RIP Wes Craven, hip-hop's favorite horror director

This was actually a pop album, but you get the idea.

This was actually a pop album, but you get the idea.

Last month horror fans were saddened with news of fright master Wes Craven’s death. An innovator of the genre, the visionary behind classic franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream sadly expired at 76 after a long battle with brain cancer.

But while fanatics across the film world paid their respects, and the darker offshoots of the rock community paid understandable homages, Craven's unlikely legacy in the hip-hop world remained unsung. Surprisingly, Craven is perhaps second only to Spike Lee in terms of movie directors getting name-checked by rappers. Invoking Craven is a loaded name-drop that, along with just being a cool-sounding name to say, carries with it an array of applications for wordplay as varied as the scares in Craven’s filmography.

Any casual searching of “Wes Craven” and “rap lyrics” brings up dozens of different examples across everything from '90s boom-bap (Method Man’s “Johnny Blazing, nightmares like Wes Craven” on GZA’s “Shadowboxin’”) to horrorcore (Brotha Lynch Hung’s “I'm Wes Craven on paper, so plug yo pussy clips / Cause I get sicker than a syphilis dick” from “Die; 1-by-1”) to even the battle raps of today (John John da Don telling Math Hoffa “These clips got my Smith in Wes Craven to shoot the horror movie,” a nod to his Smith and Wesson gun craving to shoot at his opponent). 

As for the impact of his films, you can find allusions to them going back to rap’s Golden Age. During his Fresh Prince days alongside Jazzy Jeff, Will Smith recorded the unauthorized “A Nightmare on My Street” about encountering Freddy Krueger. This lead to the Fat Boys officially working with the character on the single “Are You Ready for Freddie” from 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which featured Krueger actor Robert Englund rapping in character.

But instead of just being an '80s pop-culture fad like beepers and zodiac signs, references to Craven continued. Gravediggaz’s 6 Feet Deep, often considered the finest horrorcore hip-hop rap album ever released, featured member Gatekeeper (formerly Frukwon of '80s rap group Stetsasonic) boasting, “Deep in every step of blood like Wes Craven.”

The references weren’t relegated to niches like horrorcore. Even on the highly commercial side of hip-hop, you had artists like Charli Baltimore who, on Cam’Ron’s “Horse and Carriage (Remix)” opened her verse, “I thought I already barked on cats about Westhaven / It ain't work, gotta Scream on cats like Wes Craven.”

So why has Wes Craven, out of all the directors in the film world, had such an influence on hip-hop? To get the answer, we spoke to veteran MC and film expert R.A. the Rugged Man, who actually once interviewed Craven about the director’s influence. 

“When rap started peaking, A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the biggest series ever," R.A. tells City Pages. "In the Golden Era of hip-hop, Craven was the known horror director. In the '90s comes Scream, the most famous franchise of that era. In the '80s Golden Era and the '90s classic commercial era of hip-hop, Craven has the most popular horror film of both eras. He was the master to that generation of MCs."

And the Craven shout-outs continue today with Danny Brown’s 2011 track “Outer Space,” where he boasts, “You safe havens, I'm Wes Craven with X cravings.” Even Lil Wayne in 2009 on “Sacrifice” declared, “You scary ass rappers, on the beat I'm Wes Craven.” In terms of the terminology of the hip-hop landscape, Craven’s reputation is one of the definitive trump card as the master of horror. It’s just one more aspect to his work’s tremendous impact.