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The Evolution of Darkness in Hip Hop

Since it’s often disputed date of inception in the Bronx, New York, Hip Hop has been an art rooted in counter cultural expression. The music of Black youth serving as a sonic and visual tapestry of marginalized life in America captures the joy, pain, and complexity of a people seeking not only to be seen and heard but also understood. This understanding can be stark, gripping, and reflective, providing insight into the intricate dynamics of black communities. In the beginning, Hip Hop was built on the breakbeats of James Brown and funk then it matured into an expression of the street documenting the reality of American inner cities, a world often hidden and ignored by mainstream media. By the late 80’s and early 90’s, the genre firmly established itself as a viable commercial vehicle in popular culture, and it could no longer be brushed aside and considered a fad. It was now a political tool, one in which the subgenre of Gangsta Rap began to frighten the masses (middle America, Washington DC to be specific)  due to artists such as Schooly D, NWA, Ice T and others depicting the horrors of gang violence and murder on record. The amount of death and bloodshed in the lyrics of these songs rivaled the gore in Freddy Kruger and Jason movies, revealing a strange correlation between human pain and suffering and artistic expression. Although Gangsta Rap wasn’t the first violent expression in rap, the evolution of darkness in Hip Hop gave birth to a new subgenre, “Horrorcore”.

The Birth of Horrorcore and Hip Hop’s Alfred Hitchcock

If Gangsta Rap is dark, Horrorcore is much darker. Elevating the violence to gruesome levels, the music explored many themes such as psychology, mysticism, and the occult. Credited as the first artists of the subgenre, Rap-A- Lot’s  Geto Boys with their record “Assassins” broke the gates open. Lyrics like My father was a priest, cold blooded he’s dead/ Hypocrite, I caught him basin, so I shot him in the head /Poured on the holy water, “bless the dead” is what I said Then heard the demon screamin as his body bled/ Now I stole from the poor, lied on the man were some of the first on record to cross into the sacrilegious territory and be demonically vivid. The frontman of the group, Scarface, known as the Alfred Hitchcock of Hip Hop is known for his dark intellect, with rhymes that deliver a cool, calculated, chilling demeanor which ironically has a calming effect on the listener. Songs like Mind Playing Tricks On Me, Chuckie, and Scarface’s own A Minute to Pray and A Second To Die and Never Seen A Man Cry rivaled Hollywood’s best offerings with Face delivering chilling lyrics in cinematic detail. These songs paved the way for others in the genre such as Insane Clown Posse, Gravediggaz, and Memphis’s Three Six Mafia.

Three 6 Mafia 

Triple Six Mafia or Three 6 Mafia from Memphis Tennessee are widely known for being the torch bearers for satanic rap. They are the most popular group in Hip Hop that rhymed about the occult, sex rituals, human sacrifices, and lucifer and were able to take it mainstream going gold with Chapter 2: World Domination in 1997. Comprised of DJ Paul, Juicy J, Lord Infamous, Koopsta Knicca, Crunchy Black and “The Devil’s Daughter” Gangsta Boo, Three Six’s popularity influenced other groups such as Bone Thugs N Harmony who touched on the occult with their own songs such as Mr.Ouija 2, Mo’ Murda, and Crossroads. Records like Body Parts, Destruction Terror and Mindstate document in graphic detail the depravity and evil nature of their music oddly mirroring the reality of their hometown, Memphis, which annually tops the national  murder rate list, a horror in and of itself. Over the next 2 decades a new, more “elevated” form of the occult entered Hip Hop in the form of the “Illuminati”.

Illuminati Era 

As Hip Hop became bigger business ( billion dollar business)  its affinity toward the occult became a little bit more “mainstream” and overt. There are countless videos on YouTube documenting this shift and more likely than not every popular Hip Hop artist from the year 2009 to 2022 is claimed to be a member of the “Illuminati”, a secret society that allegedly controls the world and its industries. Conspiracy theorists cite that the agents of the Illuminati use artists to disseminate their message via their music and most notably in their visual imagery of music videos, press photography, and performances. No other figure in Hip Hop is more synonymous with the Illuminati than Jay-Z who first (via a sample of his once rival Prodigy ) invoked the name on his debut album on the song D’Evils. Keen observers often cite Hov’s famous ‘Roc’ hand gesture and his videos of On To The Next One and Picasso, which features suspected occultist and satanist Marina Abramovic as evidence of his involvement in the Illuminati. One glaring example of Jay-Z’s leaning came in 2012 when he was photographed wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the phrase “Do What Thou Wilt”, a phrase made popular by known Satanist Aleister Crowley. Over years through rhyme and via interview Jay-Z has dismissed these rumors as nonsense and based the label being attributed to him on his wealth. The sphere of Jay-Z’s influence and Illuminati leanings also hover around current and former members of his circle which includes his wife, Beyonce, and frequent collaborators Rihanna and Kanye West, who as of late has shifted to record his version of “gospel’ Christianity fueled records. 

The Dark New Wave
The new crop of Hip Hop artists are picking up where their Horrorcore and Illuminati fore-fathers left off and taking it to new heights. With the proliferation of social media, and the advancement of technology which makes video production easier, occult images are easier to distribute and much more widely accepted by the younger generation. Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, Trippie Redd, Lil Nas X, and Duke Deuce continue to push the boundaries. And then there is Doja Cat whose music video Demons seemingly celebrates Satanism, and serves as an attempt to cement it in mainstream pop culture, no longer operating on the fringes. Like the Death Metal sect of Rock, the evolution of the darkness era of Hip Hop will continue to push limits, creativity, societal norms, and fans giving them a choice to ‘Dance with the Devil’ or affirm like Ye that “Jesus is King”.

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