Music is a medium that can be used to convey, love, loss, happiness, hatred, morals, and narratives. A few of the experiences not often conveyed through music are horror and feelings of eeriness. While horror films rely on music to accentuate the aesthetic of the film, musicians, in turn, rarely rely on horror to create an aesthetic in their art. However, there are many rappers that have been influenced by the horror genre and that inspiration is felt through their music.
While horror rap may not be a mainstream genre, it can be recognized through eerie beats and vocals, sudden build ups and drop offs of beats, nonlinear noise patterns, vulgar, abject, and/or generally “scary” lyrics, and references to the horror genre, among others. Dr. Dre’s classic album 2001 (1999) boasts many verified classics such as Still D.R.E, The Next Episode, and What’s The Difference. However, hidden in the 23 track collection is a hidden gem that grants its listener transportation into the twisted, eerie world of horror rap.
Murder Ink, one of the lesser appreciated tracks from 2001, is known for its graphically violent lyrics and most importantly, for Dr. Dre’s sample from the soundtrack of John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick, Halloween (1978). Layered underneath Dre’s masterfully engineered beat is the tense, piano-centric Halloween Theme – Main Title, a track that is often associated with the antagonist of the Halloween saga, Michael Meyers. Not only does Murder Ink sample the Halloween theme but it also includes many graphic lyrics depicting violence, murder, blood, voyeurism, and death—all themes generally associated with the horror genre. Murder Ink also serves as a flawless example of how horror films have influenced rap and helped form its own genre within rap. While Murder Ink is a prime example of horror rap, there have been a plethora of horror rap songs released since then. Tyler, The Creator, A$AP Mob, Kid Cudi, and Denzel Curry, are a few contemporary rappers that have occasionally crossed over into the horror rap genre.
Denzel Curry is an underrated, up-and-coming rapper, who has overtly made a home in the horror rap genre. The influence of horror on his latest album, TA13OO (2018) is apparent through its lyrics, beats, album cover, and accompanying music videos. CLOUT COBAIN | CLOUT CO13AIN, the second single released prior to the debut of the album, is Denzel Curry’s cautionary tale about the destructive, unhealthy nature of fame and public attention, as well as what that does to the people around you. The off-kilter, chime-centric beat paired with the sporadic, subtle bass provides an uncanny backdrop for Curry’s brutally honest opinions.
The music video features many gothic and noir visuals, such as simple, creepy makeup, a carnival setting, and the video being black and white—except for a few details being vividly colorful. The audience’s heavy metal/grunge ambiance is also a subtle compliment to the aesthetic of the music video (emphasized by many people effortlessly rocking Kurt Cobain’s iconic white, oval shades). In addition, the use of title cards is a touching ode to early horror films of the silent era, such as The Cat and the Canary (1938). While CLOUT COBAIN was arguably the most popular track from TA13OO, it was far from the only horror rap track on the album.
On the song SWITCH IT UP | ZWITCH 1T UP, Denzel Curry’s gothic tones are felt again through referencing the great playwright, Shakespeare. The first verse opens with “Uh, huh, to be or not to be?; Hamlet I’m lit; If it ain’t homicide, I don’t commit,” a blatant reference to Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet. Curry uses this reference to draw a comparison between his paranoid thoughts and Hamlet’s soliloquies through which he contemplates suicide. Curry’s depiction of paranoia and his struggle with bipolar disorder can be felt not only through his powerful lyrics but also through his unique flow.
THE BLACKEST BALOON | THE 13ACKEZT 13ALLOON is another track from TA13OO, on which Curry discusses his brother, Treon Lotto’s premature death, as the result of being tased by police. Denzel has since described the event as being like a “horror movie”, which has in turn been an influence on his project, TA13OO. The horror movie-like vibe is most embodied in this song with explicit lines such as the chorus, “Ooh, ooh, feel like a horror movie; Ooh, ooh, why my brother callin’ to me?”
Throughout the rest of the album, Curry references many stereotypical horror properties and icons, such as Stephen King: “What’s said from Pennywise, I guess we all float” on BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONZ and “Try to read me, would it be, Stephen King; Big Cheese only bring me Misery” on MAD I GOT IT | MAD 1 GOT 1T.
