Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Gravediggaz's violent mixture of hardcore gangsta rap and heavy metal was labeled "horrorcore" by some in the press. The whole incident is somewhat ironic, considering the heritage of the group. The mastermind of the group, The Undertaker, is better known as Stetsasonic's Prince Paul (born Puk Huston), who has produced De La Soul among other alternative hip-hop groups. The other members include The Rzarector (RZA of Wu-Tang Clan), The Grym Reaper(Poetic), and The Gatekeeper (Frukwan; born Arnold Hamilton). Gravediggaz's 1994 debut album, Six Feet Deep, was a minor hit, breaking the Top 40 of the pop album charts and containing the single "Diary of a Madman." The Pick, The Sickle & The Shovel followed in 1997, and a year later the group returned with Scenes From The Graveyard. In July 2001, just one month before the release of their next album, group member Poetic passed away due to complications from colon cancer, but keeping with his wishes, the band continued on.

Gravediggaz - The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel (Sep 16, 1997)

Between the Gravediggaz' first album, 6 Feet Deep, and the second, The Pick, The Sickle, The Shovel, RZA became the most influential producer in hip-hop, as his productions for the various Wu-Tang Clan side projects established his distinctive, skeletal style as rap's cutting edge. So, it's a little surprising that The Pick doesn't showcase RZA, even though there are several tangental Wu members on the disc. Instead, the production team of Poetic, True Master, Fourth Disciple, Goldfinghaz and Darkim mastermind the sound of the album, which is light-years away from the violent horrorcore of 6 Feet Deep. The Pick has a layered, textured surface, filled with inventive, unpredictable samples that create a hypnotic web. Appropriately, RZA, Prince Paul, Poetic and Frukwan have smarter rhymes this time around, exploring social problems instead of wallowing in comic book gore. At times, the album's momentum sags, but overall, The Pick, The Sickle, The Shovel is a quantum leap forward for the Gravediggaz — unlike its predecessor, it's an album that reflects its creators' intelligence.

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Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Under (Mar 9, 2004)

A decade after Gravediggaz debuted in 1994 with 6 Feet Deep, the former supergroup was reduced to a less-than-super solo act for the (too) similarly titled 6 Feet Under. Frukwan is the only member who remains after the departures of RZA and Prince Paul (years ago) and the passing away of Poetic (more recently), and while his persistence is commendable, it's pretty clear he's carrying on the torch longer than most fans probably care. In fact, most fans dropped off after Gravediggaz's second album, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel (1997), believing that the joke had run its course. After all, Gravediggaz were a joke, at least initially, which is partly why RZA and Prince Paul called it a day after that second album — the joke was becoming unfunny. And just as it wasn't so funny then, it's certainly not funny years later, as Frukwan struggles to retain the essence of Gravediggaz for 6 Feet Under. He's a talented rapper, and he's diligent if anything; however, there's just no getting past the fact that the Gravediggaz shtick isn't what it once was, something that is all the more marked because of how Frukwan has titled this album so similarly to that of the group's debut, which does no service whatsoever to this ten-years-after release (except perhaps in terms of marketing). Granted, taken on its own it's a fine album that should delight anyone who enjoys horrorcore rap, which was pretty hard to come by in 2004. But no, this is not even in the same ballpark as 6 Feet Deep. That classic album was a group effort that never took itself seriously. It was fun and silly. This one is essentially a two-man effort (Frukwan raps alone and Arnold Hamilton produces everything except one track, the True Master-produced "Burn in Hell") that takes itself too seriously (the album's commemorative, borderline-hyperbolic liner notes only further that sense). Frukwan has good intentions here, but he should have let the group pass away with the loss of Poetic, for despite his good intentions his work here only does the group's legacy a disservice. Burial time has come, no doubt.

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Gravediggaz - Demo Tape

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