Mention the phrase "horror-core" to Poetic or any one of the MCs in the Gravediggaz, and they're likely to just smack their lips as if
to say they've heard it all before.
"People wanted it to be a novelty act and blah-blah and so forth," rapper Poetic said of the media-created tag that dogged the group's
morbid 1994 debut, Six Feet Deep. "All the bullshit with the horror-core and stuff was just something created by some writer
in New York. We came out with something so unique they had to give it a name, and then other groups came and record companies
that shut doors in our face wanted to come with the same sound."
Poetic (a.k.a. Grym Reaper) is again joined by the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA (a.k.a. Rzarector), Frukwan (a.k.a. Da Gatekeeper) and
producer Prince Paul (a.k.a. Dr. Strange) on the group's more-balanced second effort, The Pick, The Sickle and the Shovel, a
15-track journey through more lyrical darkness that finds the band abandoning the more cartoonish macabre aspects of their debut for
more street-level horror stories.
"You see, with us, everything is very conceptual," Poetic said. "And the second time we didn't want to just come the same way as we
did before, like people would expect. The concept this time around is like an inspiration, food for thought. These situations are still
prevalent in the ghettos, but it doesn't stop there. We want to inspire youth to their own solutions, we want to challenge the intellect."
Part of the challenge creeps into such unexpected songs as "Dangerous Minds" (RealAudio excerpt) and "The Night the Earth Cried." During that second song, over a loping,
gothic piano groove, the rappers tell a creepy tale of centuries-long imperialism and planetary destruction, through the lyrics: "Taught trauma/ Dropped our mama's off in Bahamas/ And Barbados/ Tobagos/ Separated us from slave boats/ Made our own brothers
"If the Earth was personified and she could speak," Poetic said, "She would have a story to tell. 'My eyes hurt 'cuz they burning holes
in my ozone layer. My stomach hurts 'cuz they dumpin' toxic waste in her belly.' The main thing is, she's cryin' for her babies 'cause
she sees so many of her children being returned to her womb. Ain't nothin' more shocking than seeing her seed dead."
Marcus Clemmons, host of the "Diggin' Deep for the Beat" hip-hop show on San Francisco community radio station KPOO (89.5),
said he quickly realized The Pick was more accessible than the group's debut. "It's definitely better than the first one," said
Clemmons, whose 14-year-old show was the first to unleash hip-hop on the Bay Area. "It's not as rough as the first one. The first one
was just too wild. It seems like they calmed down this time and are talking about things happening in the community. Not the
shoot-em-up kind of treatment from before."
Clemmons, who said he's been playing the squealing, claustrophobic "Deadliest Biz" on his Sunday show, credited the group with
avoiding the easy gangsta-rap clichés perpetrated by so many of today's hip-hop artists. "They're just doing something
different, not the old gangsta groove. It's sort of a rough version of the Wu-Tang Clan, really. Maybe an overlooked version."
"This time we're more in your face," said Poetic about tracks such as the bouncing old-school boasting of "Da Bomb" and the
million-words-a-minute walking-bass science rap of RZA's solo stab, "Twelve Jewelz."
Poetic said the group's rhymes are easier to catch on this album, which features just two contributions from Paul, who has since
removed himself from the group. "You don't have to dig as deep with the lyrics and music. We try to take our message to the people,
they can relate to the hard-core part of it, but they want to know 'what else you got?' "
It's not all depressing doom and gloom, though. The urgent message of ghetto-stress and millennial-dread is given a slightly more
upbeat treatment on "Pit of Snakes," which unfolds over a bright keyboard loop and a sample of the theme song from the '60s TV hit
"In life, there's good and bad, dark and light," Poetic said. "You look out now and it's bright as hell, but stars is out, you can't see
them 'cause they're overshadowed by a greater light, though. When night comes and you have a black canvas, you can see the
starlight. The first album was dark, but it allowed the light to be seen the second time. When you compare this to the first, you can see
the light on that one." [Tues., Dec. 9, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]