Similar to Denzel Curry, Tyler, The Creator has drawn on horror as inspiration for his art. This can be heard and felt through songs such as Bastard, Who Dat Boy, and OKRA. Who Dat Boy from Tyler’s most recent album, Flower Boy (2017), features A$AP Rocky and opens with a horror film-like string-based score that transitions into a high-intensity, dramatic, electronic beat. Tyler and Rocky reference a few classic subjects associated with horror, such as coffins and religion, as well as the abject other. The accompanying music video opens with mad scientist-like imagery.
Electric Body by A$AP Rocky and ScHoolboy Q is another song that boasts an opening that could be a score in a horror film. The tense, uncanny, supernatural aesthetic of the beat works incredibly well by itself, yet when it’s paired with the occasional, sudden moments of silence throughout the song, it becomes spine-chilling and much more than just a song. A Glorious Death by A$AP Twelvyy and Flatbush Zombies is another track that relies on its’ beat to create a horror-like aesthetic. This track transitions from one beat to another, with both as equally eerie and mystic. This transition creates a sense of uncertainty and doubt in the listener that is very reminiscent of the unsettled feelings many people experience during and after watching a horror movie.
Kid Cudi is yet another artist who has drawn on horror as an inspiration for his art. The influence of horror is felt the most in Cudi’s Statue of David, Man On The Moon: The End of Day (2009). The track Solo Dolo (Nightmare) uses a slow buildup with consistent, creepy string plucking, that is emphasized by the beat. In this song, Cudder discusses topics such as sanity, morality, and loneliness. The eeriness of the beat accompanied by the deep, philosophical lyrics casts a pall of paranoia over the listener. This paranoid aesthetic is something that many horror films strive to emulate. One of Cudi’s trademarks is the authenticity of the experiences that he conveys through his music, as he personally experiences the thoughts and emotions he chronicles through his music. The aforementioned themes are consistent throughout much of Cudi’s body of work. On Alive (Nightmare), Cudder talks about the importance of the nighttime in his life, as he conveys he can only become himself when the moon is shining. Nighttime is an important setting in much of horror, as most scares in horror films occur during the night. Cudi creates a moon-lit, haunting aesthetic by pairing the loudest parts of the beat with strong, powerful vocals, and using a supernatural, futuristic synth.
Flatbush Zombies are another group who has found a home in the horror rap genre. During their 2018 “What’s In My Bag?” interview with Amoeba Music, Juice and Meechy shared the extent to which horror movies and their soundtrack influenced them as artists. Specifically, they were particularly inspired by films like Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which used its’ soundtrack in a unique, ground-breaking way.
In addition to the aforementioned artists, there are many more who have songs that can be considered horror rap. One of Ganksta Nip’s most famous songs, Horror Movie Rap, is quite the essential horror rap track. The song opens with slow, ominous vocals that are creepy in the same sense that if you slowed down a nursery rhyme you would feel quite unsettled. The synth in the beat is reminiscent of the synth from the theme in Halloween (1978). Ganksta Nip also mentions the iconic horror figure Freddy Krueger, portrays graphic, bloody violence, and abject imagery. On Kim by Eminem, Marshall Mathers spits horrifically violent, angry, and graphic lyrics. 5% Tint by Travis Scott uses an ominous piano riff accompanied by a heavy bass-centric beat. The chorus begins with “Who’s that creeping through my window?” and, honestly, what could be more horror-like and paranoia-inducing than a hook like that? Buckets by Rae Sremmurd and Future uses an uncanny, sinister piano—similar to that used in the Halloween theme—and simple bass to create the sense as if you can feel prying eyes following you, even if you are alone in your room.
All of these songs are great examples of the horror rap genre. There are many common threads between the various artists and their music, such as the theme of paranoia, the uncanny, eerie beats, and graphic lyrics. While these are just a handful of the many examples of horror rap, there are many, many more.
If you are interested in experiencing any or all of the tracks mentioned in this article, click the link to the Spotify playlist “noir” which is comprised of all of the aforementioned tracks… and more!