We bow down to Gravediggaz, the underrated supergroup featuring Wu-Tang Clan architect RZA, legendary producer Prince Paul and fearsome rappers Frukwan and the late Too Poetic.
To be exact, their Tales From the Crypt-like alter egos The Rzarector, The Undertaker, The Gatekeeper and The Grym Reaper.
Long before popcorn torture porn owned the mallrats or the Pentagon started contracting packs of robots to hunt down non-cooperative humans, Gravediggaz owned horrorcore, a gory subgenre of hip-hop and metal that wore its enemies’ bloody hearts on its sleeve. But unlike early pioneers like Geto Boys or later parodies like Insane Clown Posse, Gravediggaz stirred smarts, satire and flawless rhymes into its cauldron of sex, death and violence.
Songs from its seminal debut 6 Feet Deep like “1-800-Suicide” lambasted poor rich kids who whined about their so-called troubles by offering them any numbers of ways to kill themselves. (RZA‘s suggestion? “Be like Richard Pryor/Set your balls on fire!”) Head-knockers like “Here Come the Gravediggaz,” “Death Trap,” and “Blood Brothers” aligned dark humor and clever allusions with body-rocking beats that today’s hip-hop has regrettably left behind.
Prince Paul‘s juxtapositions paid off in fascinating ways. “1-800-Suicide” ironically spliced optimistic samples from Booker T. and the MG’s “Sunny” and speeches from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to lighten its death-centric load. Other samples were suitably terrifying, including Al Kooper, Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield’s “Season of the Witch” and “Jagger the Dagger” from Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, which buttressed the abrasive single “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide.”
And unlike most torture porn, including stuff it inspired, 6 Feet Deep boasted a social and cultural awareness that often neutralized the fear that its ghastly imagery elicited. To this day, there are few warnings about the banality and waste of suicide as convincing as “1-800-Suicide.” “Blood Brothers” remains a bracing reminder that growing up in areas of horrific violence leaves its mark, often literally.
The subject matter of “Here Come the Gravediggaz” skips across Star Trek, Superman, Batman, The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom, the Bible and much more. And that’s just one song.
This wide-ranging critique made 6 Feet Deep stand out like a sore existentialist.
Like most comets entering unfavorable atmospheres, Gravediggaz flared bright and short. 6 Feet Deep was ahead of its time, for sure. If it would have come out after the turn of the century, it would have felt right at home. But subsequent efforts from Gravediggaz failed to live up to that debut’s mastery, and by the turn of the century, the group fragmented.
Shortly after, the RZA became a busy superstar, Prince Paul launched another awesome supergroup called Handsome Boy Modeling School, Frukwan went solo and colon cancer claimed Too Poetic. But bloodthirsty rap fans with brains still in their heads will always have 6 Feet Deep, one of hip-hop’s all-time greatest releases.
This article originally appeared at Wired.