Come Back To Hell: The Resurgence Of Memphis Horrorcore
SpaceGhostPurrp, Lil Ugly Mane and other nationally emerging artists are leading Horrorcore's renaissance just in time to pay homage to Lord Infamous.
“Finna' give y'all a little demonstration of how we kick it here in the M-town.” -Lord Infamous, “Da Summa”
December 20, 2013 started as any other lazy Saturday. I rolled out of my bed at around 11:00, stumbled to my laptop and fired it up. Hip Hop news on the weekends is slower. Artists don’t typically drop material on Saturdays or Sundays, and oftentimes it’s a clean up period in preparation for the week ahead.
I was scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter timelines in search of news pitches and found something totally unexpected–Gangsta Boo tweeted that Lord Infamous had passed away. I sat there for about a minute and kept denying to myself that such news was even possible. Lord is and was one of my favorite rappers.
Rest in Peace Lord Infamous please respect the family and dear friends during this tragedy.— Lola aka Boo (@GangstaBooQOM) December 21, 2013
Obviously, a Three 6 Mafia member tweeting that one of their own is deceased is news whether it’s true or not. I attempted to find other reports about the possibly tragic story but at the time, but there weren’t any. After a few e-mails and phone calls, I talked directly to Three 6’s publicist, and she confirmed that in fact, he had died. I quickly wrote up a story of everything we knew as fact and posted it. It was after that I really caught something interesting coming across my social media feeds.
Most of the Rap world paid their condolences to Lord Infamous and his family though the Internet, but it was a batch of young rappers that showed an immense amount of loss and sorrow. In particular, the timelines of Miami rappers SpaceGhostPurrp and Denzel Curry were littered with mentions of the late Triple 6 member’s influence and contained retweets of those remembering Lord Infamous. It’s actually no surprise these two were doing this. Raider Klan, among others, is at the forefront of a Memphis horrorcore sound resurgence in Hip Hop music today. I talked to DJ Paul just hours after Lord died to confirm his cause of death and talked to him about numerous other topics including the newer crop of artists that are obviously inspired by the Three 6 of yesteryear.
“People just love that sound because Three 6 Mafia was before they time,” Paul said when asked about newer artists taking inspiration from their music. “That’s just another reason why I feel the reviews were so great for Da Mafia Six [6ix Commandments] because the new kids these days never really heard nothing that sounded like that before. So after they heard it, they go, ‘What the hell is this? This sound good.’”
Mystic Stylez: The Intrigue Of Early Underground Memphis
“For chill this shit is cool to rap about but see to me it ain't no fun when it's real.” -DJ Paul, “Sweet Robbery”
The haunting, lo-fi and phonky sounds of early ‘90s Memphis horrorcore Hip Hop are distinct. Initial Backyard Posse and Tear Da Club Up Thugs mixtapes set the tone for a Hip Hop sub-genre that had little precedent but a lasting impact. It really reminds me of watching “Unsolved Mysteries” as a kid and being intrigued by the creepy music, vivid reenactments and haunting voice of Robert Stack as host. When it comes to Three 6 Mafia and their music, it’s the kind of scary that isn’t necessarily about the creepy shit they did to you in their lyrics, but the possibility of it happening.
A lot of today’s crunk and trap music finds some of its earliest roots in Triple 6 melodies and drum kits. Even with this, a true modern tribute-paying to the very specific Memphis horrorcore sound and its lyrical contents had been lacking until recently. Artists like Purrp and Curry pay tribute to early Southern horrorcore.
“One thing I can say about Memphis is that their underground scene definitely inspired my Rap career—especially growing up as a child, ‘cause we had the same type of scene down here in Miami,” SpaceGhostPurrp said in a recent interview with HipHopDX. “People know Miami as Uncle Luke and shit, but niggas was on that same shit... Memphis took it to a whole ‘nother level, and nobody was fucking with Memphis back in the day. It had that sound that nobody could not fuck with.”
“It influenced me to a degree to where I wanted to rap like that. That’s how much that shit influenced me,” Denzel Curry told DX. “There’s all types of flows with that style, and then adding the fact that Southern niggas know how to flip already, that’s just more fuel to the fire. And that’s why it’s so raw to me. That’s why that whole Memphis shit was so raw to me.”
North Memphis Representin’: Differentiating Genres Of Horrorcore Rap
“From on my streets / With all only peeps / I used to scratch / And throw down beats.” -Juicy J, “Stomp”
Let’s not confuse Memphis horrorcore Hip Hop with the rest of the genre. While Three 6 Mafia and its associates were some of the first to do it, the genre has had a recent presence in today (and yesterday’s) underground scene. Artists like Necro, Brotha Lynch Hung, Gravediggaz, Esham and even Tech N9ne, to some extent, have lyrics that are eerie and dark, but in a different way.
