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There’s nothing inherently wrong with horrorcore. The word emerged as a shorthand for rap that shares commonalities with horror films, songs that traffic in physical and psychological terror. Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” one of the greatest rap songs ever written, fits the bill. But somewhere between Gravediggaz’s “1-800 Suicide” and the first Gathering of the Juggalos, horrorcore became a hackneyed subgenre. Gallons of blood (and Faygo) and graphic dismemberments became an end rather than a vehicle for meaningful social commentary.
“I honestly hate that word,” says Fatboi Sharif, one of the brightest and strangest rappers from New Jersey. He speaks from his apartment in Rahway, New Jersey (roughly 15 miles southwest of Manhattan), often as animated in conversation as he is on record. “If anybody is saying that [about my music], they’re not really listening. With Gandhi Loves Children, some people have said it has ‘horrorcore elements,’ and I’ll correct that shit in a heartbeat. I put too much into my music to ever settle for that shit. You’re taking away from the genius and layers of the writing.”
The deluxe edition of Gandhi Loves Children (POW Recordings), Sharif’s album with producer Roper Williams (AKAI SOLO, Pink Siifu, Fly Anakin), opens with a rapped litany of real-world tragedies more unsettling than any description of flesh-shredding torture (“Tragic”). Then begins the descent into what Sharif calls his “audio spiral soup of thought,” the mind of a horror scholar with Ghostface Killah’s penchant for vivid and absurdist stream-of-consciousness darts. A sample line from the Peter Rosenberg-approved “Smithsonian”: “Hellbound side-effects, cloned on a killing spree / from the last chapter of Annie Wilkes’ Misery.” Sharif can spin from making his rap prowess part of horror-movie lore (“Arsenic”) to psychedelic braggadocio over soul loops (“Fly Pelican”). On “Murder Them,” he lacerates his vocal cords over a jarring beat that sounds like El-P scoring The Purge, voicing the personal and collective rage born of watching countless Black people murdered by police. No two songs are alike, but the fragmented verses and horror flick references from each one form a twisted mosaic of Lynchian strangeness, where nothing is too strange, sacred, or taboo. Sharif is interested in the macabre as a metaphor. Hollow shock is for horrorcore.
“To me, if you’re going to tackle a dark or taboo subject, it should be layered. That was the genius of Candyman. You can watch it and think it’s just a scary story about a man with a hook. But when you peel back the layers, there’s the slavery angle, the project angle [and so much more].”
Sharif became a horror movie obsessive the first time he and his mother watched Candyman. “I was like, ‘This feeling of scariness and unknowing — I love it. I want to keep revisiting this in films.’” During his childhood in Newark, New Jersey, his love of horror grew in tandem with his affinity for music. Sharif heard Pharoahe Monch and Chino XL from his uncle and was transfixed by ‘90s metal and grunge music videos. Somehow, the combination of these influences made Sharif a prize-winning poet in grade school. He soon transposed that talent to rap, filling notebooks for a decade before finally recording while attending Union County College.
While Sharif guested on songs to find his artistic voice, he also spotlighted his peers. For several years, he hosted on-air interviews and cyphers for “Strangers with Hip-Hop,” a radio show on Kean University’s WKNJ-FM station. The show pivoted to video but ultimately collapsed due to creative differences. Still, Sharif left with a network of rappers and producers, Roper Williams among them.
Sharif is proud of the three projects he released between 2016 and 2019, but Gandhi Loves Children was always the goal. Five years in the making, he and Williams held sporadic recording sessions before meeting during the pandemic to finish their long-gestating collaboration. Part of the delay, though, stems from Sharif’s unique, almost religious approach to recording.
“I’ll sleep to the beats. Roper might give me a beat, and I’ll put it on the speakers at my crib and sleep to it for a month straight. When I do that, I can see and hear what the beat is saying to me,” he explains. “It’s like, ‘How can I bring this picture I’m hearing to life and also make it as vivid for the listener as I see it in my brain?’”
Gandhi Loves Children realizes that artistic aim, as does its accompanying music videos. In the “Smithsonian” video, Sharif plays the lead in his self-scripted horror: a homicidal clown desecrating his victim’s corpse. You can also spot him in quasi-drag, rocking a red wig and giant black-frame sunglasses. Another project with Williams and more videos are forthcoming, but Sharif is also looking for another outlet for his layered and demented visions.
“I want to take my writing into other avenues…. I want to write a horror screenplay and direct it.”