Detroit's automotive heyday is long gone, but the Rust Belt metropolis still leads the world in at least one manufactured good: scary-ass rap music.
These are hardly unrelated phenomena. Which is to say it's no coincidence that dirty, dispossessed Detroit — with its surreal, post-industrial poverty and malignant crime — is so good at generating the macabre, gleefully nihilistic poetry of so-called "horrorcore" rap. Horrorcore goes beyond the macho posturing of regular gangster rap. It's about paranoia, perversity, and apocalypse. It's the stuff of nightmares, and it thrives in Detroit like nowhere else.
This weekend, Detroit hip-hop collective D12 will export some of that Motown madness to Scottsdale's Martini Ranch. Time to brush up on your horrorcore.
D12 are scheduled to perform (minus Eminem, Bugz and Proof) on Sunday, August 16.
Insane Clown Posse: With their "wicked clown" face paint, carnival-barker rants, and loving descriptions of cannibalism and ax murder, the platinum-selling duo of Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler dominates the genre's most theatrical fringe. As social critic Sara Cohen observed in her book Decline, Renewal and the City in Popular Music Culture, ICP gives "an over-exaggerated, almost cartoon-like version of urban deprivation in Detroit." Fittingly, Bruce and Utsler have thrown their combined heft into a professional wrestling venture. Scariness factor: 5
Esham: Widely credited with influencing the careers of ICP and Eminem, this Reel Life Productions mainstay pioneered the "acid rap" subgenre, a hallucinogenic precursor to horrorcore that fuses rock-based beats with lyrics involving death, drug use, and, often, the devil. "We referred to the streets of Detroit as 'Hell' on that record," Esham, commenting on his debut 1989 album, told Metro Times. "So that's where my ideas came from." Scariness factor: 7
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Twiztid: ICP's Psychopathic Record label-mates — known to their mothers as Jamie Spaniolo and Paul Methric — scored their highest-charting album earlier this year with the release of W.I.C.K.E.D. (Wish I Could Kill Every Day). Comparing himself and Methric to the homicidal villains from Halloween and Friday the 13th, Spaniolo encourages fans to imagine the duo as a rapping Jason and Michael Myers. Scariness factor: 2
King Gordy: Born Waverly W. Allford III to Detroit crack addicts, this unwed father of seven seized the title "King of Horrorcore" with his acclaimed 2006 mixtape of the same name — a mordant, 20-track meditation on suicide, confinement, and top-shelf marijuana. He's also known for braiding his hair to resemble a pair of horns on stage. Scariness factor: 7
Blaze Ya Dead Homie: Adding some supernatural, Tales from da Hood-inspired flavor into the horrorcore mix, this suburban transplant performs as his alter ego, a reincarnated gang-banger killed in the late 1980s. Subsequently, much of his work is funereal in theme ("Casket," "Maggot Face"), though he does break character frequently to deliver the obligatory shout-outs to his ICP/Psychopathic benefactors ("Juggalo Anthem"). Scariness factor: 4
D12: Though best known as the hip-hop supergroup that helped launch Eminem to international stardom, this ever-dwindling horrorcore collective has acquired another, more dubious reputation: dying pointlessly. In 1999, D12 member Bugz was shot to death at a family picnic after an altercation over a water pistol. In 2006, founding member Proof (the group's best lyricist, after Eminem) also died by gunfire, this time after a contentious game of billiards. Fittingly, the group's horrorcore style is less about B-movie personas and ax murders than it is about fatalism and basic human depravity. On the track "Just Like U," rapper Bizarre (easily the most twisted of the bunch) shrugs off his hypothetical duties as a father by encouraging his son to, among other things, smoke crack and have sex with his aunt. Now that's chilling. Scariness factor: 9