While both Three 6 Mafia and artists like Gravediggaz share the label of “horrorcore,” they are quite different. The lo-fi, hood/gangsta and explicitly occult-based aura of ‘90s M-Town differs from more death and technically lyric-based raps of artists that typically reside in New York (Necro, Gravediggaz, Kool Keith, Ill Bill, etc) where intricate rhyme patterns traditionally have reigned supreme.
My argument is not that horrorcore as a genre has made its return to the forefront of youngster’s interest. Traditional Memphis horrorcore is what a lot of people have rediscovered, and it has now heavily influenced those who were only adolescents and, in some cases, not even born when it was originally released.
In Da Game: Sonic Application Among Today’s Crop
“I’ma keep bringin’ the phonk / Nigga, I’ma keep bringin' the phonk / And you niggas can't stop me.” -SpaceGhostPurrp, “Bringing Tha Phonk”
Seminal examples of this new wave of Memphis-inspired Hip Hop can be found in SpaceGhostPurrp’s debut mixtape, Blacklvnd Radio 66.6 and subsequent first album, Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp. His use of Mortal Kombat samples and dark imagery through out Blacklvnd Radio have you time traveling back to the haunting sounds of “Sweet Robbery,” from Three 6 Mafia’s Mystic Stylez, perhaps the most foreboding use of Son of Sam-influenced horror ever recorded in Hip Hop music. The demonic laughs from Koopsta Knicca’s “Robbers” are similarly re-created in Purrp’s “Get Ya Head Bust” and “Possessed,” among others.
Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation also calls from old Memphis. “Twistin” (not coincidentally featuring Denzel Curry) insinuates violent retaliation and even references that Curry purchased Triple 6’s greatest hits. Denzel Curry’s own work features numerous dark elements that could be construed as horror-inspired. His debut album, Nostalgic 64, released late last year, not only features songs exemplifying the eerie sounds of early Memphis horricore, but Denzel often raps very much like the “tongue twisting” flow introduced by Lord Infamous in the early ‘90s. Songs like “Mystical Virus Pt. 3” and “Dark & Violent” reveal situations where demons take over the main character he creates.
Even artists with looser affiliations to old Memphis have used its sound at one point or another. The sonics of A$AP Mob’s song “Told Ya” is carried by a sample of Three 6’s “Playa Hataz.” Similarly, their Bay-Area companions Main Attrakionz’ track “Summa Time” features noticeable instrumental use via “Da Summa,” again from Mystic Stylez.
The horrorcore influence isn’t exclusive to just the music itself. Visual aspects are also plentiful. Haleek Maul’s video for “88” is a perfect millennial example of demonic Rap carried out in a more non-traditional way, while Raider Klan’s Amber London’s “Servin’ Feindz” uses filters to look straight out of 1994. One could swear they were watching an early Gangsta Boo video. Even A$AP Rocky is seen sprinkling powder over a pentagram in his 2012 visual for “Wassup.”
Live By Yo Rep: Three 6 Mafia’s Return To Horrorcore
“Remember in 1995 / I was so live, the city was all mine / Only black girl with a all white clique / Put your snake ass down on some brand new shit.” -Gangsta Boo, “Remember”
Even Three 6 Mafia’s latest subgroup’s mixtape screams of their yesteryear sound. Da Mafia 6ix’s 6ix Commandments features the sinister, horrific characteristics one could easily find on some of Three 6’s earliest work. Tracks like “Murder On My Mind” and “Beacon N Blender” feature similar attributes to songs on Mystic Stylez or The End.
It’s no coincidence the tape dedicates some of its song titles to those from previous projects. “Stash Pot” and particularly “Break Da Law” not only share the titles of their predecessors but also duplicate samples and lyrics.
In a November 2013 interview with HipHopDX, DJ Paul said Da Mafia 6ix wanted to return to their old sound in describing their then upcoming mixtape release, consciously targeting the aura of their first two group albums as Three 6 Mafia.
“The thing that makes it distinctive is that it ain’t gonna be different,” he said. “We went straight back to hard, hardcore shit. It’s harder and crazier than Mystic Stylez and Da End. It’s just a crazy-ass mixtape… The original fans will be happy. That’s the only people we do it for anyway. I don’t give a fuck about anybody else who is into some other shit.”
Features on the album also reach back to the past. Bypassing an extension to rapping guests of higher current-day stature, the tape includes only those who make sonic sense. Lil Wyte, Project Pat, La Chat and Kingpin Skinny Pimp all make a return as Mafia affiliates. SpaceGhostPurrp also makes a rapping contribution on the project. Purrp says ‘90s Memphis Rap’s influence on him as a kid both as a producer and rapper was immense.
“DJ Paul and Juicy J are my favorite producers growing up,” Purrp said when asked about early Memphis influence on his musical make-up. “Nobody could tell me shit about them. We used to have arguments. I’m a big fan of Eminem and Lil Wyte, but we used to have arguments about who’s the greatest white rapper and people used to be like, ‘Nah nigga it’s Eminem,’ and another group of niggas be like, ‘Nah nigga, it’s Lil Wyte.’ Lil Wyte wasn’t no joke back in the day; that motherfucker had hits, so that just boosted my ear of music to a whole another level.”
