The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.
Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.
The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.
These guys weren’t always this bad.
Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.
What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?
As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?
I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.
I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.
Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.
The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:
“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”
Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?
The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.
I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.
Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.
Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.
Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.
Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.
Non-annotated edition previously published here. I hereby dedicate last year’s year-end musical bloviations to our dearly departed brother Conrad Bain, the kind, gentle, and genteel Canadian who warmed our hearts as Phillip Drummond for eight years on “Diff’rent Strokes.” We’ll probably never know for sure what Willis was talking about but it was always plain as day what his father was talking about: love, patience, understanding, ascots, and sweater vests. Thanks for your caring touch, Conrad. You made Alan Thicke look like a corny little bitch.
JG2’s TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense
Tart, angular punk platter targeting the banality of Hollywood (“Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop”), confused trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots”), and the very concept of marketing (“Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman”). Occasionally a driving melody shines through all the caffeine-induced snot-balling, making you clench your fists for a different reason.
2. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Every middle-aged rocker’s fantasy came true this year when Van Halen spit out a new record with David Lee Roth’s glitter-bespecked mitts back on the handlebars. Slight creaks could be forgiven when confronted with the fluid shuffle of “She’s The Woman” and balls-to-the-401k plan rockers like “China Town” and “Bullethead.” Eddie might not know how to manage his life or career or wardrobe anymore but the mah’fucker can still play guitar like nobody’s business. Similarly, Roth remains charming, particularly when he’s tongue-in-cheeking his band’s ultimate legacy (“Stay Frosty”).
3. ICP – The Mighty Death Pop!
ICP aren’t just rapping about graphic circus-themed murders anymore—they’re also concerned about their wives facing sexual harassment at the office Christmas party (no joke; check “The Blasta”). I guess this is growing up? As grown as an album that sounds like it was crafted on a Turbografx 16 can be, anyway. That’s not a diss; The Mighty Death Pop! has a strange texture to its head-bobbing beats that will keep you triple dipping. Check your brain at the door, of course, lest you feel like confronting the philosophical ramifications of Shaggy 2 Dope’s proclamation that his scrotum tastes like grape soda (“Juggalo Juice”).
4. Smoke Mohawk – Viva El Heavy Man
The breezy denim-clad spirit of ’70s rock runs through this Norwegian band like the mighty Miss-ah-sip. Viva has some of the best song titles of the year, including but not limited to “VCR King,” “Pirate Train,” and “Painting Outside The Lines of Perception” (can you taste the bong water?). Nothing less should be expected from the band that anthropomorphized rock n’ roll on its first album and literally reported an assassination attempt on the genre. I know that might be a hard concept to wrap your head around. Trust me, after a few spins of this tasty swirlin’ riffage, you’ll get it.
5. Kreayshawn – Somethin’ ‘Bout Kreay
America’s bitterness over Somethin’ ‘Bout Kreay’s late arrival torpedoed any shot it had at being 2012’s ultimate party record. That’s squarely on you, because Kreayshawn brings the sassy dance ruckus from beginning to end. No female rapper has given less of a fuck in a more adorable way since Missy Elliott. Case in point: Kreay talks to summertime like it’s a person and also wrote an entire song about how awesome pancakes are (“Breakfast”). If this is your average Millennial I’m ready to hand over the keys to the country.
6. Soundgarden – King Animal
Soundgarden remain a lean mean grunge machine on their comeback record, offering up the gratifying hour of down-tuned muscle car rock ’90s bros have been waiting for since Audioslave collapsed. Unlike that Bush era experiment, King Animal is the sound of every gear clicking into place, no grease or gimmicks required. Some have accused Cornell et al of reuniting just for the bread, but this record isn’t lazy enough to support that claim. Sure, maybe King Animal is too on-the-nose in places, but if the worst thing you can say about a Soundgarden record is that it sounds too much like Soundgarden, well, maybe it’s time to just shut your pie hole and listen.
7. The Men – Open Your Heart
In the spirit of minimalism I’m not going to offer any complete sentences for this entry beyond what you’re currently reading. The Mens’ Open Your Heart = immediacy, oven-at-350 warmth, lo-fi charm without lo-fi harm. Flourishes of slide guitar so inviting. Westerberg / Wilco fatigue homages happily evade corniness. Whole record occupies interesting space between the Feelies and the Supersuckers. These guys, they can maintain.
