Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep: A Metal Head’s Gateway To Hip Hop
For as long as I could remember hip hop has always been a part of my life, from my childhood right up to the present. If there’s one album I can speak of that really emboldened me to appreciate the genre, the debut album by Gravediggaz is the one that solidified my enjoyment of it and the path that led me there is not one that you’d expect.
To fully explain how I arrived at my true enjoyment of hip hop as genre, one must go all the way back to when I was just a four foot shit stain running around the suburban neighborhoods of northern New Jersey in grade school. It was during this time that my boyhood friends and myself were running around town with a boom box bumping the likes of The Beastie Boys (Licensed To Ill) and The Fat Boys on cassette (some of you youngins may not know this, but back in the 80’s, the medium known as Compact Disc did not exist and you rocked your jams on cassette by default).
Pictured: A young Ron Deuce bumpin’ The Beastie Boys classic album, Licensed To Ill while walking through his suburban neighborhood
The seed was most definitely planted at that time and would quietly take hold as I grew older. There’s a period of time from probably 4th to 8th grade where I can’t recall what my musical tastes were. My guess is that I was probably listening to pop music and I was as close to braindead as a result during those years. As an 8th grader in 1988, I caught wind of Metallica’s …And Justice For All via the video for “One” on MTV and the rest as they say is history. During high school, I grew my hair long, decided I wanted to play music (which I did poorly) and metal was my weapon of choice musically. Hip hop still remained as I still found myself drawn to the likes of House Of Pain, Das EFX and Onyx. By high school’s end, I was fully immersed in the 90’s death metal boom and bought every single album with artwork by Dan Seagrave and production courtesy of Scott Burns. Once again, I will date myself and say that there was no internet and one had to rely on other means to quench the thirst of discovering new music. One such way of doing that was having a radio station that catered to hard rock and metal music for much of it’s programming. The radio station that would tie both metal and hip hop together for me was Seton Hall’s Pirate Radio – 89.5FM WSOU on the radio dial. Many times the reception was somewhat unbearable and I often found myself tinkering with the antenna on my stereo to try and navigate past the static interference that could potentially ruin what I was listening to. One of the programs I listened to regularly on WSOU was its extreme metal show, Monday Night Mayhem. And it was during one random Monday evening where the DJ whose name I cannot recall announced that he was going to play something a little different, but still relevant to the music being played on the program. And with that, he played “Diary of A Madman” from Gravediggaz debut album, 6 Feet Deep. It was censored since all radio stations are subject to FCC laws related to foul language, but you could pretty much make out what was being said by using your imagination.
If you haven’t turned up your snob nose and run away from reading this post because hip hop is not your jam then you’re very well aware that I’ve heard my fair share of the genre by this time and was really only a cursory listener of the genre because death metal was my go-to genre of choice at this point in my life. I knew that The RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan was involved in the project, owned Tical by Method Man, but it was this particular record that I can point to as the album that endeared me to hip hop. The first thing that struck me about “Diary of A Madman” was the spooky haunted house sounds coupled with the hard hitting drums to make up the beat. The next thing and also the most important was the lyrical content. While the lyrics still had the aroma of street linguistics present, each of the verses from Shabazz The Disciple, The RZArector (the name Wu-Tang’s RZA used for this project), Grym Reaper and The Gatekeeper had a horror movie feel to them as they told the story of four men being questioned in a court room about why they were such evil people. I had recorded Monday Night Mayhem that evening and kept going back to listen to “Diary of A Mad Man”. The following week, 6 Feet Deep had been purchased and would be carried around everywhere with me in my 24 CD carrying case so that I could show it to friends as well.
If you still own one of these, you could probably pack a baloney and cheese sandwich in this muthafucka too
But one track does not an album make. 6 Feet Deep is loaded with bangers that strike a unique balance between capturing horror movie lore and mixing it with the struggles of life in the ghetto. One of the first tracks off the album the might gain some traction with metal heads would be the appropriately titled “Bang Your Head”. The beat has the resemblance of a distorted guitar riff and makes the case that if anyone should be rhyming over metallic guitar riffs, it’s qualified professionals with skin in the game and not pastey Fred Durst no talent hacks who thought turning their hat backwards, hearing DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince for the first time and a suburban residence qualified them for microphone duty. Regular readers of this blog know of my love for grindcore. And if there was a hip hop song that was comparable, it has to be the one minute and thirty seconds of 2 Cups Of Blood. RZArector and Grym Reaper trade barbs over a winding beat that makes you feel like you are being thrown down a one hundred story high set of spiral stairs. Freestyle rap is one of the hallmarks of hip hop and if you know what a cypher is then you would know that “Graveyard Chamber” is just a bunch of emcees bouncing rhymes off each other over an out-of-tune piano beat that sounds twisted and morbid while at the same time marches onward and has a sense of hypnotic head nodding about it.
The highlights of this album are the contributions from Grym Reaper (better known as Poetic who unfortunately passed away in 2001). Reaper legitamately sounds like a cross between James Brown, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Busta Rhymes on many of the verses he contributed to 6 Feet Deep and he has the habit of sticking out like a sore thumb in the best way possible. His delivery, sound of his voice and the words coming out of it seem to stand out and leave a mark on all of the appearances he makes. Take the second verse on “Defective Trip (Trippin)” for example as he contemplates an offer from a neighbor in his apartment complex to receive fellatio from a crackhead while tripping his face off. I’m not spoiling anything when I say he respectfully declines, but to hear him tell the tale is by all accounts a very strange situation. Grym Reaper’s delivery stands out on its own and makes his presence felt on each and every track. He’s literally stabbing you in the face and it makes it impossible for you to ignore him.
Sometimes you just can’t deny yo self a good ol’ stab in da face
There’s been plenty of mention of the beats on this album and as any self-respecting hip hop fan knows, It Takes Two to make a thing go right. The first is obviously the lyrics and the second is the beats. The majority of the beats on this particular album are provided by one Prince Paul whom is widely known as the architect behind many of the beats from seminal hip hop act De La Soul. To be fair, 6 Feet Deep is not some depressing sulk in the corner and feel sorry for yourself type of album musically. Musically, it is simultaneously dark and fun all at once. Price Paul’s beats have a dark undercurrent about them, but yet the drums that are behind the musical compositions are fueling a playfulness and energy that can take you down and pick you up. At the end of the day, it’s a collective effort and the beats coupled with the strange yet familiar diatribes of life on the street makes everything seem familiar no matter how distant it may seem.
If you are not feelin’ the beats on 6 Feet Deep, please consult your medical professional and refer to the Stab Yo Self In Da Face Gif above
Epilogue: Gravediggaz continued on after this album, but after 1997’s The Pick, The Sickle And The Shovel, the main contributors (namely RZA and Prince Paul) were non-participants and unfortunately the subsequent material never quite measured up the quality of this landmark album. However, if you need one more track to Gatorade yourself on, then definitely get familiar with “Dangerous Mindz” because that track sounds like it definitely belongs on this album.