Why do so many rappers find inspiration in Marilyn Manson?
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Manson confirmed his status as hip-hop's unlikeliest muse recently when he guested at Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival. But why are Scott, Lil Uzi Vert and Rico Nasty such big fans?
Marilyn Manson recently made headlines – as he's been wont to do for the past three decades – for his appearance at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival. The second annual Houston event featured performances by the likes of Migos, DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, Young Thug and many other hip-hop stars du jour. To the uninitiated, the 50-year-old shock rocker’s presence on a bill full of rappers half his age may have registered as puzzling. However, for anyone who’s been tuned into hip-hop’s visual, spiritual and musical influences over the last few years, Manson’s cameo was actually more fitting than a guest spot from, say, 50 Cent would’ve been.
In a 2017 Billboard interview, Lil Uzi Vert – who broke out of the “SoundCloud rap” scene to become one of the biggest hip-hop artists in the world – claimed that Manson was his “greatest inspiration”. He backed up his claim by shelling out $100k / €90k / £76k on a custom gold chain of Manson himself. Vert’s obsession with the rocker was, at least until the Astroworld show, the most prominent example of hip-hop’s new guard embracing him as their controversial figurehead. However, in virtually every corner of hip-hop’s current landscape, Manson’s presence is hard to avoid.
In the last couple of years alone, Travis Scott, model Amber Rose, Def Jam A&R VP Alexander “AE” Edwards, and rising rapper Rico Nasty have all been spotted wearing Manson t-shirts. Florida rapper Ski Mask The Slump God (a former collaborator with the late XXXTentacion) recently teased clips of himself rapping over Manson’s 2003 song, This Is The New Shit. Metallic rapper Ghostemane sampled a Manson interview in his 2016 track Wishers Lose Copper Dreamers Lose Everything. And 22-year-old Maryland rapper Breezy Supreme, who sometimes goes by the alias “Maryland Manson,” is entirely indebted to him.
“He inspired me to just do what the f*** I want,” Breezy tells us in between anecdotes about burning bibles, rapping about demons, and getting kicked out of his grandmother’s house for fashioning his dreadlocks into devil horns.
Obviously, there’s a clear lineage of Manson’s relationship with hip-hop that predates the current era. Although he’s by and large a metal artist who draws from industrial, glam and punk, Manson has always had a hip-hop flair in his own music, whether it’s an early hit like Lunchbox or his semi-successful attempt at nu-metal, 2003’s The Golden Age Of Grotesque. Between his deadpan delivery, his lifelong love affair with rhyming couplets, and the thumping drum machines that prop up so many of his songs – featuring rhythms better suited for lyrical flow than metal shredding – Manson has always cruised in a lane that can feasibly intersect with hip-hop.
Manson was featured on DMX’s 1998 song The Omen, name-dropped in Eminem’s monumental clapback The Way I Am, and in 2013 he even hopped on a song – as well as an entire tour – with trap legend Gucci Mane. That same year, Kanye sampled Manson’s iconic The Beautiful People on the Yeezus track Black Skinhead, and in 2017 Rick Ross reportedly said “it’s his dream” to work with Manson on a project. But even these interactions with now-veteran rappers pale next to the interest shown by the current hip-hop generation. For rappers now in their 20s, who grew up in the MTV and Total Request Live (TRL) era that Manson thrived, the self-proclaimed God Of F*** is a legitimate aesthetic and musical reference. Or at the very least, a spiritual guide for their own generation’s creative headspace.
“He made lyrics for people who were depressed or suicidal, or just wanted to rebel against everything,” says Breezy. “He made music for the teenage mind.”
Like many Manson fans, Breezy was initially drawn to him for his provocative visuals. He remembers seeing a Manson interview on TRL when he was only six years old and was immediately struck by the way he dressed and carried himself. “I was like, ‘I’ve never seen a dude do this before,’” he explains. “Because I didn’t know anything about Prince, so he was the first dude I’d seen doing it.”
LA-by-North Carolina rapper Ka5sh, who also cites Frank Ocean, Future and Fall Out Boy among his influences, says he too was awestruck the first time he saw Manson. “He was the weirdest person I’ve ever seen. Like, the only other reference I have for someone like that [who’s] not a cartoon is maybe Dennis Rodman?”
London’s experimental rap-rocker Kid Bookie, who recently released a song with Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, says The Beautiful People music video was “on repeat” from the first time he saw it. “It used to f*** with me,” he says. “The imagery, [the] video aesthetics, it was so f***ing creepy and it inspired me [to] my f***ing core. I'm a horror fanatic so anything with a darker theme was instantly stuck in my head.”
