For the past few days Bushwick Bill and I have been going back and forth trying to get on the phone to talk horror movies. He tells me he's recently had some dental work done and is on some pretty serious pain meds. He's just come left a store where he'd planned to buy ginger ale, but instead came out with a few cans of fruit cocktail. According to Bill he'll have to drain the syrup since he's not supposed to have too much sugar. He seems busy. I tell him I'll call back in a few hours.
If you're unfamiliar with Bushwick Bill, the Jamaican-born rapper made his name as part of Houston rap crew The Geto Boys, who formed back in '86. Bill is also a horror movie superfan: he raps about his mind playing tricks on him and being a real life version of the creepy-ass possessed doll, Chucky from Child's Play (which he spells with an "ie" in the title for the eponymous song). Maybe the craziest BB factoid is that in '91 Bill's ex-girlfriend accidentally shot out his eye, he was then declared dead only to wake up in the morgue very much alive. This might be another reason Bill knows what's up about horror. (For the full skinny on that bananas story, in his own words, click here. By the way this story includes Bill getting wieldy with a vacuum cleaner.)
This Friday Bill will be hosting a screening of Child's Play at Hollywood's Cinefamily for a regular and most excellent series called A BAND AND A MOVIE (next up Cass McCombs showing Dusty and Sweets McGee). Afterwards Bill will perform live, and the whole shebang is to be captured by a team of filmmakers who have been following the rapper for the past three years, shooting the forthcoming doc Bushwick Bill: Geto Boy (They're currently crowdsourcing to fund the film's music licensing. Check out the teaser here.)
Here's what the self0described inventor of horrorcore rap has to say about the appeal of scary flicks, censorship, and how he's never practiced dark magic.
Noisey: Tell us a bit about your obsession with all things horror-fying.
Bushwick Bill: For me the whole horror thing starts with Edgar Allen Poe and "The Raven." I saw Vincent Price do that movie. As a kid I watched Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man and all that stuff from the 70s on up, and how the whole thing changed and grew. Then I did my research that Frankenstein was actually told at a sleepover and it was a female that wrote, it not a male… that was pretty interesting. My interest goes from Bella Lugosi to all the different people who played vampires. I always found it interesting how the moon could turn somebody into a werewolf, how the sun could make people move into the shadows. Another thing I used to love to watch that made me intrigued with horror was The Outer Limits. It sums up a lot of what I'm saying. And Twilight Zone too: They showed you a different level of horror—the way common individuals might pick up a moon rock and turn into this, that, and the other thing. And if you think about it, the interest in horror is like the interest in being a super-being. There are these little moments in life where if you're under the right stars and the right light hits you, or when the northern lights are going by you could become a superhuman being. To be able to be bigger than who you are, I think people have always been fascinated with that. That you could turn into a werewolf and be strong, or that you could use electricity and bring something back to life.
It's not an obsession so much as it is an authority of "what if?" What if you had to wake up and actually see zombies? The whole horror thing is a break from the monotony just like the whole superhero thing is also a break from the monotony. There are people who are powerful that can be good and there are people that can be powerful and be bad. We have an obsession with the unknown. What's really out there in space? What's at the bottom of the ocean? The farthest, deepest caves and crevices of the ocean. Are there giant sea monsters? Giant octopuses? Giant catfish that eat people? We're fascinated by the fact that someone even had the creativity in their mind to come up with a sleepover story like Frankenstein. How do you think on that level? The creativity of the human mind is what fascinates me about the whole horror thing.
What was the first scary movie you loved as a kid? Did you always gravitate towards horror growing up?
The first one would have to be Dracula, but if you want to talk about the scariest, it would have to be The Exorcist. I saw that back in the 70s. I used to always check under my bed before I went to sleep after seeing that one. [Laughs.] And I'd always check in the closet and make sure everything's cool and then go to sleep with a nightlight or something. After I saw The Exorcist it took me a while before I could fall asleep—that girl's head turning around and throwing up all that pea soup! And remember when she was stabbing herself with the cross—that was like, hold up! She has the cross and she's stabbing herself with it? For a kid to see that, I was like, "What the hell?" And then when they took the holy water and it didn't do anything I was like, "WHOA!" We were all Catholics when I was younger and I didn't go to a Baptist church until I was 10 so to see that was shocking!
Tell me about Chucky being one of your alter egos and the song "Chuckie" from the LP We Can't Be Stopped.
