Esham Talks Horrorcore and the "Wicked Shit"

The “wicked shit” is thriving in Denver and other places all over the world, and a lot of the credit goes to Detroit rapper Esham. Since releasing his first album in 1986 at the age of thirteen, Esham’s personalized style of acid rap has influenced rappers like Tech N9ne and Insane Clown Posse, leaving a major mark in the subgenre of horrorcore. Thirty years later, Esham Smith is still making music and expanding his community of those looking to share in the “wicked shit,” including those who who will be in the audience of the Roxy Theatre at this Friday’s show.

“The ‘wicked shit’ is a particular type of music that we do, the acid rap,” Smith says. “It’s a genre that dives into dark imagery and really mental subjects. A lot of kids choose to express themselves through this musical artform instead of violently at times, and this music originated in Detroit, Michigan.”

Smith says he coined the term “acid rap” because the rap’s content took people on a ride. “This was many moons ago, before anything like this ever existed,” Smith says. “We didn’t know what to call these rhymes that we were doing, and we were talking about some way-out-there stuff. We knew it was like doing lyrical LSD. Little did we know that while we were making these rhymes and making these records, the whole tripped-out way of recording music was about to be born.”

When Smith started his career in the late 1980s, he says he was just looking to establish himself as an artist, a company and a brand, but it took him a lot longer to develop his sound. “Slowly but surely, the 'wicked shit' caught on, and it went worldwide and seeped into some of the smallest cracks on the planet,” Smith says. “It grew into this culture, and now ICP, Twiztid and Tech N9ne and people like that share in these arts.”

Decades later, the "wicked shit" is carried on by horrorcore artists around the world. In Denver, Troll and Scum worked hard to build and keep the scene alive. “Everybody keeps it going, and we are all inspired by each other,” Smith says. “Whether it’s ICP hosting the Gathering of the Juggalos or taking the culture even further in other ways, I think we all learn from each other.”

Smith says he doesn’t label himself as the godfather or the father of horrorcore and the “wicked shit” by any means, but he agrees that he planted the seed. When he thinks about his career, Smith says he’s always just wanted to record music and write his choice of raps, something he’s continued to do over the years. “I’m constantly recording music, and I’m sure people are ready to see some of these things that haven’t necessarily been done, but everything that we do is very experimental, and when the time is right we’ll release them.”

It’s true that the world has not always been ready for Smith’s horrorcore and acid-style rap, especially since his albums have often been labeled as being Satanic and controversial. While Smith says that horrocore relies on imagery to shock people, much has changed for his listenership since he started.

“When we started doing these raps, the Internet was not out, and it was a lot harder to connect with people,” Smith says. “A lot of things people see today when we were putting images out there wasn’t there at the time, but we live in a society that’s desensitized to everything, so now we’re having to shock people on a whole new level. Sometimes we’re so far ahead of time and space that we tend to speak on subjects for which people aren’t ready, and we just have to let everybody catch up and just continue to make music and to celebrate the 'wicked shit.'”

Esham will perform on Friday, May 20, at 7 p.m. at the Roxy Theatre with Daniel Jordan. Advanced tickets can be purchased for $15 online or $20 at the door. Visit for more information. 
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Lauren Archuletta is a contributor for Westword's arts section, covering Denver's health and wellness scene. Follow her work for tips on cheap workouts and which yoga classes include mimosas and beer.