Remember Horrorcore?

In the mid-to-late '90s, before it got yoinked by jagoffs like Insane Clown Posse, it was ... well, still pretty ridiculous. Horrorcore is sort of tough to define - it has a lot of crossover with hardcore gangster rap in its fatalistic, explicit treatment of street violence - but it tends to parse these narratives in slasher-flick terms, splashing gallons of theatrically red blood over spooky haunted house beats. Geto Boys's "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" is a bona-fide horrorcore classic; the Flatlinerz got to make a pretty sweet video with them rapping in open graves before everyone forgot about them; but to me, Gravediggaz will always be the group that makes the entire genre worthwhile.

Gravediggaz was a collaboration between the Undertaker (Prince Paul), the Rzarector (RZA), the Grim Reaper (Poetic) and the Gatekeeper (Frukwon). Just from those aliases, you can tell that grim doings were afoot. Their first album, 6 Feet Deep, is not just a horrorcore classic, but a hip-hop classic, soaking strange, fiery beats in psychotropic flows about murder (their "hit", "Diary of a Madman", opened with a long courtroom sketch replete with bereaved mothers - "They killed my baby!" - and demonic possession), the grotesque joys of freebasing ("Defective Trip (Trippin')"), and straight-up battle raps drenched in mortuary images like "2 Cups of Blood". The track I've posted, "1-800-Suicide", ticks off a variety of creative escapes from this mortal coil over a dangerously hypnotic bassline.

But the most interesting thing about Gravediggaz is the stark contrast between their first album and their second, 1997's less-successful but still pretty hot The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. While Gravediggaz's intentions aren't mine to know, from the listener's end, it seems like the most drastic example ever of a group reacting against their first album - the two seem to negate each other. It's as if, after deliberately releasing pure evil into the world, Gravediggaz's consciences took over, and they were compelled to supply an antivenom. On the first Gravediggaz record, the conceit was pretty literal - "I'm the Rzarector, be my sacrifice / commit suicide and I'll bring you back to life." Total god-complex, if god is the devil. But on the follow-up, "gravediggaz" is repeatedly spun into more metaphorical dimensions, with repeated references to digging up the mental dead, resurrecting the ignorant with jewels of spiritual knowledge. The Gravediggaz transformed themselves from social disease to social conscience, and this pedantic, pensive spin-off of Marvin Gaye's classic question is indicative of the entire album. Even the beats changed, from scary and abrasive to fluid and mellifluous, but while the lyrical content is drastically different, it happily maintains the seriously bugged-out imagery of the first album ("Take these devils off / I witnessed Tom Brokaw mentally fry his brain / And blow the smoke off") - this helps to round out its more high-handed turns ("Niggas think that they own things / And man sits high upon thrones / When you die, tell me what the fuck you own / When your skin flesh and bones / Find a permanent home as food for worms / Or fossils trapped in stone").

RZA is no stranger to this sort of confliction - in fact, the erudite, often spiritual rapper had to create an alter-ego to satisfy the wildin' out, party and bullshit side of his personality. So you have RZA as the Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah, proponent of social justice, eastern philosophy and supreme mathematics, and you have RZA as Bobby Digital, hedonistic, shit-talker who perpetuates all the negativity that the (real?) RZA strives to destroy. The first Bobby Digital album, most notably, contains some of the coldest, most misogynistic disses ever on "Domestic Violence": "What the fuck y'all birds talkin' about? / Get the fuck out my house / Before I grab you by the hair and slap dick to your mouth" and "Turn your fat ass sideways / The strechmarks look like the U.S. highways." The really uncomfortable part is that it's a pretty brilliant song, as RZA spits flaming indictments at his less-than-satisfactory wiz in between this ugly barbs, and in doing so, limns an entire culture in disrepair. Unfortunately, since he focuses on the results instead of investigating the cause, the song is incredibly mean-spirited and one-sided, and while I still listen to it in a state of repulsed wonder, I'm not going to subject you to it. Instead, I'm posting "My Lovin' is Digi" from the same album, which has elements of the Bob Digi persona - "Sometimes I find someone fucking with my pussy, my money and my ride, tuck my nine inside my hoodie" - but is overall much kinder, and the production? Fucking bonkers.

You can weigh Bob Digi against the RZA that appears on this MF Doom collab, "Biochemical Equation". This track comes from an upcoming album of Wu/indie collaborations, but don't get it twisted - it won't include that Death Cab/Ghostface joint we've all been waiting for; the "indie" refers to indie rappers. Doom doesn't get to do much on this track since RZA pretty much hogs it (already put my two cents in here), and he's in full-on didactic mode, discoursing on man's struggle with his own bestial desires and the temptations of Satan. Of course, there's some crossover between RZA's split personalities. So what's the solution when the devil comes calling? Shoot him, natch.