On September 17 of this year, a 20 year old “rapper” named Syko Sam decided to kill a family and a couple of his friends in a scene so gruesome that police won’t even describe it.
Every so often, some asshole commits some atrocity that draws attention to a certain genre of music favored by the sick asshole in question. In the fevered rush to action, there are invariably calls to ban/censor or otherwise castrate artistic freedoms in favor of preventing future catastrophes. Generally, cooler heads prevail and our First Amendment rights are preserved. Right now, the spotlight is on a genre of rap music called “horrorcore” that seems to be centered around graphic descriptions of violent acts. As usual people are quick to associate the artform with the crime. It’s a natural connection to make. Especially since Syko Sam rapped about committing this crime before he went through with it. Eventually though, this will all blow over, there will still be horrorcore rappers and society will not collapse. I’m OK with this…in principal.
Most of my life, I’ve been a fan of genres of music that are often targeted by censors and religious nuts. After all, I grew up in a time that gave us GG Allin, The Dwarves, Cannibal Corpse, church burning Norwegian black metal and numerous other musical acts with horrifically bad taste. For a while in the 80’s there was a huge scare about the rise of “Satanic” music. I was a huge fan of this style of music, and I still am. Most of it wasn’t Satanic at all. In fact one of the bands that was most often accused of being so, Iron Maiden, was probably more responsible for getting me enthused about world history and classic literature than any of my teachers were. I have had endless talks with parents, teachers and other authority figures where I have had to defend these musicians based on their artistic merits. This is not new. It happened before my time, and again with Rap, and again with Goth…and probably will continue with every passing generation.
So why does this case bother me so much? Is this just a knee-jerk reaction to the new crazy shit the kids are into these days? I feel like I’m in more of a rush to blame the music than the media is. Part of it is because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to convince people of the artistic merits of “extreme” music. Now along comes a group of jackasses whose whole genre is devoted to describing murders in detail, and the pleasure associated with committing the acts. I’m having a real hard time finding anything redeeming here. And yet…
Is this really any different than an updated Maxwell’s Silver Hammer? Should we have banned the Beatles after the Manson murders? Or check out these lyrics by a band that I love, Slayer, from the song Sex, Murder, Art (in part):
Dangling in distress
My sole purpose never ends
On Your knees
My satisfaction is what I need
To take my fist
And violate every orifice
An object of animation
A subjective mannequin
Beaten into submission
Raping again and again
So yeah…there’s that. I guess the leap of faith that I was willing to take with Slayer is that they are simply responding to the horror in the world, and presenting it as shockingly as possible. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, but to me it always seemed that the point was to take all of these topics (gathered mostly from actual news stories) and present them to people as if to say “this is the sorry state of the world, folks”. I felt that even when Tom Araya is singing in first person as infamous serial killer Ed Gein, that the point is not to celebrate his crimes, but rather to attempt to understand the mind of a killer in order to understand how something like this could happen. Slayer are artists. They have a Grammy.
I’m not sure that I’d take the same leap of faith with these so-called horrorcore artists. From the few albums that I’ve downloaded and listened to over the last several years (often in an attempt to understand some of my younger friends’ taste in music) I haven’t found much more than an ugly and ignorant indulgence in macabre fantasy. I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to do that, but you know…garbage in/garbage out. No one is ever going to give these douchebags a Grammy. Oh wait…they did…sort of. Three 6 Mafia (get it? three 6? 666? Satan!) got an Academy Award for a song they did for the Hustle and Flow soundtrack. To be fair though, the song itself was not in the horrorcore genre, neither was the soundtrack.
Extreme genres of music have a very specific appeal to individuals who are right on the edge of both society and sanity. Regardless of what the intent of the band is, a certain number of these idiots are going to do disgusting things to themselves or others – usually others. In spite of stereotypes to the contrary, I remain convinced that heavy metal is primarily a thinking person’s genre. At least that’s the artist intent. Say something about politics, the state of the world, society, human rights, dragons or wizards, and make it rock.
Horrorcore on the other hand invites, celebrates and revels in ignorance. It brings out the worst in these kids and encourages them to do “sick shit”. It practically dares them to commit these kinds of crimes in order to gain status among their peers. In this specific case, the record label seems to have been a major force that deliberately guided these kids toward this inevitable conclusion. I live in a town where this style of music is very popular with people in this age group (teens/early 20’s). I’ve been to the courthouse and have watched group after group of suspects come through with Insane Clown Posse tattoos and Twiztid t-shirts. For a while I was receiving incoherent death threats in mangled English as a result of a comment I’d posted on a friend’s MySpace page teasing her about having been a fan of ICP. The artists, labels and promoters seem to be pushing the idea that this behavior is the culture and lifestyle, something to identify with and be proud of. They’re not just saying “listen to this music, buy this record” any more. They’re saying “go out and do something shocking for the glory of the Family”.
What should we do about it? Absolutely nothing. Remember the Geraldo-manufactured neo-Nazi scare (right on the heels of the Geraldo-manufactured Satanism scare)? Neo-nazi bands have been making music for years. It’s every bit as violent and horrifying as horrorcore, but no one gives a shit because it’s just not cool to be a Nazi. We need to throw a little bit of subtle peer to peer campaigning at these kids to emphasize that being an ignorant waste of space douchebag isn’t cool. The rest will work itself out. We need to be a little more clever about it than the War on Drugs campaign though, otherwise we’ll all be chopped to pieces in our sleep.
Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what seems to be taking place. The Christian conservatives are screaming “Satan!” and are probably gearing up to burn a huge pile of records and CDs as we speak. This will, of course, only make horrorcore seem cooler, edgier and anti-establishment. I mean, you saw Footloose, right?
Check out these shining rays of hope: (And yes, I have seen Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years)