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Insane Clown Posse's powers of myth-making and merchandising are so legendary, it's a wonder Psychopathic ringleaders Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope haven't yet followed Kiss fully down the brand-saturation path and issued an ICP casket. Picture it: a solemn, flame-covered vessel to ferry fallen Juggalos to a Faygo-soaked afterlife free of haters and hatchets in the back. With Hallowicked 2006 upon us, this would have been the perfect time to do it. Well, maybe next year. In the meantime, we're welcoming the ICP crew back to the D after the Hallowicked Clown Tour, their horror-hop dust devil that circled America in just over a month. In honor of the Halloween rite of passage that Hallowicked has become, we asked two of our writers to tackle the myth and the mirth that is Insane Clown Posse. Walk into the darkness! Johnny Loftus
The Clowns were right
OK, OK, so ICP aren't the best rappers, but that's never been the point. Detroit's favorite greasepaint-wearing horror-core rap duo Joe "Violent J" Bruce and Joseph "Shaggy 2 Dope" Utsler have never claimed to be the best rappers. Then again, neither has Biz Markie. Original, yes. Best, no. But no one can argue that ICP isn't a Detroit original, like Bill Bonds, the Joe Louis fist, Coleman Young, the Lions, the Tigers everything great and terrible about Detroit. At least not the thousands of Juggalos (ICP fans) who have tickets for the Clowns' annual Hallowicked show at the State Theatre Halloween night.
Now in its 13th year, Hallowicked has become a tradition on par with, well, Ted Nugent's Whiplash Bash or at least the Downtown Hoedown. The Clowns' horror-core aesthetic, a pastiche of post-gangsta-rap beats and slasher-film narratives, has always been best live, where Bruce and Utsler's gruff rhymes and sing-along hooks are augmented by an endless baptism of Faygo soda sprung from shaken-up two-liters.
Back in the day, Utlser spent much of the show stagediving off trampolines, until collector-savvy fans started pulling his dreads out and hawking them on eBay. Still, as live rap goes, ICP offers the most bang for the Red Pop-soaked buck. At one mid-'90s, Royal Oak installment of Hallowicked, a stage full of grisly, mask-wearing mannequins set up in a squalid tableau suddenly came alive after an hour-and-a-half for the finale a full 10 years before Saw would employ the same tactic for its ending. This year's Hallowicked is underscored by an afterparty at the Majestic Theatre and the inclusion of JCW ("Juggalo Championshit Wrestling"). Bruce and Utsler wrestled in both the WWF and WCW; then they figured out they could DIY and founded their own damn league.
If the Clowns aren't the best rappers it's because they've spent as much time marketing and diversifying their horror-core rap into an entertainment empire. See, the Clowns aren't a band, they're a phenomenon, tapping into an aesthetic of blue-collar, suburban disenfranchisement and restlessness that has found its voice not just in music, but in backyard wrestling, comic books, a feature film and merchandise schemes (dolls, lighters, underwear, jerseys, etc.).
Sure, white kids in clown make-up is schticky, but is their Dark Carnival any less of a schitck than Jack and Meg's siblinghood, Kid Rock's upbringing in Romeo as the son of the country's largest Lincoln-Mercury dealer becoming "straight out the trailer," or even Eminem's Bart Simpson-meets-Biggie Smalls Slim Shady character when anybody's who's ever met him will tell you he's just a single dad who wants painfully to provide a stable home life for his daughter, even if that means remarrying his crazy baby-momma and retiring to produce tracks in the comfort of his home studio so he can pick his kid up from school?
So far, entertainment history has proved the clowns were right all along, even as rap history dismisses them. Jackass, Slipknot's Wu-Tang Clan-from-the-costume-shop aesthetic (they've got a clown, even), Rob Zombie's multimedia metal barrage of comic books, movies and the occasional album; street-team promotion, backyard wrestling all this is stuff the Clowns were doing 10 years ago.
