sound of my creaky walls scare the shit out of me, and I have already put my parents through way too many 3 am phone calls over dumb shit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill. But I save that for the nights where I can cuddle up with my girlfriends and have others to sacrifice just in case Freddy Krueger tries to invade my dreams. Sorry guys. I do wish I was more courageous, though, because there’s more of an overlap with spooky, horror-filled Halloween themes and Hip-Hop than one would expect. In fact, there’s a whole sub-genre dedicated to it known as Horrorcore. While it’s a bit too graphic for my taste, the imagery is pretty fascinating. Hip-Hop is known for its story-telling, and lyricists have created some of the most vivid, terrifying tales of gory serial killers and Satanic rituals. So to get you in the Halloween spirit, I’ve compiled some of my favorite Hip-Hop tracks that encapsulate the festivities and nightmares alike that make the holiday so enchanting. And don’t get it twisted, just because a bloody monstrosity isn’t jumping out at you with a chainsaw doesn’t mean these songs are any less scary; if anything, they give room for your imagination to run wild and create your own scenario of your biggest fears.
Kid Cudi describes the process of transforming into creepy creatures in his song, “Alive (Nightmare),” where he narrates the story of turning into his authentic form at nighttime. By combining themes of Beauty and the Beast and the classic werewolf trope, (team Jacob fans where you at!), Kid Cudi recounts how the change impacts him in every way, from the physical changes to his mannerisms and diction. He starts to move with urgency, scoping out his prey that comes in the form of a beautiful woman. Similar to The Beast, however, while his appearance may be intimidating, he isn’t looking to hurt her. He’s hopeful that she can save him “from the curse [he] has to beat” and can “figure out a way to save [his] soul.” By the third verse, Cudi embraces his double life. He’s found ways to adjust and use this alter-ego to his benefit rather than for evil despite werewolves often being thought of as innately bad. Rather than fearing the change, he takes solace in it, even describing it as a better representation of who he really is.
Kid Cudi also explores these deeper sides to his personality in “Maniac.” He creates a darker theme by sampling St. Vincent’s “The Strangers,” beginning the song with the repeating line, “paint the hole blacker.” He initiates his verse by announcing that he is “the maniac/the ghoul/in the shadows in the corner of [his] room.” Like “Alive (Nightmare),” Cudi is embracing his darkness and acknowledging that it’s where he feels the safest, despite the idea that one should typically be fearful of it. He describes it as his coffin, which, to me, is an odd comparison. Besides the straightforward associations with death, coffins remind me of claustrophobia or being buried alive, another fear for most. But then, he juxtaposes this concept with the idea that it’s his cloak, his shield, or his cape, providing him with comfort and security, demonstrating that while what he feels may not be the norm, it is him. The second verse emphasizes how Cage and Cudi use tactics that often contradict what people usually do to feel safe. Instead of basking in the sunlight to feel peace, they find ways to cover it up. Rather than feeling anxious by the nothingness of a dark abyss, they find satisfaction in the emptiness. The theme of darkness is both metaphorical and literal throughout the song, creating an eeriness that some may find discomfort in relating to.
Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, and Rick Ross all come together to pay homage to similar creatures of the night in their song, “Monster.” They use the fantastical beasts to emphasize just how crazy they are on the mics. With references to “no-good bloodsuckers,” and other famous terrors like “sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness, Goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience,” and “bride of Chucky,” the group essentially made a grown-up Monster Mash. But it’s not just name-dropping that makes this song so unsettling. Kanye begins his verse by claiming the title of being “the best living or dead hands down,” and having eyes “more red than the devil is.” The visuals transport us to a set of an underworld in which they roam freely with the rest of the monsters. And yet, they seem to be far more terrifying, especially when we reach Nicki’s verse. Nicki takes on the most animalistic character that’ll “eat your brains” then rock “gold teeth and fangs,” showing no remorse. But it’s her flow and delivery that really show how mortifying she can be as she switches between her different personas, comparable to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The small screams in the background and the rapid-fire verses also prove that they mean business, and they have no problem ripping other rappers to shreds to confirm it.
Big L drags his listeners to Hell to bring a new meaning of the spawn of Satan in his track, “Devil’s Son.” Early on in the song, L recognizes a relationship between his temperament and negative events. If someone does him wrong, they “magically” end up hurt or killed. He describes his violent tendencies as being second nature because of his family ties, using this as evidence for being the Devil’s son. In fact, he blatantly states that his mom is fully aware of who he is because she was getting freaky with the devil. Now, I think a lot of women think their baby daddies are related to Satan, but the fact that this was meant literally and so casually is hilarious to me. His mom attempted to combat this side of him with Christianity, resorting to holy water and the crucifix. But that wasn’t enough to set him straight. Instead, Big L opted to follow the Devil, adorning 666. He further explains how he finds joy in hurting others, sparing absolutely no one, including those that are typically ‘off-limits.’ He also refers to the supernatural, claiming that he’s died and come back to life in different forms. Big L closes the song by shouting out those who typically get sent to Hell, such as murderers, robbers, and serial killers. He did opt to include people with AIDS and mental handicaps in that line, which, I think, is a bit of an inappropriate grouping. While I understand that this took place in a different generation and that horrorcore is known for its shock value, this was a bizarre and ignorant sentiment.
