It’s Halloween week, which means it’s time to subject oneself to haunted houses, scary movies, seances, and anything else that is likely to induce a heart attack or nightmare. It’s also time to listen to the most horrific, hair-raising scary rap music the genre has to offer: plunges into the depths of depression and other mental illnesses, descriptions of gratuitous acts of violence against women that have aged poorly, and everything in between.
This list represents a survey of the scariest, most diseased hip-hop verses ever created. Proceed with caution!
I almost left “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” off this list in favor of the rape, murder, and necrophilia of “Mind of a Lunatic.” But this list will have plenty of that type of awful stuff, and while “Tricks On Me” is less violent, the abiding sense of insomnia and discontent lingers. Even when your rap career is blowing up, your mental health is no less liable to suffer.
Scariest lyric: “I sit alone in my four-cornered room, staring at candles…”
“Earl” gained notoriety in large part to its music video, which featured bleeding nipples and a literal cocktail of drugs emulsified in a blender. But it was also a defining track for a young Earl, the rebel without a cause with plenty of “nuts to bust and butts to fuck and ups to shut and sluts to fucking uppercut.” He plies his dense, associative internal rhyme over an unhinged breakbeat laced with ribbons of static.
Scariest lyric: “Yo, I’m a hot and bothered astronaut / Crashing while jacking off / To buffering vids of Asher Roth eating apple sauce.”
A couple years after “Method Man,” which appears later in this list, horrocore group Natas released a song in a similar vein called “Torture,” in which Esham and Dice attempt to one-up each other’s torture methods, like burning women with crack pipes and murdering children for their Happy Meals.
Scariest lyric: “Masturbating while rhyme writing, wicked / Finger fucked the pussy of Jada Pinkett.”
“97 Bonnie and Clyde” picks up where “Kim” left off — in the bushes, where Eminem has just murdered his wife. It is less bone-chilling but arguably creepier, as Eminem takes his young daughter Hailie for a ride to the beach to dispose of Kim’s body. He coaxes Hailie through the entire ride, as if they’re going to the beach to skip rocks.
Scariest lyric: “Oh, where’s Mama? She’s taking a little nap in the trunk Oh, that smell? Dada must’ve runned over a skunk.”
On “41,” Three 6 disciple Pouya fast-forwards 20 years and finds himself in the one of the most terrifying predicaments any rapper can face: a full-blown mid-life crisis. He’s a desperate has-been who can no longer make a living from music, is depressed and alone, is developing a pill habit, and and has started mugging strangers at gunpoint for money. “But I spit that flame though,” he insists. Never has 41 looked so bleak.
Scariest lyric: “Bullets in the windshield of my Acura / Luckily they wasn’t accurate / I wish they took my life / 21 was fun but 41 ain’t right.”
The intro of “Diary of a Madman” is a courtroom scene in which the Gravediggaz plead insanity, “claiming demonic spirits possessed [them] to do these hideous murders.” They then ride out like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and take a verse each. In verse two, RZA finds himself in a tabernacle dungeon, starved and tortured as monks ready him for crucifixion.
Scariest lyric: “They gave me nothing to eat for two weeks and sewed my eyelids open so I couldn’t sleep / About to die from thirst, that’s when the minister quenched my jaws with a cold glass of vinegar.”
From DMX’s 1998 debut album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, “Damien” follows X’s descent after he wishes for a guardian angel and gets an insidious one in Damien. He strikes a Faustian bargain with Damien; in return for success, he becomes increasingly beholden to Damien’s every whim, even it means killing on his behalf.
Scariest lyric: “Now I’m ready to chill, but you still want me to kill / (Look at what I did for you! Dog, come on, keep it real!).”
An early horrorcore classic, “Return of Da Baby Killa” finds Brotha Lynch Hung’s narrator murdering unborn babies in the most fucked up way imaginable. The worst part is, the narrator admits he’s not entirely sure why he does it: “Season of da siccness brooding, got me tripping for no reason.”
Scariest lyric: “Pop, it’s baby killa season / Put 6 in the clip, put it up that clit / And watch them baby’s brains / Drip out that fetus.”
Big L’s debut single “Devil Son” made one wonder how an 18-year-old rapper could emerge as such a fully realized spawn of Satan. Big L appeared as an exception to the notion that wickedness is learned; the precocious Harlem native used Nas’ “When I was 12, I Went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus” line as a jumping off point for tales of his own early violent tendencies, like beating a kid to death with a wooden block in preschool.
