Listen to an exclusive Children of the Corn/Grimm playlist while you read.
Memphis-based producer and former Children of the Corn member Grimm (then Lil’ Grimm) hadn’t even earned his high school diploma when his career in the rap game started to take off in mid-1995. “I was 18 years old,” he says. “I was still in high school, I had a month left.”
Before he gained a citywide reputation for mangling vintage soul samples into something out of a horror movie, Grimm’s career started during a car ride freestyle cipher with longtime friend E Scott and fellow Children of the Corn member Maliki. “We’d known each other all our lives,” he says. “We were blazing up and getting high and all that man and we just started beating on the car seat and spitting.”
As the two young men freestyled in their friend’s car, a sudden wave of inspiration hit and they decided to take their talents to the next level. “We were like, ‘Bruh, we’ve been knowing each other all this time. Let’s try to come up with an album,’” he says.
“We had the streets. You couldn’t pull out beside nobody in the city that wasn’t playing us.”
After some early recording sessions with Memphis pioneers Teflon and Shawty Pimp, Grimm and Mali connected with another member of Children of the Corn, Red Dog. It wasn’t long before the group expanded to include other members Chi Chi, Mac E, Mac B, Kavious, Marco Da Don, Sweet Talk, Eli, Fly Mon, and the late Ms. Krazy aka Mike Mike.
Realizing that they needed their own equipment to get their album off the ground, Grimm and Chi Chi approached Grimm’s mom about purchasing them some inexpensive gear to help kick-start the process. “We manipulated my moms into getting me a DR-5,” Grimm remembers. “I had one of those little DR-5 Dr. Rhythm joints and I had a Gemini sampler. Back in those days you had the little four tracks, so we had four tracks to do what we do.”
Wasting no time, the Children of the Corn started recording songs the very same day they unboxed their new equipment. “The first day we got that beat machine, all of us sat in my room and I had all the stuff hooked up, and within four hours we came up with the “Deep Into The Woods” song that we did on The Single,” Grimm recalls.
“We didn’t give it a name. It was just the culture of our city.”
Both Grimm and the other group members were amazed at how quickly things took off after they recorded their first song. “Before you know it, I’d say within two months, man I was making five to ten beats a day,” Grimm says. “It was simple and easy. We made that “Deep Into The Woods” song that night and we was through recording The Single album within two weeks.”
Still in high school when The Single dropped, Memphis residents were drawn to the group’s unique blend of classic soul samples and horror elements. Building off the influences of Memphis legends DJ Paul and DJ Squeeky, Grimm credit’s his late father for helping him infuse his dark production style with plenty of soul. “My father had me deeply into Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield — I grew up an old soul,” he tells me. “I’d put the scary music behind the Dr. Rhythm and the 808s with the long basslines and all that, but I would throw some Isley Brothers in there with it.”
Looking back now, Grimm marvels at how Children of the Corn was capturing one of today’s more popular production styles before people even knew what it was. “We didn’t know what trap was, we was just doing scary music with 808s with it,” he says. “We didn’t give it a name. It was just the culture of our city.”
“We didn’t even know what we was doing. We was making music for the hood and trying to heal ourselves.”
After The Single dropped, they went back to work on their next album The Havoc. Flexing a more advanced production style than their first album, The Havoc brought the group’s profile in Memphis to another level. The song “Devil Shit”, which remains one of the most revered songs from the “Memphis tapes” era, is an especially impressive testament to Grimm’s creativity and inventiveness.
Starting with a simple Isley Brothers’ piano loop, Grimm used some advanced sound manipulation to make the beat sound like it belonged in an 80s horror move franchise. “I ran it through the Gemini sampler,” he explains. “I slowed it down and ran it through this little air compressor 4-track tape recorder, which brought in all the air and it sounded like they was outside and it was scary.”
Taking it a step further, Grimm also utilized a generic Halloween cassette he found at a local corner store to further enhance the sound. “I put this wind in all kind of scary stuff behind it,” he says. “And I added some strings to make it sound like, ‘They in this sick twisted world. They listen to Isley brothers, I can’t believe they’d slow it down and make it sound damn near demonic.’”
“Twenty-something years later people are still talking about it.”
Though some people in Memphis were stunned by how dark their production and lyrics were, Grimm maintains that Children of the Corn’s music is a reflection of the anger, anxieties, confusion, and fear that they felt as they navigated the negativity and violence around them in their neighborhoods. “We was just talking about the inside struggle,” he says. “We were trying to figure out what life was about. We didn’t even know what we was doing. We was making music for the hood and trying to heal ourselves.”
The formula worked, as people all over Memphis were soon clamoring for copies of Children of the Corn albums to bump as they drove around the city. “We had the streets,” Grimm remembers. “You couldn’t pull out beside nobody in the city that wasn’t playing us.”
In the end, Children of the Corn’s meteoric rise as local celebrities proved unsustainable as growing pressure, increasingly intense recording schedules, legal trouble, and personal battles derailed their efforts. Though more recent attempts to revive the group have proven unsuccessful, former group members remain friends and are proud of what they accomplished in their short time together. Their music continues to act as a time capsule for Grimm, the rest of the group, and their fans. “People come to me all the time about Children of the Corn and don’t realize that group only lasted two and half years,” says Grimm. “Twenty-something years later people are still talking about it.”