Thursday, February 25, 2010


To an Esham/horrorcore aficionado, I'd say the cream of his career crop starts with the Judgment Night albums (Boomin' Words had some good tracks, for sure; but it's not as consistent, and Esham comes off as a bit young & sloppy) and lasts 'till Kkkill the Fetus, dwindling down through Maggot Brain Theory, and anything after that is for the die-hards only. And the short (four song) HellterSkkkelter EP comes along right at the peak there. That would be 1992 on, as always, the Reel Life Productions label, with the familiar notice, "all songs written, performed, composed, programmed, produced and engineered by Esham A. Smith/ The Unholy."

We start out with the title track, "Hellterskkkellter" ...though I guess, technically, it has one too many "l"s to be the title track. Regardless, this song later wound up on his 1993 full-length, Kkkill the Fetus, too... this time perplexingly spelled "Hellter Skkklter." Almost as perplexingly, however, is the fact that he opted for a censored version of the track on there (especially when you consider how obscenity-filled the rest of the album is). So a line like:

"A public enemy, public figure;
Not your regular nigga."


"A public enemy, public figure;

Keepin' my hands on the trigger."


"You better murder me man, before some nigga get hurt.

Let a nun suck my dick in the back of a church."


"You better murder me man, before somebody get hurt.

Sister Mary do me work in the back of a church."

This makes our 1992 EP the only way to hear the original version.
And it's worth hearing, 'cause this is one of his better tracks. The original version opens with a spoken monologue, with Esham telling us, "just like Ice-T, you motherfuckers should've killed me last year." Actually, the one interesting thing about the edited version is that it replaces the original opening with a repeated line sampled from the Hellraiser movies, "what's your pleasure, mister?" That's actually more effectively atmospheric. But then, whichever version you're listening to, the beat kicks in to full effect with a droning heavy metal guitar riff, looped and mixed beneath some hard drums and deep bass notes that effectively suck the heavy metal right out of it, leaving you with a grimy feeling hip-hop track. A tortured horn wail on the hook seals the deal.

Next up is the sex song, "Rocks Off!," which was also included on the soundtrack album of the movie The Fear. This was later remixed on his greatest hits album, Detroit Dogshit, but this EP (and the soundtrack) include the original version. It's a little faster and the bass has a lighter tone, which sounds better to my ear. That may make it sound like the distinctions between the two versions are pretty minimal, but they actually sound noticeably different. In any case, it's not really one of his better songs (his sex songs aren't generally as fun as his crazier shit), but it does a good job of feeling really sleazy, which I assume he'd take as a compliment.

"Be-4" has a more old school feel, with some boom bap beats, a choppy flow to the rhymes and some literal old school vocal samples from The Beastie Boys and NWA. Lyrically, he's still on some wicked shit, though: "still dreamin' 'bout death, and every day is like dead. Got a screw loose and a hole in my head." This is a short song, really just a single verse with no hook, about his suicidal thoughts. Esham haters probably won't find much to like about this besides the bassline, but this is right up a fan's alley for sure.

Finally, it ends with my favorite song of the album, "Devil's Night." Like the opening song, this one takes another distorted guitar riff and merges it with ominous bass notes for a dark tone, though this one uses more classic breakbeat style drums. There's even a little scratching. The music drops out completely for the hook, leaving only the sound of sirens and an assortment of vocal samples. Lyrically, Esham takes on the subject of the real "devil's nights" in Detroit, when each year on October 30th ("mischief night" to us softies out here in New Jersey hehe), acts of arson would occur in the inner cities. Of course, Esham takes the perspective of a gleeful arsonist, "strike 'em, struck 'em; burn 'em up, fuck 'em. Firemen come? Buck, buck, buck 'em! 'Cause I'm a fireman, but I've got a gas can." It's just one of those songs where all of the elements come together perfectly to form an ideal Esham moment.

And really, that's what you could say about this EP as a whole. The styles, subject matter, production... all just come together to form a nice little highlight moment of Esham music. It makes a good intro points for new fans, and it's a solid collector's item for old ones (like all of his vintage tapes, this usually goes for $60-90 these days).

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