Scariest lyric: “I’m a stone villain, known for killing and raping nuns / Ayo, I even kill handicapped and crippled bitches.”
Before they teamed up with Juicy J to form Three 6 Mafia, DJ Paul and Lord Infamous had their own duo called the Serial Killaz. “The Scarecrow” traces the origin story of Infamous’ murderous alter-ego: The Scarecrow. Spliced-in audio clips from the first Halloween movie and the fact that it sounds like Paul and Infamous recorded the song in a broom closet make the legend of The Scarecrow that much more believable.
Scariest lyric: “That’s a maniac right next door / No, I’m not an alien—The Scarecrow.”
Horrocore pioneer Esham has been serving cursed, ultraviolent raps for over 30 years. On “Nine Dead Bodies,” he recounts a nighttime killing spree that left nine victims dead. Perhaps the most disconcerting, subversive aspect of this song is the absence of traditional horrorcore signifiers, like an ominous production palette or an affectedly satanic delivery. “Nine Dead Bodies” just sounds like a Beastie Boys track.
Scariest lyric: “I’ve seen nine bloody bodies in my lifetime / Now I’m on the prowl, and it’s nighttime…”
The titles of Ganksta N-I-P’s first seven albums are The South Park Psycho, Psychic Thoughts, Psychotic Genius, Interview with a Killa, Psycho Thug, The Return!!! (of the Psychopath Still Psycho), and Psych’ Swag: Da Horror Movie. Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular and most gruesome songs of his career is called, simply, “Psycho.” It’s shockingly visceral, crammed with images like a pint of goat’s blood, a mouth stuffed with dead rats, and a crucifix stuffed with screaming cat heads. And then there’s N-I-P in the center of all of it, wreaking havoc. You can almost hear the gristle and tendons getting torn off the bone.
Scariest lyric: “Took the knife out of my neck and ate the meat out my own head / Necks and throats, being brutally torn / Arms and legs dipped in blood taste good with some popcorn.”
In contrast to Kool G Rap songs that delve into his psyche, like “Straight Jacket” and “Edge of Sanity,” “Executioner Style” paints him as a cold-blooded assassin, a ruthless scalp-hunter in a New York wilderness of predator and prey. G Rap’s ultra-precise cadence that he carries across three verses reinforces the feeling that he is probably not going to slip up.
Scariest lyric: “G. Rap been murdering niggas as a child / You can go and check my files / I’m killing executioner style.”
Many Death Grips songs deserve mention on this list, but “Up My Sleeves” is particularly jarring. The opening, stuttering refrain of is the glitch before the crash. The rest of the song sounds like if the world of Tron collapsed into a hellscape. MC Ride’s anguish and embrace of death on the first verse is an emotional bludgeon that is almost too much to bear.
Scariest lyric: “Up my sleeves, I’ll take my life anyway I can fetish Snatch my fetish, snatch it only as directed.”
The unsettling opening line of “Garbage Bag ‘94” — “my castration hand is steady” — braces the listener for the gore that lies ahead but doesn’t fully prepare you for it. Necro disembowels his victims with a war chest of power tools, and termites, maggots, slugs, and cockroaches feast on the entrails.
Scariest lyric: “My drill bit goes through the left side of your face and comes out the right / So watch out for the army of bugs, it’s the blizzard of maggots / So duck down or get covered with slugs.”
“Natural Born Killaz” is an absolute adrenaline rush that combines Dre and Cube’s complete disregard for human life with one of the most savage beats you will ever hear; an intricate, distorted, jagged melody emerges from a guitar like a shriek, and eerie strings hover in the background.
Scariest lyric: “I don’t understand the logic in my dreams / But I understand I like the sound of sirens / Terrified screams from the streams of Strychnine.”
“u” can be viewed as a kind of a portrait of manic depression. The first half frames a dark internal dialogue within a whirlwind of Terrace Martin’s anxious saxophone. The demons continue to pour out of Kendrick in the even darker second half, as he slows his roll, isolates himself, and hits the bottle as he entertains suicidal thoughts.
Scariest lyric: “Should’ve killed yo’ ass a long time ago / You should’ve feeled that black revolver blast a long time ago / And if those mirrors could talk it’d say, ‘You gotta go.’”
Cage spent 16 months in a mental institution as a teen, and when he was released, he adopted the moniker “Alex” in honor of Alex DeLarge, the sociopathic protagonist of A Clockwork Orange. “Agent Orange” samples Wendy Carlos’ Clockwork theme and takes a page from DeLarge’s playbook, as Cage runs through the song murdering people indiscriminately while fending off psychiatric evaluation.