8. Kidz Bop – Kidz Bop 21
As long as albums of yard monsters reworking Top 40 hits are in existence they shall find a place on lists of mine, because the concept’s so bizarre, inane, and fun. I applaud Kidz Bop’s ability to make nonsense like “Party Rock Anthem” even more toothless while simultaneously encouraging children to sing their hearts out like Up With People! never went away. Kidz Bop records don’t need to exist, I don’t know who could possibly listen to them (except folk who champion the uncomfortably odd), but they are empowering to a segment of our population who basically have no rights so for that I say let’s go all the way up to Kidz Bop 375.
9. Die Antwoord – Ten$Ion
This is what the future’s supposed to sound like, at least the future pitched by ham-fisted pieces of insanity like Total Recall and Demolition Man. You can practically hear Schwarzennegger screaming when the pill-grinding beats on Ten$Ion reach critical mass (visions of Arnie’s gaping maw, teeth and all, become especially clear when the drums reverse in “Hey Sexy”). Die Antwoord dismiss the rap game as “one big inbred fuck-fest” (“Fatty Boom Boom”), which I’m sure is how most people view their act, but hey, at least they’re interesting—at least. At most they’re exciting, irreverent, infectious, Kaufman-esque, and worthy of several crotch pumps.
10. Baroness – Yellow & Green
Baroness make up for a long three years since Blue by giving us a double album, and to no surprise it’s like stepping inside a cocoon of warm mossy metal. The production is so full and rich, so spacious. Yellow & Green is the perfect companion piece to frustrated teenage male sexuality and hobbit-based adventures. It’s certainly the most chantable rock album of the year (see “Cocainium”). And the cover is a naked woman with candles on her head threatening to behead a black swan. In the cautious words of Fred Schneider, hel-LO!
JG2’s TOP TEN SINGLES OF 2012
A spoonful of sugar helps the unhinged cynicism go down. Is everybody in Wales this much fun?
Kreay gives all Forever 21 employees the best life advice: “Don’t be on some ho shit.” The rest of this song makes me, a thirty-four year old white man, want to twerk it. That counts for something.
So testicular in its agenda.
The sweat-soaked sex jam of the year. Extra points for smashing a pair of Beats by Dre in the video. Let us never settle for mediocre headphone technology.
The ruse was over by the time this song dropped: Krispy Kreme was no backwoods ignoramus but a high school valedictorian named Tyler. He could have given up when that secret broke. Instead, he continued undaunted, burying the lede of this John Cena ode in oodles of Yuletide atmosphere.
Just when you thought it was safe to leave the dance floor, Mystikal grabs your ass and throws you back, hollering about his collection of percussion and the greatness of James Brown. Instant A.
Just a feel good cruisin’ tune, y’know what I mean? I can throw on my jean jacket and just cruise to this bitch.
Don’t act like Fat Joe’s love affair with app-based photography didn’t mirror your own in 2012. This song is the logical follow-up to that rap Andy Milonakis did about Tweeting every single moment of his life. The line between the streets and improv comedy is once again deliciously blurred.
Old-ass rappers cop to being old, instantly validate new jamz.
Finally, Robert Zimmerman gets the slow burn from the guy who invented Crimbus. Funnier in concept than in execution maybe but still better than anything Conan O’Brien did all year. Yeah, I said it.
If any of Insane Clown Posse’s “joker’s card” albums synch up with the original Mark Hamill Star Wars it isn’t The Great Milenko. I tried doing that yaz the other night (starting the album, as always, after the second drum roll in the 20th Century Fox fanfare) and barely noticed the following:
– the Star Wars logo appears the same time that mysterious organ begins playing in the intro skit
– Alice Cooper’s narration begins as the opening crawl appears
– the opening crawl is fading away at the same moment Alice Cooper warns of the “arrival of the Great Milenko”
– the lyric “broke your neck” is heard in “Hokus Pokus” as Darth Vader is seen choking that rebel soldier on the Tantive IV
– the lyric “might shoot somebody” is heard in “Hokus Pokus” as that jawa shoots R2-D2 on Tatooine
– the lyric “little punk ass” is heard in “How Many Times” at the same moment Luke Skywalker first appears
It was massive stretches of nothing after that. I’m not sure how I kept myself from [INSERT ICP-SPECIFIC FORM OF VIOLENCE].
Fun fact: The Great Milenko was released in 1997, the same year George Lucas debuted his “Special Editions” of the Star Wars trilogy. I’m not sure what’s crazier—rapping clowns from another dimension whose fixations include graphic murder and off-brand soda or “Jedi Rocks.” Did we really need to see Boba Fett gettin’ his swerve on with hot alien chicks?