DUST IT OFF: Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis

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Wikipedia states that August 9, 1994 was the release date for the first Gravediggaz album, known around the world as Niggamortis but known in the U.S. as 6 Feet Deep. However, I clearly remember buying the album in late July since I had to go to Portland, 200 miles from where I live, to buy it, as no one around here was selling it and I wasn’t willing to wait a week or two for a copy (back when it had still taken that long to get music. Waiting… those were the days.)

As the story goes, this was a project steered by Prince Paul and The RZA, when they weren’t sure where their careers were going. Prince Paul lost a deal with Def Jam when his Dew Doo Man imprint failed to go anywhere after the Resident Alien album failed to be released. Bad timing had a lot to do with it too, when Def Jam moved from Columbia to Polygram. Paul was signed with Def Jam when they were on Columbia, but Paul was left behind. There has been enough talk about his association with De La Soul at the time, and after creating Buhloone Mind State for the group, it seemed his relationship with Tommy Boy Records was uncertain. When he submitted the idea for what would become the Gravediggaz, Tommy Boy weren’t interested. Not good for a man who spent a lot of time with Tommy Boy as a member of Stetsasonic.

Prince Rakeem had been hoping to make it as an MC, and did well with “Ooh I Love You Rakeem”, enough for Tommy Boy to want more. Rakeem submitted a new project to the label called the Wutang Clan (no hyphen) and they passed. Tommy Boy had already promoted the Wutang on the back of “The Source” but early demos made Tommy Boy leery of wanting to take a risk on something that wasn’t like Naughty By Nature.

The demise of Stetsasonic left Fruitkwan without a group to be with or collaborators, and while he did appear in “Self Destruction”, it was pretty much over for him. At least until Prince Paul came into the picture.

Too Poetic had been a member of the Brothers Grimm before attempting a solo career on Tommy Boy with the great “God Made Me Funky”. The song itself was actually the B-side to a house-flavored track that didn’t move anyone, but those who were impressed by the self-profressed 5’4″ MC wanted to hear more. Tommy Boy didn’t bother working with him for anything past the first single.

Thus, you had a crew of Tommy Boy alumni whose careers were not dead, but perhaps could’ve been had they not had the confidence to work together to see what could happen.

When The RZA was involved with the Gravediggaz, he wasn’t really 100 certain that the Wu-Tang would work. The release of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) really didn’t take off until four months after the album’s release in November 1993, when “C.R.E.A.M.” was released and became the jam for the summer of 1994. But even that didn’t mean anything. The Gravediggaz were not a side-project for The RZA as many have claimed over the years, but a full on project, and he was willing to work with anyone and anything to prove his talents as an MC/producer. He felt if the Gravediggaz made it, that would be his ticket out.

Looking back and going through interviews, it seems 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis was an angry album for Prince Paul. It was hardcore in a horror movie sense, but still very nerdy. Nerd gangsta? It still had an incredible sense of humor, and when you hear the album, you can tell it is very much Paul’s baby, not far from his trippy work with Stet, not distant from his De La or Resident Alien work. For Fruitkwan, it was a chance for people to hear him away from Stet, away from the dominance of Daddy-O or MC Delite. For Too Poetic, he turned his flow and intellect up a few notches and let people know what they had been wanting for years.

The eventual album freaked people out because no one in hip-hop had ever talked about chewing your own fucking arm off when you were crucified, or being placed underground and struggling to survive. Gangsta rap had been about drive-by’s and gang warfare, but the Gravediggaz used death and the afterlife as metaphors not only for their own careers, but about life in itself, how having a second chance could be beneficial if offered. The Gravediggaz were the group all MC’s and fans would be hearing when, in the words of KRS-One, you were “outta here”, they represented the afterlife of hip-hop, the same way Cut Chemist would describe it in his collage masterpiece, “Lesson 6”.

It would be labeled “horrorcore” and there would be a short-lived horrorcore movement that literally went nowhere (dead on arrival), but the Gravediggaz were always manipulators of the sounds and words in their musical toy box, as all participants in hip-hop music should be. The album was released when the Wu were very much in the air, and for The RZA, Prince Paul, Fruitkwan, and Too Poetic, it was all or nothing. Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Part II)” was also making the rounds, and as the Wu-Empire began taking shape, 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis was in the middle of the period between Enter The Wu-Tang and Method Man’s Tical, making The RZA to release the first out of the group to release a project post-36 Chambers.

It was an incredible time to be a fan of not only hip-hop music, but a Wu-Tang and Prince Paul fan. If you listen to 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis real good, some of those beats he had been using for years, or samples that had been used but he flipped to make it sinister. It wasn’t happy De La slow music, it wasn’t sinister CHRONIC music, this was an album that broke a few hip-hop taboos without anyone knowing it. Maybe by 1993, everyone started to have expectations of what the music should be, and what it could or couldn’t be. People were quick to say the music was “black born and raised” and it must speak from “the Black experience”, but with that came the stereotypes from naysayers who felt that “as a Black artist, you should always sing or speak about that. But don’t speak about that, that’s stuff white people like.” I remember briefly when the Gravediggaz were considered too dark like heavy metal. Consider this the full album equivalent of De La’s “Who Do You Worship”, if you will, the stuff that would be perfect in a horror movie but not in hip-hop.

Then again, didn’t De La and Paul come from or lived near Amityville, as shown in the “Potholes In My Lawn” video?:

Regardless of what the album was meant to be or what it became, it marked significant changes for everyone. Unfortunately it changed the dynamic of the Gravediggaz when The RZA started to have more control over the music on the second album, which was done in tandem with Wu-Tang Forever, and Paul’s input on the final version was limited. In the end, the Gravediggaz would end up being Fruitkwan and Too Poetic, who unfortunately died soon after the release of their last album after a battle with cancer. Too Poetic should have had the same respect and attention that many MC’s from the early 90’s have today, and the resurrection he spoke about was about validating himself as a true talent.

Regardless, 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis is an album that also marked a shift in how hip-hop albums were presented, and in comparison show how much hip-hop has put itself in a closet. The music that was about speaking and that freedom of expression suddenly censored and limited itself, but the Gravediggaz were very much honoring the words of Chuck D., when he said “our freedom of speech is freedom of death, you got to fight the powers that be”, even if for the Gravediggaz those “powers that be” were themselves.

Arm to the Leg, Leg
Arm to the Head
Yo, be the Rzarector
Resurrect the mental dead
G to the R to Y-M reaper
As I get deeper than a crypt, resurrect, kid!
Don’t go against the grain, mad slang is my thang
I leave the hearty party with a bang
Buzza boom check my tune, it gotcha hyper
Dont give a fuck about a sucker c-cipher
As you decipher the tricks of a viper
Swine is lethal, divine is evil!
I am original, we can build upon
The ill form and keep all your brain cells warm
Hocus pocus, yo! whats the focus?
Weak techniques you speak, the shit is bogus
Even in a mortuary, slangin’ some boom
As I seek the knowl from the womb to the tomb

Yo, deadly, deadly, YAH! get ready
Here come the styler, wilder than Freddy (dead)
Cause a Krueger, boom, I do ya
Just to let ya know Gravediggaz comin through ya
Dead stinkin’ rotten, your brainc ells forgotten
The past, you had your bumba raas pickin cotton
Now ya hate ya knotty hairstyles
I guess you figure the texture is too wild, child

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