Scariest lyric: “Spending G’s on quacks to try and fix my clock / I caught the quick lock, bugging in the institution / Whatever sanity was left, caught the execution / Psychological pollution, they sticking me with Thorazine solution.”
In the horror film Child’s Play, the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray possesses a red-headed, blue-eyed children’s doll named Chucky. In “Chuckie,” Bushwick Bill possesses Chuck, and the doll is perhaps more terrifying and violent than ever. As Bill and Chuckie prove, scary things come in small packages.
Scariest lyric: “I told you size wasn’t shit, that’s why I murdered your nieces Wasn’t my fault they found they head cut in 88 pieces.”
A skit so wickedly hilarious that it inspired an entire Chappelle’s Show skit a decade later, the “Method Man” intro finds the titular rapper and his associate Raekwon brainstorming sadistic torture methods — like walloping a pair of exposed testicles with a spiked bat — over a dice game. Then the hi-hats start ticking like a clock, and it starts to feel like your time is up.
Scariest lyric: “I’ll fuckin’, I’ll fuckin’, sew your asshole closed, and keep feeding you, and feeding you, and feeding you, and feeding you…”
Listening to “Fuckin Wit Dis Click,” the six-minute standout from Three 6 Mafia’s 1995 debut Mystic Stylez, feels like slinking around Memphis on a rainy, unseasonably cold late October night trying to avoid running into the satanic quartet of DJ Paul, Lord Infamous, Juicy J, and Koopsta Knicca. Particularly spooky is Infamous’ The Scarecrow, who murders his “patients” and whose triplet flow makes him seem all the more unstoppable.
Scariest lyric: “No I’m not a Christian / But I’m mentally ill and I don’t understand all the reasons why I think it’s killing season / And neither does my schizophrenic friends / So therefore, nigga, due to my mental difficulty / Scarecrow is only entertained by helping enemies bleed.”
An important rite of passage for every fledgling rap fan is to listen to “Dance with the Devil” for the first time (in my case, the back of Mr. Tanaka’s 8th grade science class) and sit there in awe of the longform storytelling and depths of Immortal Technique’s sadism. It’s the story of a young man seduced by the allure of gang life, and an initiation that goes horribly wrong and concludes with his unwitting rape of his own mother. “Dance With the Devil” has the feeling of a Greek tragedy, and its sample of the Love Story theme underscores its epic scope.
Scariest lyric: “They told him that she was a witness of what she’d gone through, and if he killed her, he was guaranteed a spot in the crew/ He thought about it for a minute, she was practically dead, and so he leaned over and put the gun right to her head.”
Marilyn Manson and Rammstein were accused of influencing Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who carried out the 1999 Columbine school shooting. But the musician who provided the most lurid psychological postmortem was surely Ill Bill (Necro’s older brother), who rapped “Anatomy of a School Shooting” from the perspective of Harris.
Scariest lyric: “I even killed myself, but don’t feel sorry for me / Feel sorry for your seeds who spread the disease / Another bloodbath coming soon to a school near you / Small town killing-spree that’s organized by the youth.”
Eminem really knows how to write a scene… of his hot-blooded murder of his wife Kim. “Kim” plays out over three verses and nu-metal-inflected production and culminates with a car ride en route to Kim’s murder. It’s not just the note of manic heartbreak in Eminem’s voice that sells it; it’s the rustle of the bushes as Kim flees the car, her ad-libbed cries of terror, and her gargles as Eminem stabs her and she chokes on her own blood. Truly, yikes.
Scariest lyric: “You were supposed to love me! Now bleed, bitch, bleed! Bleed, bitch, bleed! Bleed!”
One day in 2005, the rapper Big Lurch killed his roommate Tynisha Ysias while high on PCP. He had removed and eaten parts of her lungs. Police came across him in the street naked and screaming in covered in blood. Lurch is now serving a life sentence in prison. Three weeks prior to the murder, he released his debut album It’s All Bad, which featured a song called “I Did it To You.” “There’s a million ways to die, a million ways to kill,” he announces, before launching into a detailed and wide-ranging list of his would-be exploits as a fanatical murderer.
Scariest lyric: “Dead bodies and still decapitating niggas with maggots swarming ’em / ‘Cause murder’s a hobby, I’m using torture chambers and not a Ruger /So if you wake up in a puddle of blood nigga, I did it you.”