It’s been 20 years since one of hip hop’s greatest albums was released. It’s an album a lot of people have never heard and even more have forgotten. I mean, it’s been a cool 20 years, and the album came out of nowhere from a supergroup of some of the East Coasts best minds: The Rza (Wu-Tang), Too Poetic, Frukwan, and Prince Paul (who produced tracks for the likes of: De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, and Kool Keith). Each member took on a new moniker for the group: Prince Paul became The Undertaker, The Rza became The Rzarector, Too Poetic became The Grym Reaper, and Frukwan became The Gatekeeper. Gravediggaz was a collaborative exploration of the strange and the macabre, culminating in a genre you wouldn’t expect to find a supergroup centered around in 1994: Horrorcore.
But how was it started? After not getting the acknowledgment he deserved or the money he was owed from Def Jam/Russel Simmons, Prince Paul set out to do something creative with his (justified) frustration and anger. He started a new group with like-minded musicians, who had a shared contempt for the record industry. Enter Rza of Wu-Tang, who along with Gza bashed Tommy Boy Records on Liquid Swords, with the now legendary line “Tommy ain’t my Motherfuckin’ Boy.” Followed quickly by Too Poetic (also screwed by Tommy Boy Records), and Frukwan (former member of hip hop group Stetsasonic with Prince Paul and once signed to Tommy Boy Records.) Together they laid the blueprint for Horrorcore, a genre that blends two of my favorite things: hip hop and nightmares. The result was the greatest Horrorcore album ever made and one of the best rap albums: 6 Feet Deep (the original title was Niggamortis, but it was deemed to inappropriate for America, though the title remained for its overseas release).
Let’s start with the gem: “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide.” Originally the song was going to be totally different. Prince Paul had planned to use a different sample, but Rza showed up with Eugene McDaniels’s “Jagger the Dagger”, and Prince Paul loved it. The hook, “Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide,“ was also Rza’s brainchild. For whatever reason, Rza had it stuck in his head and added it to the song and its title. “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide,” has Rza all over it. In his first take on the song, Rza messed up his part and decided to come back later to fix it. In stepped the song’s producer Prince Paul (who just didn’t feel like waiting) and his genius idea to use a sample of Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck” to cover up the mistake, rather than re-recording it. Also, the verse: “I cover my ass like a V.I.M. store” is such a throwback to ’90s NYC. Do you remember V.I.M.?
The most successful song on the album was “Diary of a Madman,” which was put together from a sample Rza had from Wu-Tang collaborator RNS (who got it from a car commercial, though he wouldn’t tell anyone which one). Prince Paul handled the rest of the production, including the court room parts, which he came up with on his own and added without showing the rest of the group. They heard it like everyone else, after the song was done (but still way before the album was released).
But he best song on the album, in my opinion, is “1-800-S-U-I-C-I-D-E.” I’ve heard it at least 300 times in the last few months, as I’ve been revisiting Gravediggaz. It’s a song which facetiously dares you to kill yourself in the hopes that you might wake up to the fact that you’re bummed out over dumb shit: “You asked for a Benz and you only got a Jeep / Your pops got ends but yo he’s mad cheap.” Prince Paul sampled Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Sunny” and Krs One’s “Moshitup”, to perfection. The idea was to wake people up from their mental graves and do it by suggesting ridiculous ways to commit suicide: “Be like Richard Pryor / Set your balls on fire.”
The winter is the perfect time of year to revisit darker albums from the past. I’ve always had The Gza’s debut Liquid Swords as my go to winter blues, freezing-NYC-walks-to-the-train album. But this years it’s been 6 Feet Deep. It’s a gem from the past, an album from a time when East Coast hardcore rap ruled. When Wu-Tang was new, when the music felt as cold as the sidewalk in January.
Article by Timothy White. Follow him on Twitter @TipToTheHip