Chucky is the original. I watch every single horror movie—from Underworld to Hellraiser to Evil Dead 1 and 2—I've watched 'em all but with Chucky, he was my size! I was joking around with the idea—wouldn't it be funny if Chucky was ghetto? What would he sound like and what kind of situations would he deal with? So I sat there and watched the movie over and over again, and in my mind instead of looking at Chucky being white I looked at him as being ME. Then I started looking at scenes in the movie as being me in the hood and that's how I came up with the concept [for the song]. And then to get some of the fantastic things that you hear in there, I called Ganksta N-I-P over to my condo and I was like here's what I got so far and we came up with the rest together. He came up with the BBQ broke legs and all of that good stuff I wouldn't have thought of.
Like eating a dog's brain?
That actually came from Halloween when Michael killed a dog and cooked it. Remember that? So everything in that song came from different horror movies while still maintaining myself as Chuckie. But if you notice one thing, I never did mess with any of the incantation stuff, any of the conjuring of spirits. if you listen to the song I didn't really add any of that in there.
Despite being from the Caribbean?
I understand witchcraft being from the islands. You can't be from the Caribbeans and say that you don't know voodoo or don't know about it. Or that you don't know someone who has practiced it. It's just that in my family we never did. People in extreme impoverished situations if they ain't reaching out to God, they reaching out to the other side.
If you were raised Catholic were you taught to fear witchcraft a little bit?
You have to understand, if other people would do it you would know about it and you would hear about it. I mean, people who got buried and then other people would see them—the family members seeing them around the neighborhood or knocking on their doors. I just remember my grandmother, God rest her soul, telling me if people knock on the gate in the middle of the night and you don't know them don't let them in. A lot of times as a kid I would hear them. They would call those people Duppies. Remember Bob Marley had a song about chasing Duppies? That's what that's about. People who were supposed to be dead coming back and seeing them in the neighborhood. Kind of like the movie the Serpent and the Rainbow. It's really like that on the islands. I was just fortunate that we didn't practice what was common practice in my family.
RIP Wes Craven.
Yeah man. definitely. His mind was out there. Between Wes Craven, Edgar Allen Poe, and Hitchcock—I mean, whew—they came up with some stuff! Can you imagine Psycho in that era from when it was done? I mean a woman is just taking a shower and someone comes and stabs her. I mean, who does that?
You dealt with a lot of censorship issues back in the 90s. What do you think about violence in music and movies nowadays?
Back with Def American [now known as American Recordings] and Rick Rubin, Geffen said I was sexist, racist, indecent, and misogynistic. But if you want to talk about censorship I can take you back. I'll take you far back to classical music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was considered racy and the music didn't even have any words to it. He was being censored, music with no lyrics Music will always be censored when it's not considered appropriate by those who only like it a certain way. To me that's like a communist mentality. The violence in rap music is based on where people grew up at. Will Smith is talking about parents just don't understand and girls ain't nothing but trouble because these are the things he grew up around. If you're in the inner cities and ghettos you're gonna rap about crime. You're used to seeing violence. Poverty brings people to drastic measures and that's what the hardcore gangsta rap scene is about. It's called freedom of expression. People should be allowed to express what they've been through, what they've been able to familiarize themselves with.
Back to Halloween, it's my favorite holiday because it's about dressing up as what scares you in order to ward it off. Is that what horrorcore rap is kind of about?
Well I invented horrorcore rap actually. When I did "Chuckie" and when I did "Mind of a Lunatic"—there was nothing like that. And it was just from my love for Hitchcock and Wes Craven and Orson Welles. I mean just think about it: Orson Welles got on the radio and read War of the Worlds and people killed themselves. So when I think of Halloween I think of Orson Welles and how the fear of the unknown can actually cripple and paralyze people with fear.
The idea [for horrorcore] was lyrical Hollywood—to take it and make a rhyme for people in the neighborhood. Living in New York and in Texas and seeing how people in the streets move, you know. There's hardcore hip-hop which talks about violence, crimes, people abusing authority. I wanted to come up with something different and it worked out. To me it was like my version of heavy metal where things get dark. It's a stretch of the imagination.
Are you excited about the screening?
Oh yeah! It's going to be interesting. For me to have watched the movie so much and then come up with a theme to it in rap and then have the movie shown and perform the song, it's like coming full circle. I consider it an honor to be able to do such a thing.
Watch Child's Play at Cinefamily Friday 10/30 at 10 PM with a special performance by Bushwick Bill and the filmmakers in person. Get tickets here.
Rachel Fernandes is a writer, film producer, and programmer living in Southern California. Follow her on Instagram.