Hip-hop is full of macabre sounds and visions, but Three 6 Mafia has few peers when it comes to turning listeners into shivering masses of flesh and nerves. From the album art of torn faces to hard, narcotizing beats that up crunk's already-high horror-core ante, the group's aesthetic works like a hip-hop analogue to goth, with little light let in to temper a darkness that oozes from the grimmest corners of musical imagination.
Most Known Unknown isn't quite as dark as the darkest moments of 2003's Da Unbreakables or 2000's When The Smoke Clears (home to the drug-music masterpiece "Sippin' On Some Syrup"), but it achieves a similar end by way of a more sustained slow-crawl consistency. The single "Stay Fly" traffics in an almost buoyant language of flanged R&B guitar and twittering club-bump polyrhythms, but the chorus features a disquieting voice sampled demonically flat and monochromaticlike a zombie doing hook duty after having eaten the entrails of whatever singer might have deigned to deliver it with "soul." A lot of the mood owes to the rappers, who fantasize about delivering pain upon rivals who are "nicer than grandmas and fucking ladybugs." Crunchy Black, in particular, sounds like he's conversing with voices in his head as much as any ostensible audience; a strange tilt in his delivery makes him sound perpetually tired and distracted, the condition of an on-guard warrior who keeps looking over his shoulder to find nobody there.
The album's biggest draw, per usual, is the production of DJ Paul and Juicy "J." Tracks like "Swervin'" creep at the kind of slow cough-syrup speed that plays on at least one level of all Three 6 Mafia songs. Different levels proliferate, though. "Knock Tha Black Off Yo Ass" circles haunting background moans around fitfully sawing strings and a hissy beat that kicks up a mist of embalming fluid. "Poppin' My Collar" lumbers beneath a mangled soul sample that would give Kanye West hives. And "Pussy Got Ya Hooked" grows hypnotic as carnival-esque organ figures tuck into spooky piano and muttering bass. Dramatic ideas alternate with subtle variations in every track, giving a surprisingly delicate touch to music that wouldn't seem to make delicacy a high priority.