For 20-year-old Florida rapper SHADI, who's signed to the experimental Deathbomb Arc label, home to fellow hip-hop provocateur JPEGMAFIA, Manson’s schtick didn’t mesh with the era of hip-hop he grew up listening to. “To be honest, when I was first introduced to Marilyn Manson I probably looked at that s*** like it was weird and off-putting,” he says. “Because I was raised on gangster hip-hop culture.”
He inspired me to just do what the f*** I want
“But the more hip-hop evolved into the new age,” he continues, “that aesthetic, and even elements [of] the music, have bled into hip-hop.”
For 27-year-old Ka5sh, the decade he and his peers came up in was all about “embracing the inner weirdo” – in stark contrast to the rap that dominated the mainstream in the 2000s and prior.
“Like, before 2010, we didn't have a lot of weird rappers [who] weren’t scared to wear dresses and s*** – or even weird black people, to be honest,” says Ka5sh, who spent his fledgling years in a rap group called Weirdo. “We had, like, Andre 3000 and Busta Rhymes maybe? I feel like everyone fit into a certain mould and a lot of motherf***ers were scared to express themselves. I think [Marilyn Manson] represents a rebellion of what’s expected of us and what everyone thinks is normal and OK to do.”
In the past decade, there have been androgynous rappers like Young Thug and boundary-crushing figures like Tyler, The Creator, who’ve been enormously successful for pushing buttons both musically and visually. And while neither of them have explicitly tapped Manson as an influence, Breezy wagers that Manson’s fingerprints are more ubiquitous on today’s hip-hop culture than people will ever admit.
“For our generation, Manson was the first dude wearing make-up, heels, just a bunch of weird s***,” he says. “Everything comes full circle, so you see a lot of dudes doing it now. Whether you know it or not, this is low-key inspired by some Manson s***. This isn’t rap culture anymore – it's officially made the cross.”
Although hip-hop and rock have been latching on to one another for over 30 years, the 2010s marked the first moment when rap had more commercial and cultural pull than rock, and, in Breezy’s mind, Manson was one of the few rock figureheads who survived the hand-off. For rappers of Breezy’s age, who see themselves as the punks in hip-hop’s timeline, Manson is one of the few idols of their lifetime who represents what they stand for.
Everyone is weird as s*** now, everyone has loud, crazy personalities
“Green Day or some s*** like Nickelback were just standing there playing their music,” he says. “Manson was breaking s*** on-stage, he’s beating up the band members. F*****’ cursing out the crowd, cursing out everybody, stage pyrotechnics.”
Moshing and stage-diving are now essential parts of Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert live performance. They're pulling stunts previously synonymous with hardcore punks, rockstars like Manson and pro wrestlers.
“You know how rappers used to perform back in the day?” Breezy says. “I'ma walk back and forth onstage grabbing my crotch. Like, that was the standard rap concert. Now, rap concerts are like rock concerts. There’s crowd surfing, the pits. And Travis Scott was one of the first crossover artists because he made the term ‘raging’ a popular thing. Everyone was raging, moshing. He’s like, ‘F*** it, let’s turn up, let’s mosh pit, I'ma front-flip in this crowd.”
“Same with Uzi,” Breezy continues. “Uzi says he’s a rockstar and I’m like, ‘Yeah, Uzi’s a rockstar’. Granted his music is 100 percent rap, I rarely hear any rock influence. But Uzi’s performances are rock performances. To climb on top of the big speaker of the stage and front-flip on the crowd. That was some Jeff Hardy, CM Punk-rock. You coulda died, you had no idea anybody was gonna catch you but you were like, ‘I’m gonna take this chance.’ No rapper would’ve done that back in the day.”
In SHADI’s opinion, the influence of Manson and his ilk is more vibe than a specific sound. “More of the kids should listen to the music and insert that energy and aesthetic into their own sound,” he says. “But rap is becoming more of an open playground to express yourself and that’s just a symptom. People want to be rockstars”
And part of being a “rockstar” is being a personality, which Ka5sh believes is a cornerstone of the current era, given the sheer influx of releases making it harder to stand out. “Everyone is weird as s*** now,” he says. “Everyone has loud, crazy personalities. It’s the only way to stay popping now and keep everyone's attention. If you’re not here to shock and entertain people, you'll get left behind in the sea of thousands of artists all coming out right now.”
For someone like Breezy Supreme, who says he’s received death threats for posting videos of himself burning bibles in his religious hometown in Maryland, there’s been no better inspiration for embracing his own weirdness than Manson himself.
“He was the one who put the idea in my head that bad publicity is the best form of publicity,” he says. “F*** it, I’ll do what I want and there’s gonna be people who hate it. But there’s gonna be people who love it and love me for being me, and that’s kind of the way I look at s*** now. I don’t think I would’ve had the guts to do any of this s*** if I didn’t see Manson doing it first.”