Before there was a Dr. Octagon, a Gorillaz, a Westside Connection, or a Golden State Project, one of hip-hop’s premier supergroups was The Gravediggaz. While outlasting other cheesy “horrorcore” groups of the time, such as Flatlinerz, there was more to the Gravediggaz than just silly scary movie clich? The original point of the group, was in fact, to resurrect the dead careers of four artists that had been screwed over by Tommy Boy Records - RZA aka Prince Rakeem of “Ooh I Love You Rakeem” fame, Too Poetic from the forgettable “God Made Me Funky” and the Brothers Grym, and two members of the then (and still) defunct Stetsasonic, Prince Paul and Frukwan.
Reborn as The Gravediggaz - then known as The RZArecta, The Grym Reaper, The Gate Keeper, and The Undertaker, their debut album, Six Feet Deep (or Niggamortis, as it’s known in some countries), was embraced by the fans, some even calling it a hip-hop classic. With excellent production of RZA and Prince Paul, the often overlooked album actually poked fun at the idea of insane rappers wielding picks, sickles and shovels, through use of subtle sarcasm and inside jokes - after all - the trial of “Diary Of A Madman” was actually an attempt to find out “who killed Tommy’s boy”.
But with the astronomical success of Wu-Tang at the time, this one-time experimental supergroup project was well received by eager Clan fans that were hungry for more. This demand brought a second album, one that saw the eventual departure of Prince Paul, not to mention RZA taking a back seat to production chores, employing the Wu-Tang boardsmen, 4th Disciple, Goldfingaz, and others to produce the album. The second album lost focus of the group’s original idea - that being a musical middle finger to Tommy Boy – and used itself as a platform to mix rhymes about mental and physical torture, with strong religious ideals. While still a decent album, with memorable tracks such as “Dangerous Minds” and “Night The Earth Cried”, it paled in comparison to their debut.
With the release of Nightmare In A-Minor, the group has strayed even further from its original course, but the Grym Reaper and the Gate Keeper do their best to hold things together. RZA and Prince Paul are completely out of the picture, and sadly, just before the release of this album, Too Poetic ironically met face-to-face with the real grim reaper, losing a battle with stomach cancer. Now leaving Frukwan as the ‘Diggaz only member, this duet between he and Poetic serves as the group’s final chapter.
While not the best album in the world, props are due to these two holding the Gravediggaz together even though the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan has slipped through the cracks. The group’s overall messages have stayed the same - such as the killing of wack emcees on “False Thing Must Perish”, vivid descriptions of Staten Island street life on “Todays’ Mathmatics”, or the eternal mission of digging up the mentally dead on both “Better Wake Up” and “Bloodshed”. Each of these tracks stay close to the roots of Gravediggaz original sound, while others (successfully) mimic past classics, as “Wanna Break” mirrors “Bang Your Head” and “Burn Baby Burn” feels like “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide”.
Too Poetic goes out with a bang, still proving to be one of the most underrated lyricists of his time. In true Gravediggaz spirit, “Burn Baby Burn” shows a chilling verse describing the most traumatic experience in his life, (birth), while “Zig Zag Chamber” displays his amazing knack for cadence, timing, and vocal charisma. He played the Grym Reaper character to the hilt, and will be sorely missed.
As far as the Gravediggaz are concerned, the group’s other two members are missed as well. While Frukwan expresses his dismay for “original hypocrites turned digital” on “Today’s Mathematics”, it doesn’t help the situation, and further proves that the other two members (now three) were vital to the group’s lifeline. For every track that remains rooted in their original cemetery, several others such as “Rest In Da East”, “God Vs. Devil”, and “Nightmare In A Minor”, are sleepy enough to leave listeners resting in peace.
With the untimely departure of Too Poetic, we can assume (and hope) that this is The Gravediggaz last album. That is, unless RZArector and the Undertaker decide to meet up with the Gatekeeper late one night, and become real gravediggers. While that seems just as bad of an idea as a fourth album starring only Frukwan, the ‘Diggaz can now take this moment to bow out gracefully. R.I.P.
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