For as influential as Chief Keef is in hip-hop, it’s hard for the average rap fan to point to an artist that was birthed directly from Sosa’s original style: horror-flavored lead melodies, destroyed sound design, an intense baritone drone of a voice, and a spirit of anarchy. The kind of spirit that would make someone threaten the entire state of New Jersey unprompted.
Digging Into Grave Man
For all the strangeness and comedy present, there’s serious commitment in Sematary’s art. His rap-rock witch-house sound is a very custom fit and there is no wasted audio or visual space in Sem’s attempts to engulf you in his murder forest realm, going as far as to live in and produce music out of a repurposed butcher house according to his PR agent.
2023’s “Haunted Mound Reapers” has a very explicit payment of homage to Drill’s godfather. Sem’s entire opening verse is rapped in the cadence of Chief Keef’s memorable deep-cut feature on “Been Ballin” by longtime GBE member Ballout. With an early 2010s-like themed mixtape, complete with a deep-voiced “Hauntaholics” host, Sematary invites you into Butcher House — the concept, the place, the mixtape — chanting two a capella bars before the song erupts.
Sematary has turned down multiple multi-million dollar label deals in protection of the eerie little world he’s created with his Haunted Mound Collective (HMC), continuing to produce records independently for himself and HMC members Hackle, Turnabout, and Buckshot who regularly feature on his projects. This depth of investment in such a left-field sound and aesthetic has resulted in a powerful cult following that helped HMC sell out their first international tour which concluded this past March.
It’s hard not to see the influence of another early 2010s rap influencer in Sematary’s self-presentation: Lil B. The BasedGod? Yes, that one.
The parallels here mostly lie in Sem’s image and marketing. Like Berkeley’s finest, Sematary uses mixtapes to entrench himself and his listeners in a reality so obnoxious that you either loathe it or pledge full allegiance to it. Lil B makes it mind-numbingly clear you are Trapped in BasedWorld or entering Gold House the same way Sem name drops Butcher House so many times the goofy promotional graphics and music video antics actually enhance the experience.
After taking Chief Keef’s style in a new direction and replicating his indie collective route, Sematary fully realized his Sosa influence and joined him on “Fuck The World” along with Hackle. Sem’s humility was evident in Keef’s 2-minute long opening verse and center position in the cover art, seated on a throne in between the two HMC artists.
Where “WENDIGO” Goes
“WENDIGO” is just as crunchy and dark red as the rest of Sematary’s discography, but a casual listener could easily sing along to this one. While the textures are the same, the melodies in “WENDIGO” are more curious and playful than they are hellish. Lyrically, Sem is still an outcast in the forest calling out to mythical beings — this time an Algonquian deer god that kills the weak and greedy — but he takes a more conventional songwriting route to get to the freaky shit this time, giving a take-it-or-leave-it speech to his love interest as he invites her into the woods.
There’s bravery and uncertainty at play when an artist like Sematary ventures outside of the niche they’ve carved for themselves. The feeling around a successful cult artist can shift dramatically if they experience mainstream success; it’s hard to recover the purity of thought and feeling an artist can enjoy with a choir of super fans. But Sematary has plenty more to offer and seems intent on taking his Day 1s wherever his ambition leads him. Early reactions to “WENDIGO” are thrilling, with many commenters expressing their desire for Sematary to challenge himself sonically being met with this new release.
Sematary is a talented producer and songwriter who seems capable of making more broadly appealing music at will. If “WENDIGO” is any indication of new ambitions, 2024 could be a ridiculous and thrilling new chapter in Haunted Mound Collective’s ridiculous and thrilling music industry journey.