In a world where hip hop dominates the music business, its roots as a genuinely challenging genre seem a world away. This is one of the reasons why we’re so excited to get our hands on The Money Store, the debut album by Death Grips, which follows their killer mixtape Exmilitary from last year. It’s a reminder of the fact that when hip hop abandons its tiresome obsession with idiot materialism and posturing, it can still sound vital and relevant. And it also got us thinking about the days when there were some truly, and even refreshingly, frightening people working in the genre — so here are some artists who’ve terrified the establishment and/or your correspondent over the years. (And no, we’re not including Big Lurch — PCP-catalyzed cannibalism is a whole category of its own.)
Sure, Flavor Flav is reality TV’s cuddliest lunatic these days, and Public Enemy are more respected elder statesmen of the rap world than they are harbingers of the imminent doom of American society. But you can see why the group terrified the white establishment when they first appeared — a fiercely literate and very angry MC, a gurning nutcase with a clock around his neck, and a DJ who went by the name “Terminator X,” backed by music that sounded like a tape deck disintegrating and three large men who looked like they were part of some sort of paramilitary terrorist group. It’s no wonder they had right-wing shock jocks the nation over choking on their collective cornflakes.