As a young film buff growing-up in New York back in the days, I first got into movie soundtracks through the James Bond themes. Composed by John Barry and sung by various pop idols (Tom Jones! Shirley Bassey! Paul McCartney!), these songs were as thrilling as the movies themselves. Later, other film composers including Quincy Jones, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Lalo Schfrin, Henry Mancini and David Shire were also favorites. Years later, when I started writing noir fiction, I began searching for the perfect “soundtracks” to help construct the dark worlds where my characters own lived.
Yet, when it was time to “score” the wild heist scene that opens my novel-in-progress “Uptown Boys,” I tried listening to a little vintage Jay-Z and Tupac, but nothing really clicked. By chance, one rainy afternoon I found the 1994 promo cassette of “6 Feet Deep” (Gee Street Records) by the Gravediggaz in the closet. After popping in the tape, I was blown away. Since I don’t recall being such a big fan of these so-called “horrorcore” rappers the first time around, I was surprised when I played the tape a few times that afternoon. Leaning back and sparking up, I remembered my friend Bill Adler, a former press officer at the old Def Jam Records, playing the record in his office at Island Records. That same day, he introduced me to producers Rza (The Rzarector) and Prince Paul (The Undertaker), along with microphone fiends Frukwan (The Gatekeeper) and Too Poetic (The Grym Reaper).
With the exception of Prince Paul, who produced the first three De La Soul albums, I didn’t know any of the guys. I recall thinking it was funny that the man behind the daisy-age sound, who had invented the hip-hop skit on records, was now hanging out with these disturbed dudes. Much like Rza’s work with the Wu-Tang Clan, the brutal beauty of the songs on “6 Feet Deep” were built from grimy beats and dusted scratches while the hardcore lyrics detailed bleak topics including death, suicide, urban violence and other dark tales. While someone in the marketing department decided to call it “horrorcore,” the name was perfect.
Truthfully, I was freaked out by their gritty symphonies that swaggered from the streets to the graveyard. However, seventeen years after the release of “6 Feet Deep”, I realize I missed out on the sick humor and sheer brilliance of bugged tracks like “Diary of a Madman,” “Blood Brothers,” “1-800 Suicide” and “Bang Your Head.” Spooky as a haunted soul shack, creepy as a flick on Chiller Theater, their sound was like an aural manifesto for pre-millennium hip-hop fans laced with apocalyptic daydreams and urban paranoia. Flipping a sinister style, Rza and Paul’s brand of artful noise had more in common with dub master Lee Scratch Perry than other hip-hop producers (except, perhaps DJ Premier and DJ Muggs) of that era. “Like (fine) artists, we’re trying to paint a picture of the true horrors that we see everyday,” Too Poetic explained. Listening to the Gravediggaz, it was obvious that their debut inspired a diverse roster of future producers including Tricky, Portishead, Specture and DJ Spooky, just to name a few.
Playing the cassette over and over, I tapped into the manic energy I needed while writing the “Uptown Boys” crazy opening scene. Indeed, Rza’s sound has always had a cinematic appeal, making him the perfect producer to crossover into recording actual soundtracks for Ghost Dog and Kill Bill. Although I know more than a few pop critics and hip-hop fans who dismissed this record back in the bling bling ’90s, it’s time to take another swim through Da Diggaz polluted ocean of sound. Go ahead, it won’t kill ya.
For more on “6 Feet Deep” by the Gravediggaz, please read: www.thisisbooksmusic.com/2009/08/08/dust-it-off-gravediggaz-6-feet-deepniggamortis