The two greatest muses in art are sex and death. There are plenty of songs about sex sung by seductive songsters, but while there are many songs about death, few of them are actually penned by killers. Rare is the hand that murders the same that writes a classic tune, yet there are a few bloodthirsty musicians whose rage either inspired their music, or their music inspired their rage.
One of the first-noted composers to commit murderous mayhem was Carlo Gesualdo (1566 - 1613). Gesualdo was the Italian Prince of Venosa, but is now better known in music history for some of the most experimental compositions of the Renaissance era.
What few know is that Carlo killed his wife and her lover after finding them in a compromising position. Though found innocent, he was forever thought to be a victim of demonic possession by his subjects—and his fans.
The early American music scene was littered with criminals, but very few of them were familiar with felony homicide. One who wasn't so innocent was folk and blues great Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter, 1889 - 1949). In 1918, Ledbetter was jailed for killing relative Will Stafford in an argument over a girl. He then served more time for the attempted stabbing of some honky.
Discovered during a visit by father-and-son folklorists, John and Alan Lomax, to Louisiana's Angola Prison Farm, the rest is well-known—so much so that Led Zeppelin had to hire a team of lawyers several times.
By the late-'60s, many Americans believed one had to be crazy to be involved with rock 'n' roll, and it is no surprise that some musicians were thought to be mass murderers. The only known serial killer involved in music is jazz bassist Melvin Rees (committing five murders in the late-'50s), but some still point a finger at Manson cohort Bobby Beausoleil. Bob is serving time for the '69 killing of music teacher Gary Hinman (over a bad drug deal), but had no part in the Manson mass slayings later that year, as he was already in prison.
Beausoleil was once a member of Arthur Lee's Love, but quit to front his own outfit, The Orkustra.
When punk hit the music scene, squares around the world claimed the end was near. In 1982, the TV shows CHiPs and Quincy, M.E. aired episodes where the singers of punk bands were cutthroat backbiters. Sadly, it all stemmed from the tragic death of a hated loudmouth punk groupie. Publicly thought to be the work of a drugged-out Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie, 1957 - 1979), he was charged with Nancy Spungen's murder, but quickly released.
Today, it's thought to be the nefarious handiwork of a shadowy thief taking advantage of a passed out Sid and Nancy. Still, Sid will forever be known as a murderer.
Another style of music that caused a bit of a panic is the Norwegian form of black metal, but there are actually quite a few murderers in that scene. Of course, the most well-known would be Kristian "Varg" Vikernes, who killed his label head, Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, not long after helping forge the Norwegian black metal sound with his band Burzum.
Releasing a slew of records since 1992—even while locked behind bars—he has not put out anything new since 2014, and has legally changed his name to Louis Cachet.
Yet another scene with a handful of killers would be rap music. With so many to choose from, I'll only highlight a few of the lesser-known psychopaths.
24th Street Garden Blocc Crips gang member Anarae Brown rapped under the name X-Raided. During the recording of his debut 1992 album, Psycho Active, Brown and crew raided the home of rivals, killing one. Imprisoned for 30+ years, he recorded the vocals for his next two LPs (Xorcist and Unforgiven) over the phone from Sacramento County Jail.
Changing it up in 2000 with Speak of the Devil—under the name Nefarious, to throw the hacks off his scent—he returned to the X-Raided moniker soon after, and still releases music under that name.
Though the Juggalo branch of hip-hop has been known to make people want to kill, Syko Sam took it to another level. The aspiring horrorcore rapper, Richard McCroskey, bludgeoned four people to death because of jealousy issues.
Before being sent to prison for life, Syko uploaded quite a bit of his music via his MySpace and YouTube pages, so people like me can drop by to experience this morbid slice of insanity whenever we want to, in possible perpetuity. Thanks, internet!
Since I'm on the topic of weird murders and hip-hop, the last case I'll cover is that of Antron Singleton, better known in the rap game as Big Lurch. In 2002, Big murdered his roommate, Tynisha Ysais, and ate parts of her while in a PCP stupor.
As he was on trial for the killing in 2004, his solo LP, It's All Bad, dropped on Black Market records; and featured Killa Tay, C-Bo, and Too $hort.
When listening, it might not be so strange to hear that most of the music made by murderers has a hard, compromising, or dark edge to it. It's possible that what came out through the music was a precursor of things to come, though many may have simply become self-fulfilling prophecies. Can the muses that dawn inspiration upon us be so cruel? You can bet your life on it.