By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009
When news broke last weekend that 20-year-old Richard McCroskey had been held as a suspect in a grisly quadruple slaying in Farmville, Va., fingers quickly began pointing toward horrorcore, the subterranean strand of rap music that first brought the aspiring rapper and the victims together.
But could music have really driven McCroskey to kill his girlfriend, her parents and her friend? So far, McCroskey has been charged with one of the deaths. Meanwhile, eager for clues, the media have been zeroing in on a macabre micro-genre of hip-hop in which rappers adorn plodding beats with overblown, blood-splattered lyrics.
Horrorcore's origins date from the mid-'90s. Legendary hip-hop producer Prince Paul claims to have invented the style as a member of the Gravediggaz, a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA. The 1994 Gravediggaz debut album was morbid, campy and a complete commercial flop. Since then, horrorcore has slipped into the ether of the American underground, with popular fringe groups such as Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid occasionally entering into mainstream consciousness.
The genre also boasts a zealous fan community on MySpace -- where fans are mostly young, predominantly white and willing to appropriate both Goth eyeliner and hip-hop sportswear. MySpace is also where McCroskey and girlfriend Emma Niederbrock, 16, appear to have first connected more than a year ago. On Sept. 6, McCroskey traveled from his home in Castro Valley, Calif., to the small Virginia town for a visit. Supervised by Niederbrock's parents, the couple then traveled with Niederbrock's friend Melanie Wells, 18, to South Gate, Mich., for Strictly for the Wicked, a horrorcore festival hosted by Serial Killin Records, an Albuquerque label.
The festival featured performances by Scum, Dismembered Fetus, Phrozen Body Boy and Con-Crete & Bloodshot, whose song "Fight" cues up first on Serial Killin Records' MySpace page. The song embodies the horrorcore aesthetic: A looped Metallica riff traces circles around a thundering crunk beat while the rappers hurl clumsy rhymes in raspy voices. The music offers the sort of escapist violence and gore that heavy metal first explored in the '80s -- some of it self-serious, much of it total kitsch. "Dead Zombie" by the rapper Komatose, also on the Serial Killin MySpace page, offers the couplet, "Eating brains sloppy, I'm a dead zombie." Songs by other Serial Killin artists are extremely visceral, laced with profanity and disturbing imagery. Mental Ward's "All That Blood" accentuates unprintable verses of mutilation and murder with the refrains "Gimme, gimme all that blood" and "I'm controlled by the devil."
Serial Killin appears to have a small but loyal following. And Thursday, the wagons were circling around the record label on KillMusick.com, a popular message board for horrorcore fans. Many expressed shock at the slayings in Virginia and pledged support for Andres Shrim, a rapper known by the community as SickTanicK.
Shrim, who also runs Serial Killin, is under a hail of criticism for telling the Associated Press that McCroskey was "a good kid" and claiming that "people get the impression we're these twisted, sick individuals and we don't have hearts and we just want to talk about murder and the devil. . . . But we just want to express that other side of life."
Inundated with interview requests, Shrim posted a statement on Serial Killin's Web site saying he was no longer talking to the media: "i have said and givin all the information that i possibly could, my main points being that these were all great kids and we loved them dearly and whole heartedly, and secondly, that this genre should not be scapegoated and these kids should not be judged for the music they listened too, the clothes they wear, and us as . . . artists should not be judged or scapegoated for our choice in business ventures and entertainment."
Andrew Holiman was one of the performers at the Strictly for the Wicked festival. Holiman performs as Cyco in the group Insane Poetry, and while he doesn't identify as a horrorcore artist, he has been embraced by the genre's fans. Reached by phone at his home in South Coast Metro, Calif., he says the slayings have shocked the horrorcore community that had gathered for the Michigan festival two weeks ago.
"This was a peaceful event," the rapper says. "Like really peaceful."
The festival drew about 250 people, Holiman says, and with more than two dozen acts advertised on the bill, most in attendance were either artists or friends. Holiman says he met McCroskey, Emma Niederbrock and Wells during the event and nothing seemed amiss. Holiman doesn't think horrorcore was to blame for the tragedy that unfolded in Virginia.
He cites Insane Clown Posse's Gathering of the Juggalos -- a festival that has run smoothly for 10 summers.
"I believe this is an isolated incident," Holiman says of the Virginia case, "and the genre is being painted with a broad brush because of this tragic situation."