While Big L’s “Devil’s Son” made him quite popular among the horrorcore scene, the Gravediggaz are synonymous with it. In “Diary of a Madman,” each verse takes on a different side of one man’s personality. The man is pleading insanity, claiming that he is being possessed by demonic spirits. The verses are broken up into his different personas, each being treated as a separate ‘men.’ The first verse builds the premise for the rest of the personas. The lead outlines how he has evil spirits in his head that he’s about to draw out for the judge and the jury, stating that they will “be a witness as he exercises [his] exorcism.” He explains that these spirits have been lingering since he was a child. They have pushed him to be obsessed with all things violent and evil while raising him in the depths of Hell despite his efforts to seek refuge in Islam. And yet, he’s still driven to murder people in the most strategic of ways, not even taking pity once they’re dead, even though parts of him don’t want to carry out these heinous acts. In the second verse, he describes how he got to be this way. A lot of it has to do with PTSD, from the violence his ancestors endured to watching his father get murdered. Things were only made worse as the Church tried to ‘treat’ him, pushing him through terrible measures such as sitting in the electric chair, getting restrained and starved in the tabernacle, and being nailed to the cross. He then even shocks the judge once he states that the visions of Hell drove him so crazy at that moment, that he went through insanely terrifying measures to free himself from the cross. By the third verse, the man explains that even though he was given the option in the underworld of what path he wanted to choose, the Devil stripped him of that option and dragged him to Hell. In verse four, he can no longer contain his demons as they completely take over, expressing the evil methods he’ll use to kill those around him. It’s quite vivid and disturbing and ends abruptly as the judge puts a halt to it. Gravediggaz essentially made their own plot to The Exorcist, providing the listener with an intimate journey into a possessed being’s conflicts of voices invading their mind. While we can typically watch this play out in movies, it’s challenging to comprehend the inner turmoil the person is suffering through.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony similarly portrays their own pits of Hell in their song, “Hell Sent.” In this track, they discuss regretfully selling their souls to Satan and demanding it back. They open up the song with their own variation of the Nightmare on Elm Street anthem, building themselves up as the main villains by warning the Devil that they’re coming for him. Their contract with Satan put them back on Earth to kill innocent people, but they decided to band together and re-enter Hell to get their freedom back, ready to fight him and his “posse full of demons and witches.” Wish Bone talks about how they were all evil assassins before dying, and once killed, were turned into demons by Satan to continue wreaking havoc. But they realized that upon watching Satan’s ways, they didn’t need to report to him. Instead, they could take control of Hell and have their own group of lackeys, even claiming that they would “[kill Satan] through the Ouija Board.” By resorting to methods such as the Ouija Board and drinking holy water, the group demonstrates that they’ll resort to any means to kill the Devil, even dumping him “in his [own] Abyss.” The group continued their war in Hell, taking control of the demons and coming for Lucifer next while wearing with pride the fact that they’re so “fuckin’ ruthless [they] made the devil go buy a gun.” Even the depths of Hell are no match for this group.
One of my favorite Hip-Hop/horror movie crossovers is the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “A Nightmare on My Street.” The song begins as the duo goes on a double date to see Nightmare on Elm Street. They sat through the movie with no problem, but once the Fresh Prince made his way back home, the story starts to take a pivotal turn. Will wakes up in the middle of the night to his room blazing hot, with his clock literally melting, an ode to the infamous movie.
As he makes his way downstairs to get something to drink and turn the TV off, Freddy Kruger finally makes his presence known. The Fresh Prince narrowly makes his escape, but then has a realization that perhaps he’s just having a nightmare after watching the movie. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, reality sets in as soon as he makes it back home and finds Freddy once again. The killer announces that they’re going to team up and murder the Fresh Prince’s friends. Because Will thinks he’s still dreaming, he matches this interaction with humor until he gets slashed and feels the actual pain. He managed to flee to his bed, hiding under his covers from an encroaching Freddy when he was startled awake by the sound of his alarm. Upon waking up, he discovered those very slash marks left as evidence on his comforter. While the Fresh Prince managed to survive the encounter, Jazzy Jeff wasn’t so lucky. Essentially, this song used the concept of Inception before that was even created. The parallels and references are a joy to pick out, and the comedic element is the perfect nod to older slasher films.
