The genre witch house started almost accidentally in 2009, when Travis Egedy of Pictureplane and Jonathan Coward of Shams came up with a tongue-in-cheek name to describe the dark dance music with "witchy, occult vibes" they were making. From there, it spread across the internet, becoming a micro-genre that included almost any electronic band that incorporated slow tempos, aggressive software drums, noise, drone, and shoegaze elements in their sound, and occult symbols and gothic imagery in their look. During its peak of popularity, around 2010, one of the biggest criticisms against witch house was how it was appropriating its signature screwed-down vocals and drum programming from Southern rap music. Four years (nearly two decades in internet-time) later, multiple independent rap movements are taking cues from formative witch-house groups like Crystal Castles, Salem, Crim3s, and White Ring, somehow keeping the seemingly obsolete genre alive and making some of the best, weirdest emo/goth/trap you'll hear all fall.
LA-via-Virginia rapper Black Kray's new album 700 DAGREEZ (released October 17, "Brick Squad Day," the holiest of trap holidays)—his third full-length on his own Goth Money Records imprint—is just the latest VHS-lens glimpse into his weird world of raps about flip phones, depression, Nascar, and random facets of mid-'90s/early-'00s pop culture. Delivered in a hypnotic chant and a voice as slurred by blunts and opiates as it is warped by reverb and Auto-Tune, his lo-fi, DIY sound and aesthetic owes as much to dub and witch house as it does to the kind of Southern rap his label name invokes. Kray and Goth Money's music and style is a distillation of the golden-age baller values of No Limit and Cash Money Records (gold teeth, Hummers, being a "soljuh") through a new-school internet-occult filter ("chillwave" textures, left-field samples, and a general air of nonconformity) resulting in an intersection of influences that replaces the crosses and delta symbols in witch-house song titles with dollar signs and emoji.
Fittingly, this movement also has roots here in Seattle. Black Kray was one of the only featured artists on local rapper Key Nyata's most recent (and impeccably titled) album, Cosmic Dad, which incorporated witch-house influences on several tracks ("De4thstar" features Nyata rapping over celebrated witch-house producer oOoOO's "The South" from his 2013 Without Your Love) and stands as his best release yet. Nyata's (who recently left Seattle for LA) new sound can be traced to his newfound freedom after his departure (or "graduation," as he called it) from the extensive Raider Klan internet collective he came up with, combined with his collaborations with West Seattle's Mackned, a rapper/producer who already made a name for himself locally as part of rap-goon collective Moor Gang, but pushed past his early booming-drums/ambient-sample rap beats into a dark, spacey, buzz-saw-synth territory that he and Nyata have dubbed "Thraxxhouse." As the name suggests, it's witch house in nature, but even more indebted to Bay Area rapper, internet celebrity, theorist, and #Based architect Lil B—namely his 2009 I'm Thraxx mixtape, one of his first pushes into the prolific, crazily influential career he's known for today.
The first Thraxxhouse song was a simple collaboration between Key Nyata and Mackned called "FYB" that featured them trading verses over an eerily-ambient-but-hard-hitting beat produced by Ned himself, and sampled the opening lines of Lil B's viral classic "Like a Martian" into a vulgar/awesome hook. It was premiered live at last year's Macefield Music Festival in Ballard (much to the crowd at the Sunset's puzzlement), and set the course for the two artists' June 2014 releases (the aforementioned Cosmic Dad and Mackned's Aquarian God Form) and their subsequent collaborative Thraxxhouse mixtape, released on July 4 but way better suited for Seattle's cold, gloomy months than the summer heat (save for its runaway hit "GTA"). Since then, the Thraxxhouse movement has spread like a Twitter meme, with like-minded rappers and producers from all over the West Coast and beyond joining up. Many of its central producers—Jayyeah, Mystic Phonk, Yung Bruh, Ghoste—also work regularly with Black Kray (check Jayyeah and Ghoste's work on "ALL WHITE RAIN" and "THUG LUV" from 700 DAGREEZ for prime examples) and other Goth Money affiliates. Searching a bit further reveals connections to other post-#Based, post–Raider Klan LA imprints like Bones' TeamSESH, Xavier Wulf's Hollow Squad, and Chris Travis's Water Boyz. All of a sudden, there's a widespread movement that's unapologetically more interested in making emo-goth Auto-Tune ballads or spooky rave-trap bangers than "staying true to hiphop."
But influence isn't just limited to the occult sound and style of witch house—the lyrics are deceptively heavy, with a depression that goes a lot deeper than most of the so-called "sad" rap that's been popular on blogs for the last year or two. "Gotta get away, my friends don't wanna live no more/I be cryin', smokin' dope," Black Kray says on 700 DAGREEZ track "30 GOTH TEARZ." And after hearing some of the drug references in his other songs ("Shawty sniff brown," he declares in one of his Soundcloud singles; the new album features an interlude sample from Cash Money artist B.G. talking about being "full of that heron"), the type of dope he's smoking is uncertain, but it's definitely for coping. Key Nyata's Jayyeah-produced, Mackned-featuring "IWannaDisapp3r" begins, "At this point I'm at on earth, I can't tell what's real no more." In Mackned's self-produced, Crystal Castles–sampling "CRSTL CSTLE [DESTROYING OF THE EGO]," he acknowledges: "Facin' all these demons when I stare inside my soul/But I know to overcome it gotta face 'em on my own." It's this underlying honesty and dissatisfaction with the way things are in the world that make Goth Money and Thraxxhouse's movements deeper than the average internet-rap wave. All these goth, emo, occult, or witch-house elements are exorcisms of the demons that the fucked-up, plugged-in, overstimulating modern world are haunting young people with.