I love Halloween, but I did not learn this until I was an adult.
As a kid, I was not allowed to dress up for Halloween, and I was forced to go to bootleg “fall festivals” that are a Christian church’s way of celebrating Halloween without being honest about what they are actually doing. One of the things that always saddened me was how there was not much music for the holiday. Christmas got music. So did Valentine’s Day, but Halloween, arguably the second-best holiday after Christmas, was largely forgotten about. It can be hard to know what to play at your Halloween gathering but never fear, I got you. Below are the 10 best black Halloween songs.
Fat Boys: Are You Ready For Freddy
Damn, I miss the Fat Boys. They were just fun and never felt the need to apologize for it. This is not a deep song. The beat is not terribly memorable; the lyrics are not groundbreaking. It is a song that comments on the legacy of Freddy Kruger, but what makes it special is the infectious fun the boys are having on the track.
Kid Cudi: No One Believes Me
Originally made for the film Fright Night, this track by Cudi stands on its own two feet. The atmospheric and dread-filled sonic landscape of the song places the mind in a contemplative and meditative mood while never being oppressive. It a great background song to play quietly while you sip brown liquor on Halloween Night.
Outkast: Dracula’s Wedding
Kelis lends her vocals to the track, but this Andre 3000 song is, at its core, a meditation a very real fear felt by every man. Dracula has met the woman with whom he will spend the rest of his life, and that produces an extraordinary amount of anxiety because, well, that is a life that will not end. He is immortal. It’s a playful, imaginative song that never gets old, and the Dracula tie in makes it suitable for All Hallows Eve.
Whodini: The Freaks Come Out At Night
This is a great song for any time of year, but perfect for Halloween night. Though the song is fun and light-hearted, there is a bit of playful menace just below the surface. Whodini suggests that there are people who walk among us who, truly, are freaks, but we would never know because they only “come out at night.” A playful nod toward the fact that you can be an upstanding citizen during the day, but, at your core, you remain a freak—and isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Harry Belafonte: Jump In The Line.
I dare you to put this song on and not smile. Before he was a civil rights legend, many forget that Belafonte was a sex symbol and smooth vocalist that attracted the attention of more than a few young ladies. The reason this song is synonymous with Halloween is because of how Tim Burton used the song to great effect in Beetlejuice—never has a song and a scene been so perfectly paired.
Ray Parker, Jr.: Ghostbusters
One cannot overstate how big this song was in 1984. Part of the reason why the film has become a mainstay in popular culture is because of the infectious nature of the song. They tried to recapture the magic of the original with Bobby Brown’s great On Our Own in Ghostbusters 2, but Ray Parker Jr.’s song remains the song you think of when you think of the film series.
Geto Boys: Mind Playing Tricks On Me
This rap group from Houston’s Fifth Ward was groundbreaking in how they took the themes of horrorcore and made them mainstream. Necrophilia, gore and the psychotic experiences they articulated are why they are perfect for a Halloween playlist, and this song represents them at the height of their powers. I cannot prove that the film “It Follows” was inspired by this song, but if it was I would not be surprised.
Travis Scott: 5% Tint
The more radio-friendly songs from Astroworld relegated this track to obscurity. However, armed with a sample from Goodie Mob’s Cell Therapy, this is, to my ear, the best song on the album. Travis Scott’s lyrical cadence in conjunction with the hypnotic melody creates a sound that reminds me of DJ Screw at his best. It makes you feel like you’ve been sipping on lean in the best possible way.
Michael Jackson: Thriller
Ok, hear me out. This is the one that most people point to as the must-play Halloween song. The video is, arguably, the best in the history of the genre. The beat is infectious, and Vincent Price closing out the song is a masterstroke. It is a great song, but I have to be honest: it is not my favorite. I won’t say anything bad about the world-shattering track, but, pound for pound, when I want to get into the mood of Halloween, the King of Rock isn’t who I turn to, it’s two artists from Philly who don’t get their due.
Dj Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: A Nightmare on My Street
Maybe it’s because they did not curse…or perhaps because the show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” made them household names. But, if you’re asking me (and you must be because you’re reading my words) DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) are two of Hip-Hop’s forgotten geniuses. We forget how creative they were; how brilliant Jazzy Jeff was with two tables and a microphone, and this genius is on display in this song that many don’t even know exists. Will’s storytelling technique has dated, but his cleverness is clearly communicated; yet, what makes this song stand out is how Jazzy Jeff took the theme to Nightmare on Elm Street and made it dope as hell. This will get any party rocking, and is, to my mind, the best Halloween-themed black song of all time. Clearly Freddy Kruger was impactful for black folks because this is the second time a song referenced him on this list.
I know, many will argue with me about #1. It’s fine. You can say that Thriller was the best.
Just know that you are wrong.