|Other names||Horror hip hop, horror rap, death hip hop, death rap murder music|
|Cultural origins||Late 1981, United States|
Horrorcore, also called horror hip hop, horror rap, death hip hop, or death rap, 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, which began to incorporate supernatural, occult, and psychological horror themes into their lyrics. Unlike most hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap artists, horrorcore artists often push the violent content and imagery in their lyrics beyond the realm of realistic urban violence, to the point where the violent lyrics become 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. Some horrorcore artists eschew supernatural themes or exaggerated violence in favor of more subtle and dark psychological horror imagery and lyrics.
Horrorcore has incited controversy, with some members of the law enforcement community asserting that the genre incites crime. Fans and artists have been blamed for numerous high-profile instances of violent criminal activity, including the Columbine High School massacre, the Red Lake high school massacre, the Farmville murders, murders of law enforcement officers, and gang activity.
Horrorcore defines a style of hip hop music that focuses primarily on dark, violent, gothic, transgressive, macabre and/or horror-influenced topics such as death, psychosis, psychological horror, mental illness, satanism, self-harm, cannibalism, mutilation, suicide, murder, torture, drug abuse, and supernatural or occult themes. The lyrics are often inspired by horror movies and are performed 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[by whom?] 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 that he has described as "Psycho Rap", but he 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, who were also an influence on the early horrorcore sound.
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. 1988 is also the year Insane Poetry (at the time called His Majesti) released "Armed & Dangerous", followed by their debut single as Insane Poetry, "Twelve Strokes Till Midnight", one of the first examples of music specifically made to be horrorcore.
Although Kool Keith 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 his lyrical content as a part of the Ultramagnetic MC's and his 1996 debut solo album Dr. Octagonecologyst.
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 writes that the Geto Boys continued to pioneer the style with their 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-1990s brought an attempted mainstream crossover of the genre.
According to the book Icons of Hip Hop, horrorcore gained mainstream prominence in 1994 with the release of Flatlinerz' U.S.A. (Under Satan's Authority) and Gravediggaz' 6 Feet Deep (released overseas as Niggamortis). The Flatlinerz and Gravediggaz, along with the Geto Boys and Kool Keith, remain the most important artists in the development of horrorcore as a specific genre.
In 1995, an independent horror film called The Fear was released, which included a soundtrack consisting entirely of horrorcore songs, including Insane Clown Posse's biggest radio hit, "Dead Body Man". 1995 also saw the release of Three 6 Mafia's debut album Mystic Stylez, which touched on heavy drug use, ritualistic sex, mass murder, torture, and Luciferianism. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's E. 1999 Eternal, released in the same year, contains tales of the occult throughout, specifically on songs such as "Mr. Ouija 2", "Mo' Murda", "East 1999", and "Da Introduction". Tension would soon rise between Bone Thugs and Three 6 over their presumed similarities in style and use of dark imagery.
In 2009, dark music-themed website Fangoria named Tech N9ne's 2001 album Anghellic as an iconic and influential album to the genre, the artist, and hip-hop as a whole.
Horrorcore is generally not popular with mainstream audiences, though in some cities, like Detroit, it is the dominant style of hip-hop, with Detroit-based performers such as Esham, Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, and Twiztid, as well as Brooklyn-based artists like Necro, having been commercially successful throughout the US. Horrorcore has thrived in Internet culture. Every Halloween since 2003, horrorcore artists worldwide have gotten 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".
In the 2010s, several young, up-and-coming artists on the internet platform SoundCloud started pulling from horrorcore acts of the 1990s as a source of inspiration, both lyrically and aesthetically. Though Tyler, The Creator and his loose collective, Odd Future, denied the label in many interviews and songs, the early releases from their camp (such as Tyler's Bastard and Goblin and Earl Sweatshirt's eponymous debut Earl) lyrically fit the mold of the genre. Other acts at the time who were more accepting of the label include SpaceGhostPurrp's collective Raider Klan, which featured solo artist such as a young Denzel Curry and Xavier Wulf. Brooklyn's Flatbush Zombies shook up the scene with their first two official mixtapes, thus launching a successful independent career and a sizeable cult following. Fellow New York natives City Morgue and Florida's Ghostemane gave rise to trap metal, with lyrical influences rooted in horrorcore innovators Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. In 2015, Seed of 6ix, consisting of Locodunit (nephew of Three 6 co-founder DJ Paul) and Lil Infamous (son of Three 6 co-founder Lord Infamous), released their debut self-titled mixtape to underground acclaim. XXXTentacion, though not classified as a horrorcore artist, was known for his dark, moody lyrics on songs like "I spoke to the devil in miami, he said everything would be fine" and "ILOVEITWHENTHEYRUN".
In 2019, experimental trio clipping. released There Existed an Addiction to Blood, described as a "transmutation of horrorcore".
In 2020, horrorcore found a small revival around the UK drill scene with acts such as Block 6, No Remorse, Official TS, and TeeZandos.
Some members of the law enforcement community have asserted that the horrorcore genre is dangerous and incites crime, and the genre's artists and followers have been linked to a wide variety of crime, ranging from mass murder to gang activity and drug trafficking.
In 1999, horrorcore group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) was considered a potential influence on school shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. ICP responded that if the shooters had been Juggalos (fans of ICP), they would have "gotten the whole damn school". However, Brooks Brown, the best friend of Dylan Klebold and a friend of both the shooters, was a Juggalo and had introduced Klebold to Insane Clown Posse's music. Horrorcore-influenced rapper Eminem also received negative publicity in the wake of the massacre and has referenced it throughout his discography.
In 2005, horrorcore fan Jeff Weise committed the Red Lake Senior High School massacre. Weise was a fan of horrorcore rappers such as Mars and Prozak.
In 2009, aspiring horrorcore rapper Syko Sam committed the Farmville murders, bludgeoning his internet girlfriend, her friend, and her parents to death. Like Weise, he was a fan of horrorcore rapper Mars.
Juggalo gangs have caused law enforcement concern throughout the United States due to their tendency for extreme violence and have been linked to diverse crimes. Arizona Department of Public Safety Detective Michelle Vasey has expressed concern at the Juggalos' high potential for violence, stating, "The weapons, they prefer, obviously, hatchets ... We've got battle-axes, we've got machetes, anything that can make the most violent, gruesome wound", and, "Some of the homicides we're seeing with these guys are pretty nasty, gruesome, disgusting homicides, where they don't care who's around, what's around, they're just out to kill anybody". A 2017 Denver Police Department guide warned that even Juggalos who are not affiliated with a gang are prone to commit "murder, shootings, kidnapping, rape, necrophilia, cannibalism, assault, and arson", and that "such acts give a Juggalo a sense of pride and street credit amongst peers". Allegedly horrorcore-related criminal activity has, in rare cases, even branched out into ad-hoc domestic terrorism, such as when a Juggalo-led terrorist cell calling itself the "Black Snake Militia" attempted to raid a National Guard armory in 2012.