How Hip-Hop and Horror Intersect
Whether it’s the rush of excitement from an unexpected scare or a suspenseful scene forever etched in cinematic history, horror films will always have a place in American culture. Over the years, black performers have drawn inspiration from the silver screen’s scariest stories. Early ’80s songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” are representative of horror’s intimate relationship with the music industry, but what often gets overlooked is is its undeniable connection to hip-hop, and how that classic dynamic still exists today.
One of the earliest tales of this long-standing association was Whodini’s “Haunted House of Rock” from their self-titled debut album. With this record, the duo created a fictional party featuring Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Wolfman Jack and several other central horror figures. In 1988 The Fat Boys released “Are You Ready For Freddy”, featuring Robert Englund as Freddy Kreuger. A few months later, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince also released a Freddy-inspired track called “A Nightmare on My Street”, which achieved crossover success, peaking at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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At the turn of the following decade, hip-hop’s representation expanded to different parts of the country outside of the east and west coasts. In Houston, Texas, The Geto Boys – a rap group comprised of Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill – made a name for themselves with their graphic lyrics on topics centered around violence, addiction and other controversial themes. Their flagship album, We can’t be stopped, spawned the iconic single “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” where the trio discussed individual experiences of anxiety stemming from the uncertainty of their surroundings. This groundbreaking song (and one of the first in hip-hop to address mental health) shone a light on the horrific nature of crime and poverty; situations that turned out to be far more dangerous than traditional horror films shown in theaters.
In 1995, Three 6 Mafia released style mystical, which featured content about drug use, torture, and death. That same year, Cleveland-based Bone Thugs-n-Harmony hit the national scene with E. 1999 Eternal, featuring occult-inspired songs like “Mo’ Murda,” “East 1999,” and “Mr. Ouija 2.” horrorcore rap; the style of music most associated with indie Tech legend N9ne.
In the mid to late 90s, the film industry finally began to embrace hip-hop, starting with Rusty Cundieff Tales from the Hood. In what was the perfect visual representation of the coexistence of horror and rap, this anthology film told terrifying stories, while bringing to life the daily struggles of black people in the United States. Accompanied by a score and soundtrack featuring Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht and others, Cundieff’s film merged the two genres into one of the best scary films of the modern era. The Halloween the franchise featured LL Cool J in the 1998s H20followed by Busta Rhymes in Resurrection almost four years later. The year 2001 brought Bonesa supernatural slasher starring Snoop Dogg, which followed a murdered number runner who rises from the grave to avenge his death.
The combination of hip-hop and horror became less prevalent in the early 2000s, apart from a few songs here and there, but saw a revival with Kanye West’s chart-topping “Monster” and the emergence of Odd. Future and its de facto leader, Tyler, The Creator. West’s third single My beautiful dark twisted fantasy included guest appearances from Jay Z, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj – whose final verse has become iconic. The song contained concepts influenced by horror movies, but the video took things to the next level with its heavy depiction of gothic imagery, including references to American psycho and Seen.
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When it came to Odd Future, their sound was more awful than their substance, as Tyler himself explained on the song “Sandwitches.” “I don’t do fucking horrorcore you f**kin’ idiots,” he rapped. “Listen to the music more deeply before putting it in a box.”
Long before the resurgence of this subgenre in the 2010s, many rappers sampled horror movie scores; i.e. “Ready Or Not” by Fugees. In recent years, artists like Juicy J, Meek Mill and Big Sean have all grabbed melodies from scary movies, and in 2017 Fabolous and Jadakiss released a joint album titled Friday on Elm Street; entirely themed around the characters of Freddy and Jason. In 2021, 21 Savage was able to produce the soundtrack of Spiralas well as recording its main theme.
Because of their stark contrasts, it might be easy to dismiss the intersection of horror and hip-hop as an unlikely marriage, but if you look closely at the latter’s origins, the genres actually have a lot more in common. than we think. Hip-hop grew out of the poor community and gave a voice to the underrepresented and disenfranchised. The characters immersed in its debut had to deal with their terror-filled surroundings, as well as the stark realization that tomorrow is considered a luxury and is never certain.
The violence and suffering associated with horror bears only too much resemblance to the stories of survival depicted in many of hip-hop’s greatest symphonies. As shocking as rap lyrics are to the listener, they can often be therapeutic for the artist who created them. Although horror movies are more fiction than fact, they still serve as a brief escape from the daunting reality of everyday life. So, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe that hip-hop and horror have become a match made in heaven – or hell.