- by Florian Meissner Rating:10 Release Date:1994-08-04 Label: Gee Street
The mid-1990s were a good time for hip hop. However, all these 1995-1999 classics came from a dark place. A few years earlier, in 1989, Tommy Boy Records gave us some of the most important albums of the time and some of today’s classics. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising was released, as was Poetic’s uber-single “Poetical Terror”. Rakeem, today better known as The RZA, had also dropped some fire with “Ooh I love you Rakeem”, and the Beastie Boys released the classic “Paul’s Boutique”. Fast forward five years, and Poetic and Rakeem had problems with Tommy Boy, while De La Soul’s next album De La Soul Is Dead had flopped.
Rakeem started working with some friends and family on a new project, calling himself The RZA, but this new project, which would become the Wu-Tang Clan, wasn’t really anywhere yet. So in simple words: when Prince Paul, Frukwan, Poetic, and RZA decided to get together and make an album, they all were in a bad place both financially and mentally. No wonder, 6 Feet Deep, which was also known as Niggamortis, turned out as dark and sinister as it did.
But the thing is: as dark as Niggamortis sounds at first, when you take a closer listen you quickly realize that this album is actually more than just an album to get rid of their frustrations towards Tommy Boy Records, the scene, and their failing careers. It’s also a way to do whatever they god damned pleased to do – and that’s probably why this album is one of the greatest of the mid-90s. No label dictated the sound, no creative director tried to shape them a certain way. By making it as dark as possible, both lyrically and musically, it gave the four protagonists all the freedom they didn’t get in their other projects. They could just get completely crazy, and try things they wouldn’t be able to try with their major deals.
Just look at RZA’s first line on the album: “RZArector, ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha/Hooah, hooah, hooah, hoo!” – definitely not a lyrical masterpiece, but it makes sure you understand what is happening here from the beginning: this is four artists having fun, going crazy, and doing whatever they please. But it was also a warning: don’t take anything you hear on here seriously. It’s all in good fun, like a horror movie is made to make you feel scared, but not to make you commit gruesome murders. With their dark sound and dark humour, Gravediggaz’s Niggamortis became one of the most influential albums for the subgenre of horrorcore. And, unlike many other albums from the time, it has aged very well. Most of the topics they are talking about are timeless, making this album just as forceful as it must have been over 20 years ago.
Interestingly, the album has two titles. It took Gravediggaz a while to find a label that would release their album. None of the members wanted to work with Tommy Boy (and, looking at the ongoing feud between Tommy Boy Records and De La Soul that is still raging today rightfully so), but none of the other big labels, including Def Jam, was willing to put the album out. However, the little underground label Gee Street decided to release the album. They only wanted the title to be changed from Niggamortis to 6 Feet Deep, as to not to estrange the American audience. Their bravery got them a 36th place in the charts, making 6 Feet Deep the most successful release the label had ever released. In Europe, the album was released under its original title Niggamortis.