Gravediggaz: The 16th Anniversary That Hip-Hop Forgot

I’m actually pretty mad at myself. I’d known that one of my favorite albums ever was released in early August many years ago, but, for some reason I’m too ashamed to uncover, I forgot the exact date. All this self-loathing is to say that, in a perfect and flawlessly planned world, I would’ve dedicated this past Monday’s post to the Gravediggaz album 6 Feet Deep, not four days later.

Monday, which was August 9, marked the 16-year anniversary of the record’s release. Easily the best horrorcore LP of its era, and perhaps of all time, 6 Feet Deep has proven to be a seminal listening experience within my life’s so-far scale, a point I’ll further explore in a hot second. But first, for those not in the know, I should briefly explain just what Gravediggaz was: a supergroup consisting of “The Undertaker” Prince Paul (original Stetsasonic member and early De La Soul producer), “The Rzarector” The Rza (he of Wu-Tang infamy, of course), “The Gatekeeper” Frukwan (also of Stetsasonic) and “The Grym Reaper” Too Poetic (one-time Tommy Boy Records artist who broke through via Gravediggaz, and passed away from colon cancer in 2001).

Released on the now dead-and-gone record label Gee Street (1985-2001) in August 1994, 6 Feet Deep seemed like it was too good to be true when the project was first announced. By that time, I’d had over a year to absorb and dissect Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) debut, more than enough time for that album to basically amplify my rap fandom from passionate to obsessive. Simply put, 36 Chambers is the reason I work in the hip-hop industry today. Everything about that record, from the inventive use of kung-fu samples to its overall grit and lyrical assault from nine different angles, blew me away. At the time, I was third-grader in a private Catholic school, located in a reasonably wealthy New Jersey town, meaning that my classmates came from highfalutin families and listened to bands such as Nirvana and Spin Doctors. I, on the other hand, hid my love of rap music from my peers, due to an overwhelming sense of insecurity—I’ll save that for my inevitable trip to some therapist’s couch in the likely-near future, though.

Long story short, 36 Chambers was the first rap album that I loved to the point of pride; a feeling that I’d discovered a dangerous, rule-changing piece of musical work that was clearly a bit too mature for my 11-year-old ears, but I didn’t care. I was already watching blood-soaked, R-rated horror films by then, the result of my dad renting flicks like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow for me behind my mom’s back. Frankly, the hip-hop-loving horror-hound that my friends, colleagues and family members see today owes his tastes in entertainment to Wu-Tang and Mr. Barone (my pops).

So imagine my delight when I found out that The Rza, the mastermind responsible for the brilliant production on 36 Chambers, was about to dabble in something coined “horrorcore.” My first thought was, I must work some extra chores to earn cash in order to buy the Gravediggaz album on release day. Second thought, however, was, How in the hell will my parents understand that my 12-year-old ass wants to buy an album called Niggamortis? (That was what 6 Feet Deep was originally called, before worries of controversy inspired a title swap. Fortunately for my Caucasian ’rents, that never presented itself outside of my daydreams.)

Then came the album’s first single, “Diary of a Madman,” featuring Wu-Tang affiliates Killah Priest and Shabazz the Disciple. Now, when I say, “That song sent my head into a tailspin,” I’m not trying to sound cute. From the courtroom scene-frame to the haunted house of a beat (produced by the three-headed monster of Prince Paul, The Rza and RNS)… “Diary of a Madman,” even down to its eerie video, had me open. Truthfully, if you put a gun to my head’s temple right now and asked me to name my five top songs ever, “Diary of a Madman” would make the cut. And I’m quite aware of the fact that I could be the only person alive who’d say that.

I remember buying the “Diary of a Madman” cassette single in this rinky-dink music store down in Wildwood, New Jersey, early that summer of 1994, on the boardwalk, next to the Ferris wheel; the B-side was “Constant Elevation,” aka track number two on 6 Feet Deep. Come August 9, I was armed with $10 cool cash as I eagerly stepped foot into the local Paramus, NJ-located (Nobody Beats) The Wiz. I popped the cassette into my trusty Walkman once I got back home, and the rest is history.

