On the surface, horror and hip hop make for strange bedfellows. Yet ever since the birth of the music genre, the two have been intrinsically linked. It doesn’t even seem to matter that fear filmmaking – for the most part – has been overwhelmingly white. Whiter than rice, in fact, but regardless a deep love and appreciation of things that go bump in the night has flourished within the hip hop community. From rappers obsessed with big screen baddies (think Eminem performing on stage in a Jason Voorhees mask, wearing Leatherface overalls and carrying a chainsaw like that drunk friend who shows up at your Halloween party), to the countless stars who have used the genre to try and transition from music to movies (LL Cool J, Ice T, Mos Def, Rah Digga, Coolio, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Redman, Xzibit, DMX, Method Man, Kelly Rowland, Trey Songz etc.), horror and hip hop have woven themselves together in the pop culture lexicon in a way that’s truly unique.
Back in 2011, I interviewed Snoop Dogg who – at the time – was excited to be in Australia because it was the first occasion in five years that he had been allowed back in the country since he was banned under John Howard’s government due to his previous criminal convictions and firearms offences. He also showed up two hours late because he would only be interviewed while sitting on a custom gold throne, which was still in transit. But he’s Snoop dee oh motherfucking double gee – you’d be disappointed if he didn’t pull some crazy shit. Perhaps the craziest shit of the whole interview, however, was when I brought up Hood Of Horror – a horror anthology in the vein of Tales From The Crypt but set in the hood and narrated by the Hound Of Hell (Snoop, who also served as executive producer). It’s a movie that pretty much everyone hated … except him. In fact, in a career that has spanned decades and for a man who has over 90 television and film credits to his name, Snoop said Hood Of Horror remained one of his “favourite” things he had done. “When it came out I kind of fell in love with that movie, I got fond of it,” he said at the time. Calling it “bloody, brutal and ballin” he revealed plans for not only one sequel but “part two, three, what have you”. Needless to say they haven’t quite happened yet – even Snoop Dogg gets told ‘no’ sometimes – but it says something about how deep the connection between horror and hip hop is that even a legend of game, even Snoop Dogg, looks back on a career like his and goes ‘oh yeah, that horror movie I did with Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams was defo a highlight’.
According to hip hop artist and host of the Hip Hop Show on Triple J, Hau Latukefu, the connection between the two forms isn’t as obtuse as some might initially think. “Culturally hip hop artists felt like they lived in their own horror movies,” he says. “Poverty and burnt down buildings in the community through the seventies and eighties is where hip hop came from. Then the nineties were the height of the crack epidemic: crack addicts were spoken about as ‘zombies’ and ‘the walking dead’ a lot at the time.” While the members of the Wu Tang Clan grew up watching and loving kung fu movies “making them who they were”, Latukefu says there’s a lot of cross over between the mantras of both hip hop and horror. “I really think it has to do with hip hop culture being very macho. It was all about ‘I’m the baddest, I’m the meanest’ – especially in the early days. There’s always lyrics like Big Daddy Kane who had a famous line ‘Friday the 13th, I’mma play Jason’ from Ain’t No Half Steppin’. The movie genre is scary and MCs are trying to prove how bad they are.” Artists like DMX, Eminem, Kanye West, Wu Tang Clan, D12, Tyler The Creator, Lupe Fiasco, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg and even Tupac are some of the more mainstream, well known names who have incorporated everything from horror themes (hello Stan) to winking lyrics (“and I’ll say Bride of Chucky is child’s play”) into their music.
Yet something entirely new also came from it, a “sub genre of hip hop” called horrorcore, which is the literal birth child of both horror and hip hop. “At the time, hip hop wanted to be a bit more creative,” says Latukefu. “There were people like Insane Poetry who really delved into the psyche of murderers and killers. Horrorcore almost felt a bit funny because it was overtly talking about killing people and decapitating people … it was also a bit scarier. There was this song, ‘Mind Of A Lunatic’ by Geto Boys, that when I heard it in high school I was like ‘oh shit, these guys are for real, next level shit’.” Latukefu, whose favourite movie is the original The Omen, says among acts like Ganksta NIP and Necro, Gravediggaz emerged as the bar setters within the horrorcore movement. They also collaborated frequently with RZA: because wherever the intersection of movies and hip hop goes so too does RZA’s nation. “Gravediggaz especially, their album 6 Feet Deep was incredible and it was a bit like a fantasy hip hop theme. It did really well and sparked other groups to do it too, which was sometimes a bit wacky as they played on these roles that they probably grew up watching in movies.”
Perhaps most interesting is that it seems to be a trend without borders: the unlikely union between horror and hip hop isn’t just an American phenomenon. Earlier this year the French twin sisters who make up Orties had their song (Plus Putes que toutes les Putes) – about hunting, murdering and dismembering misogynistic men – featured in one of the standout scenes from Cannibal Coming Of Age™ film Raw. On the local front, Aussie hip hop legends the Hilltop Hoods love the genre so much they even made their own zombie movie, Parade Of The Dead, in 2010. Then there’s the curious case of hip hop artists choosing horror films as their bridge from music to movies. It could be argued that, for the most part, horror films are low budget and more likely to have room for aspiring actors still trying to find their feet. Yet LL Cool J didn’t pop up in Juno or other low budget movies from different genres. Instead he did things like Halloween: H20 and Deep Blue Sea, complete with a theme song called Deepest Bluest that combined both rapping, synchronised swimming, leather ovals, an orchestra and mutant sharks all in the one video clip. It almost seems strange that despite roles for people of colour being largely limited to the ‘first to die’ or ‘sassy best friend’ tropes, horror was still the preferred route when it came to entering the movie mainstream. Do a horror movie, maybe two, maybe three, and then be up for something bigger and more mass market (enter stage left: Ice Cube). The marriage between horror and hip hop also comes down to a manner of fearlessness or – as Latukefu puts it best – “most people are afraid of horror movies and hip hop came out of the communities that most people were afraid of as well.”
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz