Memphis has its wide assortment of legendary hip hop artists, be it the classic voices of Project Pat and DJ Paul or newer talents like Glorilla and Duke Deuce. But some legends are not given their flowers in due time and have fallen out of the routine conversations of GOAT emcees and iconic production. Memphis is a city built on numerous artists who have shaped the sounds and culture that cultivate this sonic landscape into the iconic ghoulish miasma associated with the city. We are already familiar with our Memphian legends, our Three Six Mafias, our 8-Ball and MJGs, our Kingpin Skinny Pimps, etc. Considering how soon Halloween is, it is only right that we check out some of the unsung heroes in Memphis’ horrorcore sphere, artists that have shaped and mastered the sound of rap’s most eerie genre.
Low Down da Sinista: “Coming for Your Soul”
Low Down da Sinista was one of Memphis’ greatest rappers in the underground. His debut album Coming for Your Soul is full of paranoia and actually serves as an interesting look into commentary regarding stress and mental illness. There are many references to going through things, having visions, and considering ‘giving up’, whatever that may pertain to. It uses the hellscape of the horrorcore genre to discuss these topics, which are much more complex than what many people will give it credit for. It serves as an excellent analysis of mental health and trying to find some kind of positive outcome in a negative life. Coming for Your Soul tries to find solace through huffing backwoods and sipping 40s. Despite the depressing and bleak atmosphere, it still has a sense of humor, like the hilarious “Blah” where Low Down does his best Dracula impression and out-raps all of your top five with nothing but ‘blah bliggity blah’. But these tracks to not invalidate the serious ones, it just paints a better picture of Low Down’s personality: it’s not all terror. Not much is known about Low Down da Sinista, there are scant few official tapes of Coming for Your Soul on Discogs, and there is little to nothing about him online. But with that being said, we do have access to Coming for Your Soul on YouTube, which is one of Memphis’ best tapes of all time. Hopefully everyone can see Low Down’s genius.
Playa Posse: “Bigga and Betta Thangs”
Out of the neighborhoods around Binghampton and the Heights comes Playa Posse, a group consisting of Blackout, Lil’ Terror, Lil’ Steel, Lil’ Slim, Lil’ Wako, Lil’ E, Lil’ Coop, Lil’ Nut and possibly more. Bigga and Betta Thangs is a dark dirge in what Memphis has to offer, with its songs engulfed in a sludgy bass that will reach deep into your lungs and rip out your soul. Blackout is one of Memphis’ greatest producers of all time, perfectly utilizing the TR-808 to its capabilities and catchy melodies. Horrorcore might not be the first genre you think of regarding catchy choruses, butBigga and Betta Thangs puts that into question. Countless choruses on this project will stick in your head months after listening to them, due in part to Blackout’s brilliant production and the effortless flows by E, Slim, and others. The tape is split into two sides: the ‘Playa’ A side and the ‘Po$$e’ B side. Playa is full of the braggadocio association with modern Memphis trap, grinding, slanging, and maintaining. Po$$e is full of the murder rhymes, like the unnervingly cheery “Catch a Muder Case”, which has a summery drum and bass line fit for a cruise line commercial. This came out a year after Blackout’s iconic Dreamworld tape, so if you’re looking for more sinister sludgy Memphis rap, this tape should suffice.
Lil Fly: “From da Darkness of da Kut”
At only 16 years old, Lil Fly – now known as Playa Fly – released his devilish underground tape From da Darkness of da Kut. The tape is produced by Three Six’s DJ Paul, who deploys his iconic mix of hypnotic lo-fi production to conjure something straight out of a slasher flick. Fly has a particularly ghostly presence on the tape with his revered swallowing the mix, take his haunting flow on “Anna Got Me Clickin” as an example. The track has Paul dueling with his booming bass and discordant horror samples as Fly says he will Redrum anyone trying to diss him. Not to mention the phenomenal track “Kreepin Out Da Kut”, which deploys DJ Paul’s signature raw looped sentence instrumental with Fly chanting “Creepin’ out the cut with my yam, now Fly want some hay” as if it was some form of seance. Fans of classic Three Six Mafia will recognize some of the bars and samples on this tape, especially what would eventually turn into Mystic Stylez’ “Break da Law 95”. From da Darkness of da Kut has Lil Fly and Paul match each other’s strengths to a tee, Fly’s slows syncopated flow perfectly meshes with the hypnotic dark production. Luckily Playa Fly has seen some appreciation recently, with his big hit “Just Awaken Shaken” being sampled in the new Drake and 21 Savage track “Jimmy Cooks”, so he is in good company.
Lil Noid: “Paranoid Funk”
Paranoid Funk is very much what the title suggests, a short mix of grim trunk-knocking tracks rife with the fear of being followed by a masked killer. This could easily serve as the soundtrack for a Jason Vorhees chase scene with its looming droning bass and Noid’s fast-paced flow. Again, this tape is produced by the legendary Blackout, who brings his frigid style to match Noid’s blunt lyricism. “Death Row” reads as one of the most skeletal, yet horrific examples of horrorcore ever produced, serving as a warped and forlorn story about getting the murder blues on death row. As a whole this is just an incredibly haunting album, despite its runtime. Tracks loom with this nightmarish drone that floats across the mix, and pair that with Noid’s spooked-out delivery, it is perfect for a Halloween playlist. Paranoid Funk is just one of those iconic Memphis projects that for the longest time has not reached outside of the city’s borders not until recent attention in the last decade. This tape has been getting a lot more attention with its reissue under Delroy Edwards’ LA Club Resource label, which is also responsible for reissuing Reddog and Shawty Pimp’s iconic Comin’ Real Wit It tape. Hopefully more of Lil Noid’s projects will get some form of proper attention, but regardless, Paranoid Funk is a damn near perfect record for this Halloween season.
Ten Wanted Men: “Wanted: Dead or Alive”
Ten Wanted Men is a short-lived Memphis group led by Tommy Wright III who uses his brilliant ear with production and songwriting to make one of the most captivating drum patterns, organ synths, and dark vibes. The production on “Magnolia Meets “4” Corners” alone is worth praise. It is wholly unique, using sleigh bells, punchy bass patterns, and a glacial piano sample. And when it is shared with Wright and Lil Ramsey rotating back and forth, bar for bar, you are just left to marvel at how excellent the song is conceived. The tape is full of songs like these, tracks that are so brilliantly crafted, where the drums work perfectly in the mix, there is the perfect amount of reverb on the vocals, the samples stick out and linger. It is still full of that sludgy, lo-fi mix of Memphian production that horrorcore is known for, but it is still treated with a lot of care. While Tommy Wright III is at the forefront of most of this praise, the other emcees still hold their own on the record. Princess Loko in particular has a lot of finesse on the mic, exemplified best on “Gangsta Bitch”. Even though Wanted is an old tape, it does not sound dated. There is a charm that is in the grime and dust. It is much more like a memento in a V/H/S anthology, where the protagonist unearths and brushes the dirt off the cursed tape and enters a descent into hell.