Given that this site trades in music and consists mostly of longform written articles, it may not come as a surprise to most of our readers that a large constituency of us love it when the worlds of music and writing overlap in hip hop music. Indeed, we’ve written on the genre in the past – last year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly graced our list of the top albums of 2015, and more recently, we’ve both reviewed and dissected Splendor & Misery, the most recent effort from experimental hip hop trio clipping. – but we’ve never really written on what’s been happening in a small scene recently when the worlds of underground rap and metal collide.
Just to assuage any doubts, I’m not talking about some small nu-metal revival scene (although deathcore bands like The Last Ten Seconds of Life are starting to bring that back in some way), but the other side of the coin. Instead of bringing rap into metal, these artists are bringing metal influences and aesthetic into rap, and chief among them is LA rapper Ghostemane.
Even just from the cover of Ghostemane’s most recent LP, Blackmage, the presence of extreme metal is instantly felt: a sharp, death-metal-style logo slashes across the top of mostly black art, the album’s name is displayed in the same style, and the mostly black cover art is adorned with a single blue and purple triangle that acts as a window to a man in a ski mask with a pentagram on it. Other album covers of his have the same aesthetic: both the Daemon and Daemon II EPs have their producer’s name (Nedarb Nagrom) displayed in a logo directly parodying that of prominent black metal act Darkthrone, and inverted crosses appear consistently as a symbol of his. In a video displaying a live recording of his track “Venom,” he’s wearing a Deicide t-shirt as he raps about decapitating “punk motherfuckers” in a Satanic ritual, his descriptions pulling as much from Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse as Three 6 Mafia and other “horrorcore” artists.
This influence isn’t limited to aesthetics or shock value, either: many of the tracks on Blackmage feature Ghostemane screaming his lungs out in a manner that lies somewhere between a punk yell and the typical rasp of black metal, points of total noise freakout show their head occasionally, and the track “Elixir” briefly samples Dimebag Darrel’s famous buzzsaw riff at the beginning of “Walk” by Pantera and turns it into a blast of guitar amidst his sparse backing beat. The instrumentals are sparse and minimal, often playing off extremely simple melodies and sparse backing beats in the typical Memphis rap style and invoking in them a much spookier, overtly occult sound, like something halfway between a Clams Casino beat and a haunted house soundtrack.
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Ghostemane is, perhaps, the most concentrated and obvious incarnation so far of an element in underground hip hop that’s been around for a little while now, that is, bringing a metal background into rap and letting the two worlds collapse into one another in the pursuit of something that is at home in both. Acclaimed artist Lil Ugly Mane has his background in black metal and noise – before he started the project that would bring him to anonymous underground superstardom he had a black metal project called Vudmurk, and his Three Sided Tape series of releases often includes elements of harsh noise and industrial – and, more overtly, the rapper Crimewave is also the guitarist of deathcore band Extortionist, throwing a reference to this on his album fvckcrimewave with a beatdown track titled “Punishment, Thy Name Is Ruin.” The hallmarks of his metal influence bleed over into his music, too, with songs about In the related cloud rap scene, underground darling Slug Christ was the vocalist of grindcore band An Isle Ate Her before beginning his career as an MC.
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Blackmage is just the most recent full-length release from Ghostemane, and those who enjoy it should definitely go check out his other tapes, as well as giving a listen to the other artists mentioned here. We’ve mentioned before that in the modern music landscape, genre barriers break down; this case seems to be one of the most extreme and noticeable ones. Whether it’s songs about gruesome murders, Satanic rituals, or talking smack on local scenes, there’s a significant overlay between the dark and grimy worlds that both metal and rap tend to inhabit, and both genres have found an apotheosis of sorts in this fusion that plays off the strengths of both.