I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post off by saying rest in peace to Richard “Bushwick Bill” Shaw. Rest easy, black man.
The Gravediggaz are an offshoot group consisting of Frukwan (formerly of Stetsasonic) aka The Gatekeeper, Poetic aka The Grym Reaper, Wu-Tang Clan founder and defacto leader, Rza aka The RZArector and another former member of Stetsasonic and the unofficial forth member of De La Soul (which is a part of The Native Tongue collective that, yep you guessed it, A Tribe Called Quest is also a part of (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), Prince Paul. They are credited for creating the horrorcore sub-genre, which pretty much consists of dark production mixed with spooky death themed rhymes. The Gravediggaz would release their debut album, 6 Feet Deep in the summer of 1994.
The master of conceptual albums, Prince Paul, is responsible for the vision and most of 6 Feet Deep‘s production, as the liner notes credit him as the album’s “Overseer”. The album would receive favorable review, and even though the sells weren’t great, over the years it has developed a cult like following.
Or should I say occult.
Side note: The European release of 6 Feet Deep was cleverly titled Niggamortis and included the bonus track “Pass The Shovel”.
Just When You Thought It Was Over (Intro) – 6 Feet Deep opens with this super short Intro, welcoming the listener to the album.
Constant Elevation – The first song of the evening finds Grym Reaper and Gatekeeper exchanging creepy verses before Rza swoops in to wrap things up on the song’s final verse. Prince Paul builds the instrumental around a slightly zany off-kilter piano loop, which serves as the perfect canvas for the three emcee’s colorful rhymes. I’m not sure what the song title has to do with their content, but this was pretty entertaining.
Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide – This was the second single from the album, and my first introduction to the Gravediggaz. Reaper, Gatekeeper and Rza take turns mixing horrorcore verbiage (“the crazy, maniac, yo, lunatic, I circle like a shark when the fresh blood drips”) with comical punchlines (“Me being wack, is like naps on Kojak”). Prince Paul recycles the same Eugene McDaniels’ loop that ATCQ used for the interludes on Peoples Instinctive (there’s another Tribe Degrees of Separation for dat ass!) for the instrumental, which is a great loop for a horrorcore group’s backing music. The liner notes credit Kurious for “Guest Spook Vocals”. Must have been his ghost, because I definitely didn’t hear him on this track.
Detective Trip (Trippin’) – Prince Paul hooks up a jazzy backdrop with an ill dark guitar riff, while the rest of the fellas discuss their drugs of choice and the “trip” they send them on. If you don’t dig (no pun intended) this one the first time around, it will definitely grow on you after a few listens. This time around, the liner notes credit Biz Markie and MC Serch as “Guest Spook Vocalists”. Hit me in the comments if you know what this whole “Spook Vocalist” thing is about.
2 Cups Of Blood – Prince Paul lays down the dark, raw and minimal instrumental that Rza and Grym Reaper tag team and terrorize for approximately a minute and a half. This is the prelude for the next song…
Blood Brothers – Gatekeeper joins his Gravedigging brethren on this one, which is only right, since it’s all about the brotherhood. He also gets credit for the serious mid-tempo instrumental. This was dope.
360 Questions – A quick interlude that has Gravediggaz Stans asking seven random questions about the group. A few of the questions won’t make since until you listen a little further into the album, but more on that in a minute. The last question (“Who killed Tommy’s boy?”) is a jab at Tommy Boy Records, to which all four of the Gravediggaz were signed to at some point.
1-800 Suicide – This was the third and final single released from 6 Feet Deep. The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza use Prince Paul’s equally dark, somber and soulful backdrop to give that extra push to those contemplating suicide and suggestions on how to seal the deal if you need it. Even with its comical undertones, this is some dark demented shit that would never see the light of day in today’s sensitive climate. Call me sick, but I found it entertaining (especially Rza’s verse).
Diary Of A Madman – This was the lead single from 6 Feet Deep. The production on this one is credited to Rza, RNS and Prince Paul, but it has Rza’s fingerprints all over it. The dim mid-tempo instrumental is punctuated by a spooky vocal loop of a female choir ensemble that haunts the track, beautifully. The Gravediggaz, along with Wu-Tang affiliates, Shabazz the Disciple and Killah Priest (whose name I always confuse with the O.G. Wu-Tang Clansmen, Masta Killa), each take turns to spew the most sick and vile rhymes they can think of. The answers to a few of the questions asked during the “360 Questions” interlude get answered here, which is why it would have made more sense to move this song up earlier in the album’s sequencing or place the interlude later.
Mommy, What’s A Gravedigga? – Prince Paul hooks up an ill Patrice Rushen guitar loop for the instrumental, as each of the GD’s spit no more than eight bars, and the song ends just as your head starts to get a solid bob going.
Bang Your Head – I don’t know what’s worse about this song: the generic instrumental or the annoying hook. Either way, I absolutely despise this song.
Here Comes The Gravediggaz – This is the only track on 6 Feet Deep that one of the Gravediggaz didn’t have a hand in the production (the credit goes to Mr. Sime). It makes for a decent filler song.
Graveyard Chamber – This is another one that I knew Rza produced the moment I heard the beat drop (the dusty drums and dark piano loop are a (no pun intended) dead giveaway). He, Gatekeeper and the Reaper, are joined by Dreddy Krueger (who sounds like a poor man’s Ghostface Killah and is an obvious candidate for worst Moniker), Scientific Shabazz, and making his second appearance of the evening, Killah Priest, who spits the illest line of the song when he threatens to “dig through your chest like a jar of Vaseline”. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s solid and fits within the album’s dark theme.
Deathtrap – Masta Ace makes a guest appearance as he provides the intro spoken word for this one. Gatekeeper, RZA and Reaper each get a verse and share different scenarios that led random people to stumble into the grips of death. I love Prince Paul’s instrumental, which works perfectly with the crew’s content.
6 Feet Deep – Over off beat drums and a drunken piano loop, The GD’s give us one last outrageously psychotic song for the road. And the hook is super catchy.
Rest In Peace (Outro) – Over rough drums and an Albert King loop that Prince Paul puts an evil spell on, Rza, both literally and figuratively, shouts out his Gravedigga bredrin, random people, song titles from the album and other random thoughts. Fittingly, the song fades out with a vocal sample of someone singing “someday you are going to die”, driving home the album’s theme, while leaving the listener with an eerie feeling and pondering if these dudes were joking the entire album or dead serious (pun intended).
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, or an album by its cover artwork. 6 Feet Deep is definitely one of those occasions. Under Prince Paul’s directive the Gravediggaz stay true to the album’s death obsessed theme, with The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza (and their guests) providing colorfully morbid rhymes over dark and spooky production work. With the exception of “Bang Your Head” and a minor misstep in the track sequencing (see “360 Questions”), 6 Feet Deep is a very well thought out, executed and entertaining listen. Some may take offense or be uncomfortable with the album’s dark and sometimes controversial content, but it’s all in jest. Or is it?