With a fan base into backyard wrestling and slasher-film beats, ICP has taken shit of late for their rabid fan base, who are perceived as Trekkies-cum-trenchcoat mafiosos. Juggalo support groups have sprung up all over the country (see www.whatisajuggalo.com). Like Marilyn Manson back when people actually listened to Marilyn Manson, ICP is being targeted by regional law enforcement and school authorities for their highly visible expressions of loyalty (endless varieties of ICP merch, occasional scary clown makeup and the unfortunate random incident of violence, like last summer in Seattle when a group of ICP fans went on a wilding spree in public).
But the kids haven't killed a man, so no one's talking about breaking up the band. At least not permanently. Both Bruce and Utlser have released solo records and reached the end of their six-record Joker's Cards series, which they have drawn out with last year's The Wraith: Hell's Pit, which was actually a sequel to 2002's The Wraith: Shangri-La. Hell's Pit marked their return to the grimy horror-core of their heyday, just as Hallowicked marks their return to their Detroit DIY roots.
Like AA, theirs is a program of attraction not promotion. And the Juggalos keep coming back. Hobey Echlin
ICP: Insane Career Possibilities
In 2002, when Insane Clown Posse released The Wraith: Shangri-La, and revealed that the hidden agenda behind their entire career and series of joker card albums was to steer Juggalos to God, it was the lamest and longest crawl to audience disappointment since fans of St. Elsewhere found out the entire series was dreamed up by some autistic kid perhaps the same kid who's now calling the shots for Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J. And when Juggalos grumbled, the duo put out a backpedalin' to hell album, followed by The Calm, which waved a new carrot at the remaining devotees, one promising that after this calm "a vicious storm will arrive."
Now comes what might seem like another holding pattern remix albums of The Wraith and Hell's Pit but it's actually a revisionist rethinking of the whole "we're not sorry we tricked you" joker card series. Spoiler Alert: Careless analysis of these revamped albums reveals that the real actual message behind the Carnival of Carnage all along has been to empower millions of Jugaloos around the world by offering them a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to achieve their goals by owning their own business through Amway! That's right. Because of equal time restrictions, the release of these remix albums has been slated for Nov. 14, well after the upcoming elections, so as not to give an unfair advantage to Dick DeVos, the Republican gubernatorial challenger who was president of Amway (then Alticor) from 1993 to 2002, as if being a billionaire isn't enough of an unfair advantage.
On the surface, DeVos' endorsement of such right-wing ideas as extreme conservativism and religious right barnstorms like "intelligent design" might seem polar opposite of ICP's platform of hate, hatchet violence, misogyny and necrophilia, but both camps share some common ground homophobia for one, appreciation for the basic elements of free enterprise and of course a fondness for quality home care products. Don't believe us? The clues have been there all along, sucka!
1) The band's first album cover features a jack-in-the box marked ICP. Few people know this, but when the duo was a struggling hardcore Detroit rap group, they were briefly called Insane Cleaning Products.
2) That liquid that the duo sprays on audiences isn't Faygo as previously believed but L.O.C., (Liquid Organic Concentrate) the most versatile cleaner in the world!
3) In retrospect, each track on 1995's Riddle Box seems like a different rewording of "How can you secure financial freedom for yourself in the 90s?"
4) How else can you explain the discount coupons for NUTRILITE™ Nutritional Supplements inside copies of 2000's Psychopathic Rydas Dumpin'?
5) Their longstanding feud with Eminem stems from Marshall's refusal to see the solid business opportunity J and Shaggy offered him as nothing more than a pyramid scheme. In fact the last words Shaggy said to Slim Shady were "Multi-level marketing is a lawful and legitimate business method that uses a network of independent business owners to sell consumer products supplied by an established company, asshole!"
6) On The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, ICP's concept album about the 19 circles of hell, one of the more heinous levels involves Satan's minions demonstrating the iCooK™ cookware line.
7) The list of thanks inside The Great Milenko includes a mysterious shout-out to "Stain Professor."
8) The confessional "Behind the Paint" is, on more careful inspection, little more than a shameless plug for the TOLSOM™ line of men's skin care products.
9) The hooded ghost on the cover of The Wraith: Shangri- La album is wearing a yellow scouring glove, yours free with any purchase of any SA8™, DISH DROP™, L.O.C.™ or PURSUE™ cleaner! Serene Dominic
Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the State Theatre, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5450.
Hobey Echlin and Serene Dominic are freelance writers. Send comments to email@example.com.