Memphis is not just known as the birthplace of rock n’ roll. Over the decades, the Memphis rap scene has become a giant in the industry and one of the most influential hubs in hip-hop. Moreover, the city has gained prominence for its horrorcore through its long-standing relationship with the horror genre. It dates back to the mid-late 1980s when horrorcore first emerged as a recognized subgenre. The genesis and development of the subgenre can also be credited to a handful of pioneering rappers in the scene at that time. One of the most prominent pioneers is the Hip Hop group, Three 6 Mafia.
By all accounts, Three 6 Mafia is an iconic Hip Hop act. Their influence continues to be heard today. However, their penchant for spooky films helped carve out their sound and legacy. Drawing inspiration from horror movies and scores, Three 6 Mafia and the Memphis rap scene provided a blueprint for horrorcore rap.
Memphis Rap & Horror
Horrorcore would not be the same without the cinematic experiences that inspired pioneer artists and producers. The film genre inspired Memphis rap artists and producers to draw hyperbolic parallels between their realities and the gruesome and macabre themes found in horror. References to violence, occult murder, supernatural elements, and movie characters are ubiquitous in Memphis rap songs. More importantly, these aspects help create the vivid and chilling narrative style found in plenty of Memphis records. Iconic films like The Return Of The Living Dead (1985), Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986), and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) helped fuel the minds of these creatives. DJ Paul particularly cited Henry and Friday the 13th as two of his earliest influences while he chatted with Passion of the Weiss.
Additionally, producers frequently sampled dialogue and soundtracks from popular movies to set the tone for the eerie themes. Soundbites were used for interludes and intros. These inclusions infused songs with a haunting atmosphere and created a palpable sense of tension and unease. Artists like Tommy Wright III, DJ Paul, and Juicy J typically employed these elements in their production.
However, the aesthetics often associated with Memphis' early hip-hop scene further emphasized the horror genre's influence. Horror-inspired imagery found in album art and music videos was reminiscent of classic movie posters and further carved out the overall creative direction. Projects from Gangsta Pat, Tommy Wright III, and Three 6 Mafia were heavily influenced by 80s and 90s horror movies.
Three 6 Mafia & Horror
Three 6 Mafia famously excelled at incorporating horror elements into their music. The group is known for their dark, aggressive sound and explicit lyrics. In a conversation with Passion of the Weiss, founding member DJ Paul shared that, while they had garnered a reputation for dark lyricism, it was all just a show. “It was nothing rebellious,” he said. “I just liked horror movies and horror music.”
Three 6 Mafia has since inspired a generation of musicians to continue to explore horror themes in their music. Rappers like Scan Man, Denzel Curry, and SpaceGhostPurrp have cited them as influences. Furthermore, even producers like Drumma Boy have been directly influenced by Three 6 Mafia and the Memphis horrorcore sound.
The group has played a significant role in the evolution of Southern Hip Hop. Three 6 Mafia gained national recognition with their iconic 1995 debut album, Mystic Stylez, which is widely considered a seminal album in horrorcore. The project excellently demonstrated how Memphis' rap scene is unlike any other city in America. Mystic Stylez also delved into supernatural and occult themes, drawing inspiration from horror movies. Three 6 Mafia, with their horror-infused lyrics and production style, has inspired a generation of musicians to continue to explore horror themes in their music. Horror movies have not gone out of style, either. Consequently, horrorcore artists are still being inspired to create more interesting projects.