On Virginia Beach’s DP and Other Rappers Who Use Gothicism in Their Music
In 1991, Scarface appalled audiences on the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me,” opening the song’s first verse with, “At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn/Candle sticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned.” As the song develops, Scarface, along with Willie D and Bushwick Bill, unpack their paranoid consciences, using morbid and supernatural imagery to cast unsettling moods. This, and other examples set by the Geto Boys, were hip-hop’s first popularized encounter with horrorcore, a subgenre of gangsta rap that’s fueled by nightmarish themes and frighteningly imaginative narratives.
In the years that followed, just a handful of gangsta rappers and rap groups pushed the confines of violent imagery in hip-hop into detailed descriptions of death symbology and the afterlife. There is, however, a line of characters who have infused themes of gothicism in their lyrics and sonic landscapes. From the ethereal moods on A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP to the occultish tropes cast in Jay Z’s music video for “On to the Next One,” these rappers’ styles bear subtle differences from the definition of horrorcore, but it’s an important distinction, as their music goes beyond just shock value.
Combining horror, death, and fiction through repeated use of morbid tropes, motifs and symbols (tombstones, mascots of death like the Grim Reaper and skeletons, frequent references to the life cycle, etc.), their artistic intentions are deeper than to instill fear across audiences—rather, they abstractly question life’s significance by placing it in a timelined context.
Virginia Beach rapper DP is creeping up on the release of his debut project, Designer Casket, which is the latest contribution to this realm of gothicism in hip-hop. The at-hand producers, including fellow Virginians Brooklyn Taylor and Sir Yogaflame, utilize instrumental elements that are both lightless and spacey: synthetic versions of ominous electric bass, rich hi-hats and funerary organs. The sounds back his stern lyricism that treks these themes of death and darkness but weaves around progressive existential commentary.
On its introductory track, “The Burial,” the genesis of his relationship with death becomes clear. He raps, “I’m stuck in this maze and I can’t get out/ Laying in a coffin and I can’t get out.” It’s clear here that his encounters with cessation are results of his inexorably deflating environment and the discouraging pressures of his reality. “Living in dark places, I always grew up thinking about death,” he says. In this comment and these lyrics, he’s pointing out the that the trappings of his living conditions intrude on his internal struggle with self-discovery, ultimately forcing him to question the merit of his physical existence.
On “Jabar,” the project’s leading single, DP rhymes, “It’s like the dark side be talking to me/ You hear that bark, that’s the dog in me/ And the streets watching me.” Here, he illustrates his perception of life as a compounded sequence of evolutions, or multiple lives within a single lifetime. To him, one will face a series of deaths in his life, which initiate internal rebirths of the self. In his case, attractive temptations of fame and the comfort that comes with monetary security are written into the words of his street life’s death sentence.
But there are more lives to come, and on a broader scale, the time between physical birth and death is a mere factor in the equation of one’s presence—another one of DP’s vitalist perspective that unfolds on Designer Casket. He approaches his music as nonperishable, with a mindset wherein creative contributions of self-expression transcend the existential significance of physical life. “You never know when you’re going to die, and when you do, people will forget about you,” he says. “The music is going to last longer than any of us.”
These ideas, shared by DP and other rappers who express gothic themes in their music, pose important questions that correlate the lifespans of our physical selves with those of our contributions. Most importantly, they paint portraits of life’s preciousness that allow us to consider our post-death existence.