I have no bad memories of 6 Feet Deep, if you can’t tell already. Hell, they even went and made fourth-grade me ecstatic by shooting videos for my two other favorite songs, outside of “Diary of a Madman”—“Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide” and “1-800 Suicide” (though the latter’s video version is different verse-wise than what’s heard on the album.)

I could write about each of the album’s 16 cuts (three skits included) in exhaustive detail, but I’m trying to keep this tribute as short as possible (and clearly failing). I could talk about how the creeping, almost chopped-and-screwed organ notes heard on title track still remind me of the score used in this awesome Tales from the Crypt episode called “Television Terror,” starring Morton Downey Jr. (not Robert). I could express the minor frustration I felt over the too-short length of the one-minute, forty-four-second song “Mommy, What’s a Gravedigga?” and how happy I was when a full version of it surfaced some months later on white label. Or how perfectly the beat on “Defective Trip (Trippin’),” which sounds like a blues band playing while highly intoxicated off the hooch, provides a nice sonic alternative to the ghoulish instrumentals that dominate the rest of the album. But I’ll hold back.

The bottom-line: sometime this week, 16 years after 6 Feet Deep arrived and conquered, be a fine rap head and revisit the album if you’re familiar with it, or give it a long-overdue first listen if you’re not yet hip to the game. Sadly, they don’t make albums of its breed anymore—a straight-faced, well-executed and Clive Barker-friendly listening experience. Just the way I like it. —Matt Barone

  • CrunchyBlack187

    “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” was probably the best horrorcore album in my humble opinion.

    • opm509

      i dont know if that could be catergerized in the horrorcore genre very good album none the less(x is coming is still a tight ass track)but bein from the west id have to say it would have to be season of the sicc i dunno i jus never really got into the grave diggas

    • swype-matic

      It’s cold ass album, but it’s not horrorcore, and never has been classified as horrorcore.

  • Curtis75Black

    I picked this cd up when it dropped and later rocked it on my IPhone, I purchased it on Itunes. Still to this day one of the illest of that era, minus the skits..

  • Sha

    I purchased this joint when it first came out. Thoroughly disappointed!!! I really didn’t need Prince Paul riding the nuts of RZA. I guess everyone was feeling RZA at the time. I even remember Pete Rock was on some RZA type production with that first Soul Survivor joint. Maybe they were paying homage. But to me, it seemed like dick-riding. I never liked that shit. Don’t even get me started about the lyrics…..

    • A.S

      This album was made before 36 Chambers was released, so that album’s success probably had little to do with the sound of 6 Feet Deep.

  • Anonymous

    screw everyone that’s the best album of ALL time……

  • Josh

    Nice read. Definitely an ill album (though what’s so special about a 16th anniversary?? –you’re either 1 year late or 4 years early lol).

    This was actually the first CD I ever bought. Everything was on tape or wax before 6 Feet Deep.

    “Nowhere to Run” is definitely one of my favorite joints of all time…Me being wack is like napps on Kojak.

  • Jhon da Analyst

    Its dark and hell is not was not horrocore. Period. After the Gravediggaz, the only other group to attempt such art were the Flatlinerz. Learn something.

    • Josh

      LOL. I was going to respond to that. DMX definitely never was a horrorcore artist and the only other group I can think of that was horrorcore was Flatlinerz too…

  • Dee El

    Dude,

    You were 11 years old in the third grade?!?!?

    Dee El sends
    P.E.A.C.E.

  • http://www.bboycult.com $yk

    ‘The Pick, The Sickle, And The Shovel’>’6 Feet Deep’

    But it’s nice to see them get some shine. RIP Poetic.

    LOL @ DMX being horrorcore.

    What are you gonna say about the lyrics Sha?

    • oskamadison

      $yk, what it is?

