Behind the boards, Necro’s production is the stuff of legend in the game. Staying underground till he is under the ground, his beats are rotten, decaying and as grimey as a Brooklyn subway. A true grindhouse artist with a love of gritty violence, grizzly imagery and the darkest of pitch black humor – Necro’s following is one of the most loyal fanbases despite a legacy of stereotyping and dismissal from the mainstream. BeatDust caught up with Necro who is currently promoting his new Sadist Hitz compilation to take a journey through some of his most brutal and beautiful beats.
Theatre of Creeps [Circle of Tyrants]
With the recent Waxwork repressing of John Harrison’s Creepshow score filling up the vinyl shelves of hipsters and horror enthusiasts – its the perfect time to take a look back at Necro’s classic reinterpretation one of the most beloved and influential horror themes of the 1980s. “[Creepshow] is one of my favorite horror movies, it was so sick – I probably saw it when i was like 6 or 7” explains Necro. Released in 2005 for Psycho+Logical-Record’s Circle of Tyrants, sampling the track ‘Welcome to Creepshow (Main Title)’, the brooding and sickly melodies are masterfully re imagined and stitched together, creating a foundation of mind-numbing synthesized terror for Necro & friends to get gully over.
In regards to the beat itself, Necro notes “I always loved the intro music, and finally it was time to hook it up on a beat – i’m pretty happy with how it turned out, overall a solid track with some evil death rap lyrics from everyone on it”. Leaving the aroma of Harrison’s synth-led original intact, the eerie warbling keys are sped up to a head nodding 87bpm to complement the psychotic spit emerging from each emcees vocals chords. Unlike Three 6 Mafia’s ‘Mafia Niggaz’ which also flipped the Harrison sample – Circle of Tyrants embrace the tongue in cheek comic book tone of the movie within their rhymes, creating an intertextuality that is often forgotten about in the hip hop sample game.
With a sample heavy mindset and strong focus on horror and occult related theme – BeatDust was keen to ask how Necro gets down with the shovel. “At first I watched every Italian crime and horror movie from the video store, this is before the internet. The ‘Beautiful Music for you to Die to’ sample was taken right from VHS video and I cleaned it up to sound like a brand new record, what’s crazy is that soundtrack has never made it to digital or cd, so that beat would have never been made if I wasn’t such an underground digger. I’m sure there is many more jewels on VHS that will never make it to digital or cd – but it takes a special kind of dedication to watch that much VHS – when I did it was before all this internet, so it wasn’t like I could just go onto Amazon and watch The Walking Dead – back then you rented videos and dvds from the store – now video stores don’t even exist – so its a different time – does this mean you can’t make hot shit? no it doesn’t – like I said – its about the cook – but i have always been a super deep digger.”
Additionally, like most notable hip hop producers, Necro likes to keep his sample secrets close to his chest. “I dont like to speak too much on how I get shit – cause its not really anyone’s business. The reason I’m giving information [on these tracks tracks for BeatDust] is because some of them are 15 years old and its ok now for younger beatmakers to know my style in this fashion, but I don’t wanna give away how I do shit in 2014. I do my thing regardless and i do own over 5000 vinyls, ingredients are ingredients – its all about the cook and how he cooks shit – the final product.”
Overall, ‘Theatre of Creeps’ is a solid tribute to both Harrison and retro impressionistic horror. The technical artistry of Necro’s sample cuts creates a sonic collage that tightens up the loose feel of original composition – but loses none of its moody aura. When played back to back with the original, it could be argued it is one of the rare instances where the sample sounds better as a beat than it did in the movie itself.
Poetry in the Streets
A highlight on his 2001 release Gory Days, musically ‘Poetry in the Streets’ is atmospheric, elegant, and downright beautiful. Its simplicity and aching allure envelopes the listener, messaging the mentals with its syrupy orchestral backdrop that resonates a sound that is both deep and contemplative. Looking back, Necro points out “this is from a russian children’s record [the sample is from Mzuiri ‘Song of the Lamplighters’ off his 1978 release Our Friend Buratino] – in the projects we lived in Brooklyn, many Russians lived there and I probably got the record from one of their parents collection – I remember sleeping on this at first cuz it was a little childish like the record, but i made a note that it was a cool sample with pianos”.”
With sombre 16s that are in clear juxtaposition to the graceful beat – listeners are left with audio that is almost schizophrenic – musically alluring but saturated in dark, violent and foreboding texts. Unapologetically, Necro summaries this approach to his creative process stating “something about my style likes to rap death rap over piano beats – it has a mixture that creates drama.”
With ‘Poetry in the Streets’ [and various other classic Necro work] focusing heavily on sample based melodies, BeatDust asked Necro if he had ever run into sample clearance issues throughout his career. He responded “I’ve had some issues, I had to pay the singer from Coven [Jinx Dawson] for ‘Portrait of a Death Rapper’ [from Necro’s 2007 Death Rap LP], but she was cool, she didn’t push me, she let me take my time with the payment and also didn’t ask for alot, but she wanted compensation so I didn’t argue, I have no issue working shit out”. Things were not so easy in regards to Ani DiFranco, who Necro sampled [the track Used to You] for his track ‘The Asshole Anthem’ on his 2010 release DIE!. “DiFranco fucked up my entire release and cost me $100k in fuck ups cuz she got legal and sued me, she never got money, but the lawsuit and stoppage ruined my release which i invested $100k into and it put me in the red for a year and a half – now things are different , cds sell less and its all digital, so if someone has a sample issue, i can remove just that one song, and it won’t affect the whole album, so sample issues are pretty much over at this point, it can’t affect me like it did in 2010 – besides that, never had an issue, so you could say one time in 15 years of releasing records – that’s not a bad record, pretty good if you analyze it.”
