Excepting possibly Whodini's Haunted House of Rock from 1983, rap as a genre rarely dipped its toe into any vaguely gothic waters until the nineties when certain artists apparently concluded that the only way to take it any place beyond Straight Outta Compton was to just go all out and get with the man downstairs. It's still an odd mix, served best by Three-6-Mafia in the south, and probably NATAS from Detroit in the north. NATAS was formed around Esham, sometimes Esham the Unholy, who released his first solo album at the age of sixteen and pretty much invented Detroit rap. Specifically he termed it acid rap, drawing inspiration and imagery from the weirder, more theatrical end of rock and metal, returning again and again to dark, supposedly Satanic images as metaphors for the shittier aspects of human existence, and possibly because it pisses people off. The short version is that there probably would never have been an Eminem or an Insane Clown Posse were it not for Esham. He did it first and best where this sort of psychologically warped stuff is concerned.
NATAS - standing for Nation Ahead of Time And Space - comprises Esham, Mastamind, and TNT, the man with enough game to make the Virgin Mary suck dick and stash cocaine, it says here. They're part of the reason why I can no longer take so many of those power electronics acts seriously. Stood next to NATAS or Three-6-Mafia - both of whom it should be noted transmit their horror by means of toe-tapping beats and tunes that even the most musically inept milkman could whistle with ease - Whitehouse and their kind sound like some testy art gallery installation, everyone stood around sipping fizz and congratulating each other on how shocking are their t-shirts. Stuck in a room with Whitehouse, one is left with a bit of a headache and the faint nausea of having scoffed too many vol-au-vents. Stuck in a room with NATAS, there's always the nagging fear that they might actually mean it. Even if it's all naughty words and exaggeration and comedic bragging amounting to a nutcase waving a gun in your face, and a gun that is quite clearly only a water pistol, the threat is voiced with such force that whether the weapon is real or not is probably the least of your worries. NATAS is fucking crazy; but in a good way, possibly.
Which brings us to Wicket World Wide.Com - wicket here being wicked shit as the term referring to acid rap or whatever you want to call it, as distinct from anything to do with cricket, or for that matter musical theatre, vodka-based alcopops, or the hearty endorsement of Sophie Aldred. I'm not sure if this is the best NATAS album, but it's the best I've heard, and it's difficult to imagine one better. Musically it has its own sound, existing at a sort of tangent to the rest of hip-hop, a crisp electronic production invoking the likes of Front 242 as much as any of the more obvious sources of inspiration. The rhythms feel like knives sharpened, contrasting neatly with a deep, warm bass and the sort of virtual arrangements that don't quite exist in nature, or at least didn't when this came out; and it rocks like anything recorded by the Rollins Band without much in the way of guitar or even anything resembling the dynamics of six-strings and an overdrive pedal. Also, it's convincingly terrifying for the most part, at least up until the last few tracks which begin to take a less screw-faced tone, coming as something of a relief after the first somewhat intense hour; and the nutcase with a water pistol factor described above means that even minor instances of dating - Cyberkill, WWW.COM and others which no doubt seemed pretty fucking futuristic in 1999 - retain their menace regardless.
All of this Wicket World Wide.Com does without sounding too much like anyone else, inspiring any skips towards the next track in line, or whilst standing in an art gallery wearing leather trousers and screaming. You've gotta kill us to stop us, they promise on Metropolis - the song that Godflesh probably would have recorded had they been young black males growing up in Detroit - and this album, exhausting and addictive as it is, leaves you in no doubt of the fact.