      I got 6FD in the whip right now, coincidentally. One of the most criminally overlooked albums, ever. It’s one of those joints that only TRUE heads know and appreciate. I hate the fact that it got that b.s. “horrorcore” stamp on it when it dropped. Horrorcore was a gimmick that lasted as long as Ron Browz’ buzz…well, maybe slightly longer. Here we are 16 years later talking about it. Never heard TP,TS and TSh and wasn’t particularly in a rush to once I heard that Prince Paul wasn’t as involved in that joint as 6FD. In a nutshell, classic joint.

    • DV8

      ^^^^^^^this…..I liked 6FT Deep, I loved The Pick,Sickle, Shovel……

      Brotha Lynch is the undisputed horrorcore king since about 93 or so (and still running).

  • Lowedwn

    The Pick, The Sickle, And The Shovel’>’6 Feet Deep’…..co-sign

    Quick question, would y’all consider The Slim Shady LP as Horrorcore?

    • http://www.bboycult.com $yk

      “would y’all consider The Slim Shady LP as Horrorcore?”

      ^ more borderline than that DMX album they’re talking about up there.

      • Lowedwn

        That’s why I had to pose the question. That album and I’d say half of the Marshall Mathers LP always struck me more as Horrorcore than anything else.

    • DV8

      Eminem isnt seeing Lynch on any of that horrorcore/ psycho murder shit.

  • jesterdxxl

    This album blew me away on some real deep shit I can see why some idiots think D is horrorcore because of X Is Comin & Stop Being Greedy but I look at X being an all round artist.
    Best horrorcore I’m gonna have to say it’s between Tech N9ne & Necro without a doubt!

  • Q461

    hell ya gotta fuck with that Gravediggaz record….heads still rock that til this day….even some of my homies who just like rock fuck wit the Gravediggaz album

  • Hannibal Cannibal

    First tape I ever dubbed from my homeboy at the time. Classic. I would say Diary of a Madman is up there as far as greatest tracks ever. RIP Poetic, mad talented. If you get the UK version of this album there’s a bonus track called “Pass the Shovel” for the heads out there

    • oskamadison

      Also, check out “Freak The Sorceress”, it was the B-side on the “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide” 12 inch.

      • http://www.oldtothenew.wordpress.com Ryan Proctor

        Freak The Sorceress was definitely one of the illest Gravediggaz tracks although the entire album is a personal classic of mine that was unfairly dismissed by some due to the horrorcore tag – I remember there was an original version of Diary Of A Madman that had Michael Jackson dialogue samples in the courtroom intro that had to be pulled for legal reasons which i think i still have on an old radio tape somewhere -great album.

  • Frankie 2 Fast

    Gravediggaz was such a breath of fresh air in the game and still is to this day. And by fresh air I mean hot like the stench of death. Even that “Two cups of Blood” track is ill. RZA + Prince Paul is on of the nicest collabo teams ever. RZArector….ya!

  • Pingback: Rap Round Table, Week Ending 8/13/2010

  • Thomas

    You were 11 years old in the third grade?!?!?

    ^^^

    About to say the same thing…should be been 7/8 at the most….

  • Thomas

    “should have been”…..

  • ?uestion Marc

    I have the European version CD with Niggamortis as the title.

    Production on this album rivals anything on ’36 Chambers’ in terms of pure creativity and atmosphere.

    Great album!

  • Stan-Layy

    P-Positive
    E-Energy
    A-Activates
    C-Constant
    E-Elevation

    • Stan-Layy

      From what i Understand Rza only produced 2 tracks on the album. Prince Paul dominated the rest of the album

  • Australia!

    niggamortis is one of the illest albums ever made!! Diary of a madman sickest verses ever…real horrorcore…Gravediggaz started this shit…Poetic one of best MC ever to touch the mic…R.I.P…DMX horrocore? get the fuck outta here! only other horrorcore group was Flatlinerz…they were dope too

    Niggamortis>>>>>>>>any horrocore album