Off his debut 1999 release I Need Drugs, ‘Rugged Shit’ is the audio representation of the seedy, dark underbelly of New York City. The consciousness of this beat is cold and claustrophobic – hypnotizing the listener with a high strung, seasick sense of melody.
One crucial, defining element of Necro’s ‘Rugged Shit’ sound is the drums. Taking a look behind the beat, Neco explains “ I first heard the drums from the song ‘Walk Like a Duck’ from Kurious Jorge, I actually jacked the drums from that song! [laughs], I didn’t get it from the original, but the drums were so brutal that I figured I was gonna turn it into death fest”. After a little EQ and added thickness, the result is three-dimensions of griminess, an intense boom-bap immediacy that just punches you in the face and makes you nod your head uncontrollably.
Masterful at constructing macabre audio patchwork, layering one marvelous element upon another to produce music that is both sadistic and sensual – for the ‘Rugged Shit’ beat Necro pulls his audio atoms from various unconventional and seemingly conflicting genres to create his “death rap” steeze.”The bassline is from the [German trash metal group] Kreator’s ‘Toxic Trace’ [off their 1987 release Terrible Certainty] – I played the verse riff over as a bassline – the horns are from [contemporary jazz-rock band] Blood and Sweat and Tears. The piano sample at the start of the riff is from [piano composer] Bob James – so we have a mixture of different flavors here to make the ‘Rugged Shit’ beat”. The result is a beastly assault that delivers in both density and dexterity.
Gihad [ft Raekwon & Ghostface]
As an instrumental, ‘Gihad’ is marinated in brooding psychological horror, sinister orchestration and warped chanting, all centred around a coiling lullaby like melody. The bass is heavy and so dirty you could be mistaken for thinking Necro dug it up from the grave of Cliff Burton. Musically dark and covered in shadows – Gihad comes across as a climatic soundpiece to a creepy Giallo slasher. “ I literally made [Gihad] in DJ Riz’s house 13 years before Raekwon had it – DJ Riz had asked me to hook up a beat with one of his drums – I think the drums are from a Ray Bryant record” explains Necro. “The reason he wanted to see me do it was because he was learning and he had helped me with learning too by taking me to peoples houses he knew to pick up skills, so this was a time he wanted to see my progress. I brought over a tape of samples and this music was from a horror movie in a church scene, where these little girls are singing, it was mad evil.”
Between the hype, anticipation and the risk of tarnishing the legacy of a legendary album, Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon the chef was under the gun to cook up a potent product for his 2009 release Only Built for Cuban Linx Part II. Made less than two years after the first Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the beat never sank into Necro’s consciousness. Necro points out “ I wasn’t blown away with the beat to be honest, I felt it wasn’t good enough or else I would have used it for a Necro production, something about it I didn’t like for my own use, but im glad its gotten so much love. It stayed on a beat tape/cd for years before my brother [Ill Bill] gave Raekwon an old beat cd i gave Bill, he was hanging with Raekwon around that time, and I guess to be cool with Rae more he offered my beats off this cd, I said to Bill go ahead I don’t mind, a year later Raekwon said he wanted to use it and the rest is history.”
As bold a statement as it is, nobody can touch Necro on his piano sample game, not RZA, not Havoc, not Premo – nobody. Musically, ‘Our Life’ is the soundtrack to the uneasy feeling of being followed on a rain drenched city street late at night – dark, cold and unsettling.
Off his 2003 compilation album Brutality Part 1, Necro samples Seattle based architect and former Cantopop singer Michael Kwan’s track ‘Xiao Sheng Ming’ off his 1978 release Ying Xiong Chu Shao Nian. Kwan’s sombre piano textures are so deep and mysterious you could swim in them and become the blueprint for Necro and Ill Bill to drown the listener in waves of street mentality. “[Our Life] is from an Asian record – an Asian pop record – something from the 70’s” Necro explains. “Originally I was making beats to sell and wanted to present this beat to Busta Rhymes, this is around the time he was rapping that fast flow style on beats, so thats why I made the cymbals so bugged out on this with the style of drums – it was originally my song thats why my verse starts it, but Bill needed a song that was his single for the Brutality album so I gave the song to him featuring me.”
Not relying on the rich textures of the sample alone, Necro’s layering of bass and unique dusty drum pattens work in tandem – creating a complex rhythmic tapestry so precise it nearly overshadows the ebony and ivory. This is drum decadence, percussion perfection – layers of polyrhythms and unconventional time signatures provide pace and urgency while the bass thickens up the mix with its low end creamy goodness. Besides the alchemical blending of deep piano chords with rhythmically complex drum sequence lyrically Our Life is a great combination of intelligence mixed with malice.
For both Ill Bill and Necro, the subject matter is introspective and reflective – the hood is the thief that stole their innocence young. Most telling is Necro’s line “We flip right before you expect it – because we were neglected as children now we’re hectic” adds a level of biting social commentary in regards to growing up in a single parent home within the projects in New York. They don’t demand to be understood, they don’t beg for sympathy, they are just telling their story.
‘Our Life’ is a masterful work of art in full 1080p imagery. It shows Necro is much more than “the sexorcist”, the “death rap artist” or the scapegoat. His street-oriented sound will never produce a Billboard hit, but more classics than the vast majority of critically acclaimed beatsmiths.