GROSS PROPHET “This isn’t on some thug shit,” says Zombie Death Squad’s Ricky Mortis (center). “I just like songs about guns, drugs, sex, violence, and porn.”
Depraved hip-hop is the biggest thing to hit trailer-trash America since sliced meds — and not just in redneck pockets, where rap music hardly reached before, but in suburban enclaves where acts like Twiztid and Tech N9ne sell out shows with ease. Around Boston, crypt-hop champions including Rhetoric of Evil Dead and Bomshot have disregarded civility for years, and Zombie Death Squad (ZDS) — a new crew comprising local-rap scenesters Lateb, Ricky Mortis, and Amadeus the Stampede who drop their debut this Halloween at Harpers Ferry — enjoy a similar prerogative.
“We talk about what people fear most: death and getting beaten the fuck up,” says Mortis, who on disc describes himself as “clinically depressed, vexed, and drowning in stress.” “But this isn’t on some thug shit — I just like songs about guns, drugs, sex, violence, and porn.” Adds Lateb: “Who doesn’t?”
Horrorcore is what happens when wayward punks salute Ice Cube and Alice Cooper. Fixated on bloodlust and savage carnal revelry, the morbid hip-hop subgenre (along with such similar variations as death rap and acid rap) is fisting the nation deeper than most parents will be comfortable with. Insane Clown Posse (ICP), famously mocked by Blender as the worst group of all-time, outlived that particular tormenter, and they continue to bank millions from music and merchandise sales. Hip-hop is dead, as crypt-hop’s mega sales attest — just ask Zombie Death Squad, Boston doom-bap devotees the Undead, or the 1000-plus war-painted trenchcoat mobsters who swelled Worcester Palladium for an ICP opera this past weekend.
“People are fucking bored,” continues Mortis. “When you live in a neighborhood where the only thing you can do is sit in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and get high with some kid named Kenny, then this is what you listen to. They’re just pent-up, pissed-off kids, and even though we might be a little older, we’re not really any different.”
Just as with trends in larger hip-hop culture, horrorcore was conceived by black cats before being co-opted and spun into a multi-million-dollar industry by mostly Caucasian practitioners. There’s little debate that African-American Michigan rapper Esham pioneered the niche (which he now calls “acid rap”) in 1989, when the then-13-year-old debuted with the unholy Boomin’ Words from Hell. Unlike most contemporary gore rappers, whose rhymes are grounded more in fantasy than in reality, Esham in early hyperbolic efforts like KKKill the Fetus and Closed Casket served up shattered reflections of the real mayhem that consumed his Seven Mile neck of East Detroit.
The Motor City has a rich history of violent rap to go along with Alice Cooper, the Stooges, and the MC5, and since the early ’90s, the Esham-modeled ICP and their Psychopathic Records brand have amassed a significant legionnaire army. Known as Juggalos and Juggalettes, ICP fanatics flock to shows masked in clown paint and hatchet gear, and over the past two decades they’ve purchased more than seven million records. The last Gathering of the Juggalos — ICP’s annual Midwestern trailer-park shit show and backyard-wrestling extravaganza — drew more than 20,000 heads while incorporating relatable acts from outside the Psychopathic family that included Ice Cube, Onyx, GWAR, and Scarface. And when considering Detroit’s role in popularizing nihilistic hip-hop, one can’t forget Eminem, the pretty-boy vagrant who ushered Esham æsthetics onto MTV. (In case you forgot: one of Shady’s first hits was a fantasy about murdering his wife.)