D12 also makes fun references to a number of horror films in their song, “American Psycho.” In an effort to express how insane they are, each member takes turns comparing themselves to popular thrillers through creative lines like, “I’m a dog, fuck lambs, I’m silencing ’em all,” crediting Silence of the Lambs and its terrifying serial killer, Hannibal Lector. Eminem also refers to himself as a “walking, talking Ouija Board,” then continues to mimic the sound of speaking in tongues as if he’s possessed at that very moment. He then asks the listener, “have you ever experienced spirits in lyrics when you hear ’em ’til you scared to stare into any mirrors when you near ’em?” paying homage to one of his previous Slim Shady music videos as well as other horror icons like Bloody Mary and the Candy Man. By directing that question towards the listeners, he’s also then making his audience wonder about their own safety and if there are hidden messages within his dark lyrics. Additionally, he mentions other notable serial killers throughout his verse, including embodying Jack the Ripper as he “tiptoes fist first with scissors to slit throats of just hoes,” and the popular novel, Clockwork Orange. By comparing himself to well-known serial killers, Eminem makes it known that he’ll go to these same lengths to create a name that’s just as terrifying.
Eminem also embraces the serial killer ways in “3 am,” creating vivid imagery to set the scenery of a psycho-slasher movie. The first verse depicts someone walking down “horror corridor,” realizing that they’re being followed at 4 am. They begin to run, but just like any good horror movie, running isn’t going to do you any good. The killer always finds his way. And that’s when we get teleported to “[waking] up naked at McDonald’s with blood all over [him], dead bodies behind the counter,” as he simply exclaims, “guess I must’ve blacked out again!” It’s the lack of fear and remorse when saying “bodies layin’ all over the floor” and not remembering “how they got there” that perfectly mirrors the mind of a serial killer. Eminem once again references Silence of the Lambs in his bridge when he recites, “she puts the lotion in the bucket, it puts the lotion on the skin, or else it gets the hose again.” He quotes this as if he’s watching Buffalo Bill cater to their victims, eagerly spectating the murder that’s about to play out. This section even features a small clip from that particular scene in the film. He proceeds on to recount “the first time [he] dismembered a family member,” and not having their “blood-curdling screams” bother him. Instead, the blood excited him, with the close proximity of their relationship only making it that much more fun for him. While I’ve never been too much of a fan of Eminem’s violent side, his skill in portraying the perfect serial killer is quite impeccable. It’s a wonder that he’s never been cast as one.
Now I know someone reading this post will wonder why I didn’t tie in Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” That is easily one of my favorite songs with one of the best Halloween verses of all time, but if you’ve read through my blog before, you’ll notice that I’ve found a way to incorporate it into half my articles. It’s just that good. But it would be a travesty if I didn’t incorporate the Geto Boys’ incredible story-stelling at all, so I decided on “Assassin” instead. Similar to “3am,” “Assassin” tells the story of being thrilled by murder. It literally starts on the note of robbing a nice blind man but being so desperate for money that he jumps his teacher. After taking her things and beating her, he “got happy with the trigger,” leading him to live a life as an assassin on the run. Once again, he may not have needed to resort to that measure. It sounds as though he shot her way more than he needed to and way after already killing her, most likely out of entertainment and sport. His story continues as he recounts killing for money, getting arrested, and selling drugs, so it only makes sense to top that off with murdering prostitutes. While scoping out a woman’s services, all he could think about in his head “was kill the bitch like Freddy.” His murderous mindset was quickly becoming second nature, and it was evident that this was not just about making money as the song started off. The third verse comments on the hypocrisy of religion and even provides some defense for the assassin as Johnny C recalls shooting his religious father in the head after discovering he was using drugs through the church. He describes pouring holy water on him and having the Devil react, showing that his father’s lack of innocence made this alright in his head. He even tries to offset the situation by playing Robinhood and claiming that he is willing to help the poor and needy. The final murder detailed through the song is about picking up a hitchhiker and having sex with her. She then demanded money, and when denied, alerted him that she infected him with an STD. He recruited his friend to help shoot her down and then continued with a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type murderer, taking no chances. It was such a gruesome demise that his friend who helped initially shoot her even had to restrain him. While the subject matter is often quite gruesome, there’s no doubt that Geto Boys have some of the most vivid imaginations, and their ability to translate that through lyrics is fascinating.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, horrorcore is slightly outside of my realm. While it makes you question how some artists are capable of creating concepts so twisted and demented, it is still on the same level of artistry as Stephen King or M. Night Shyamalan. One of the coolest differences is that you have new features to contribute to the tone, such as dynamic production and creative samples. The art of story-telling through Hip-Hop lyrics is something we don’t see quite as often, and it’s one of the aspects of the culture that made me fall so in love with it. While horrorcore tends to make me uncomfortable, I think that just means the artist is doing an incredible job at it. Horror movies and books aren’t supposed to make you feel at ease. They keep you on your toes, and make you feel that same tension for hours beyond the ending. Horrorcore has the same impact. And the ability to create the scene by describing the surroundings, the main character, and the plot all within 3 to 4 minutes while maintaining a rhyme scheme is an incredible skill that does not get nearly enough credit.
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