“It’s some shit you can bounce to,” Denzel Curry said in describing ‘90s Memphis Rap. “It’s some shit you can just be like, ‘Oh that nigga actually killed that shit,’ and you get crunk to that shit; you get phonky to that shit.”
Big Business: The Influence Of Early Memphis Production In Today’s Rap
“Because we really love to make a stand / It’s the high capitol make me touch a man.” -Lord Infamous, “Big Business”
Instrumentally, an extension of early Memphis Hip Hop is way easier to find in today’s artists than just the smaller pot I’ve mentioned above. Three 6 Mafia is heavily credited as being the forefathers of crunk music, and to a lesser extent, trap.
The deep 808s mixed with high-pitched piano loops was a trademark of earlier Three 6, especially in their albums The End and Chpt. 2: World Domination. It would also continue into their later and more commercial success, trading in the initial appeal of their occult-based and underground niche to one based on catchy hooks and more exploited bass. Their hits “Stay Fly” and “Poppin My Collar” were less satanic and more commercial friendly, exchanging cult fans for those less attached to underground Rap. Even with this transition, the content still featured the gangsta element and was an evolution to what they had laid years earlier. While Atlanta is often credited as an origin point for club-based Rap with the Crunk scene becoming heavily popular during early-to-mid Aughts, Memphis classic “buck” and early horrorcore were just as influential if not more so to the mainstream acceptance of 808-powered music emanating from The A.
Even today, we know early Memphis’ influence is definitely present in production. Aside from literally, with Juicy J’s recent solo success, Mike WiLL Made-It has worked heavily with Juicy on the production tip early in his career. Lex Luger, a godfather of neo-trap music beyond 2007 came in under the Juice Man. Drumma Boy, another one of today’s hottest beat-makers is originally from Memphis and in a 2011 interview with Respect magazine, acknowledged Three 6 Mafia’s influence.
“If you grew up in Memphis and really saw that impact, you had to be motivated by crunk music, just getting buck, tearing the club up,” Drumma Boy said when asked if Three 6 was a role model. “Coming up from Memphis and seeing the impact they really had, like a lot of people haven’t seen the impact Three 6 Mafia has had on the South, or certain cities.”
More commercial content-based examples from year’s past include Crime Mob’s 2004 track “Ellenwood Area,” which takes on an eerily similar hook and title to Triple 6 Mafia’s song “North Memphis Area,” released more than a decade earlier. Rap fans today who bump Jay Z and Kanye West’s “H.A.M.” or Juicy J’s “So Much Money” probably don’t even notice they’re listening to a more-evolved instrumental product of an over 20-year-old Southern Rap sub-genre.
The End: Where Does Traditional Memphis Go From Here?
I guess the final question is why? Why, within the last few years, has this heavy influence of specifically early Memphis horrorcore Hip Hop reemerged? A quick answer would be the evolution of Internet use in Hip Hop. Up-and-coming, young rappers are able to use the Internet to find the specific sounds and videos that most appeal to them, and ultimately separating them from the necessity to present regional representation. This trend is not exclusive to Memphis but definitely happening in the M-Town. As pointed out in a 2011 FADER piece by Andrew Noz, prevalent artists currently producing Rap music have little to no interest in carrying on Memphis’ past sub-genre as far as content is concerned. Most of today’s more prevalent decedents of M-Town horrorcore Rap preside from different parts of the country. Denzel Curry, SpaceGhostPurrp and most of Raider Klan reside in Miami, Lil Ugly Mane is from Richmond, Virginia and Amber London calls Houston home.
The fate of Memphis horrorcore’s sound resides in the continued legacy of Three 6 Mafia and newer artists, such as the aforementioned. Memphis is no longer Memphis, just like Atlanta’s sound no longer comes exclusively from the A. In the age of the Internet, sound travels and the fate of a traditionally regional-based sub-genre is in the hands who finds it inspirational.
“Gangsta Boo was telling me that [Lord Infamous] fucked with my music hard,” SpaceGhostPurrp said in regards to his relationship with the deceased Three 6 Mafia member. “I met Juicy J three years ago, back in 2011 and he told me, ‘You remind me of Lord Infamous back in the day.’ And when Juicy J told me that shit, it just made me feel like I was right about everything I felt about they music growing up.”
Right now, I’m excited about the prospect of Memphis horrorcore’s future. Every time I hear SpaceGhostPurrp’s dark, self-produced melodies, I feel he’s just another reminder of the heavily slept on influence that ‘90s Memphis horrorcore Rap provided. I think Lord Infamous would agree too.
“[Lord Infamous] was a legend, everybody know him as a legend and everybody loved him,” DJ Paul said. “He was before his time, he was a legend and he’ll live on forever.”
Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio native who has written for numerous music outlets including MySpace, XXL, Complex and Columbus Alive. He has been a contributor at HipHopDX since 2011. Follow him on Twitter (@Paul_Meara).