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.