Insane Clown Posse: An Editorial
Every now and then, there’s a group that achieves total pop culture penetration simply by virtue of the fact that everyone seems to hate them. Britney Spears, ABBA, Eminem (when he first came out), all hugely successful artists, yes, but it was never cool to like their music, and in the pop world, being cool is even more important than money. Not by much, but it is. With this in mind, let’s turn our attention to a much-maligned group that’s had something of a comeback in the last few years: Insane Clown Posse.
Whether you’re a long-term Juggalo, or just love to mock them for not knowing how “fucking magnets” work, you’ve probably noticed that ICP is back in the spotlight lately. They’ve had two of their highest selling albums ever come out, they’re touring Australia for the first time in years, Faygo is finally debating whether or not to try to make their relationship with the group official, friend of the site Diamanda Hagan is devoting four straight videos to their work, the FBI is trying to classify Juggalos as a gang… that last one isn’t a good thing, but it’s in the news, I guess. All this was certainly enough to get me to give them a second listen.
You see, I had sort of a complicated relationship with the Wicked Clowns at first. I learned of them during that brief window in the late ‘90s when they were signed to a major label and their songs were on MTV. I was not impressed, to say the least. You see, even though they’re a rap group and always have been, for whatever reason their labels always tried to package them as a shock-rock group, and being the ‘90s, they were being held up in comparison to Marilyn Manson and Uncle Kracker, which of course, they fell far short of. Honestly, the late ‘90s had an overabundance of raunchy acts who played the “we have little talent but we’re so outrageous” angle that, even if people were getting the proper introduction to their work, they just seemed unnecessary at the time. Even with the big push they were getting from the WWF (long story), they still struggled to find mainstream success. (Though, to be fair, most wrestling fans were probably unaware that they were a real music group. This was the era of the No Limit Soldiers, after all, and had people known, they might have liked them even less.)
A lot of the stigma around the group that follows them to this day came from this period. People forget, but in the years between Vanilla Ice and Eminem, if you were a white person who liked rap music, you hid that like it was herpes. The media, which, again, before Eminem, had never understood hip-hop to begin with, had convinced everyone that liking rap music was just something people who were “acting black” did to try to look cool, and if you listened to it anywhere but at a school dance, you. Were. A. Dork! So, for a white rap group to come out with lyrics that were more violent than anything N.W.A. ever performed, and they didn’t even have the courtesy to misuse black slang for the hip listeners to laugh at? Lame!
Which brings us to the two elephants in the room when it comes to hating ICP: one being the assumption that their music is in some way racist (easily disproven with just a cursory listen) and the assumption that their fans are just the most awful people. I can sort of see where the racism angle comes in, given that, again, white people weren’t supposed to like rap music back then, so for a pair of white guys to come out in clown makeup, one could see why someone would think that they were trying to make fun of black people. Someone with severe brain damage, anyway. Their fans, on the other hand, well… ICP (and their affiliates) grew up in the sort of poverty you wouldn’t think existed in the greater Detroit area, and like them, many Juggalos are bombed-out, absolute poorest-of-the-poor latchkey kids. So, if you don’t like ICP, the logic goes, you’re not a latchkey kid, so you can feel better about yourself!
This, of course, led to intense confusion and anger among pop culture watchers when, in spite of how Not Cool™ they were, they not only survived, but prospered! They’ve been performing for over twenty years, have legions of devoted fans all over the world, have their own annual music festival (two, even!), and they own JCW, which last time I checked is the third largest wrestling company in America. And thanks to “Miracles”, their albums are back on the pop charts!
I had an aversion to the group for a long time. I worked with a pair of Juggalos in the army who were good guys, but they annoyed the shit out of me, and I found the Dark Carnival—a running lyrical theme throughout their albums which amounts to a vaguely reinterpreted version of Christianity—to be just the tiniest bit silly. But within the last year or so, I gave them another listen, and discovered that their music actually has a lot more depth and complexity than I would have ever given them credit for.
Now keep in mind, I’m not a Juggalo. I may be Down with the Clown, but there are no Hatchetman tattoos anywhere on my body. So I’m coming from the most objective place possible when I say that Insane Clown Posse does not deserve their mantle as “Worst Rap Group in History”.
I’m not saying you have to like ICP. Some of you might not care for the sort of gore and violence they include in their lyrics; some of you might not dig the “nostalgia for a childhood that sucked” aesthetic of their constant references to Faygo, ninja movies, regional wrestling promotions, bad movies, and old school hip-hop groups; some of you just might not enjoy rap music at all. These are all understandable, even if that last one will make me look at you funny. However, some of the criticisms that keep getting used against them are just unfair, such as:
– “Fucking magnets? How do they work?”
This is the big one these days, the one that’s held up as a sign that their music is made for morons, by morons. First of all, congratulations. You’ve fallen for the most successful act of trolling in history. They knew that that sounded stupid. They wrote it that way on purpose so that people would talk shit about them online, which, shocker on Shock Street, has revived their mainstream careers to the point where they now have their own TV show. Second, you’re missing the context of the rest of the song, which is about how you should never lose sight of the wondrous things you see every day. It’s no different from “The Miracle” by Queen, which happens to be another song about enjoying the simple things in life that everyone misses the point of and mocks. Huh…
– “ICP can’t rap!”
Speaking as someone with a lifelong love and respect for rap and hip-hop… no. They might have a style that you don’t care for, but they do not lack talent. Just taking their most recent album The Mighty Death Pop! for an example, they rap on the same tracks as such lyrical heavyweights as Hopsin, Tech N9ne, Ice Cube, and Scarface, and they more than hold their own. I think the misconception of their lyrical abilities comes from the fact that the lyrics themselves are… weird. I think TV Tropes put it best when they described their songs as the two bragging about things that no rapper in their right mind would ever even admit to, which is part of their appeal in my mind. Still, in terms of actual flow, they owe more to Run DMC than Canibus, with a little bit of Ghostface Killah thrown in for bounce, and that might be enough to turn people off. Their style is simply out of vogue. And one other thing, if you have any doubt about their abilities, just remember, as childish as it is, “Slim Anus” is still considered to be one of the best diss tracks ever.
– “They’re sick just for the sake of being sick!”
Okay, I won’t disagree with this one, but is that really such a bad thing? I’m sorry, but this always reminds me of those people who complain when slasher movies are too violent. And for all their songs about chainsaw disemboweling and murdering pedophiles, there are just as many songs about friendship and struggling to make something of yourself. They don’t even sound disingenuous like when, say, Lil Wayne does them. ICP, I’ve discovered, are a lot like Weezer in a way; they make songs for themselves and don’t really give a crap about whether or not anyone likes them, for the most part. I don’t mind a little murder and mayhem in my entertainment, since I know they don’t actually mean any of it. (Unless it’s the song where they murder Chris Brown. That one, they meant.)
– “If Juggalos are all about ‘family’, how come they always get violent whenever someone says they don’t like the group?”
Well, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are hardly responsible for what their fans do (and are quick to call them on their bullshit), but as for the fans believing that anyone who dislikes the group is a heretic who needs to be destroyed, well, that’s any band, really.
In conclusion, Insane Clown Posse are a lot like Wal-Mart. There are several perfectly legitimate reasons to not like them, if you’re so inclined, but for the most part, people just use it as a way to feel better about themselves. Music has always been built around pitting fanbases against each other, but people have turned this into a form of class warfare. Like Vanilla Ice before them, the Clowns are being punished for opinions that were formulated so long ago that most people don’t even remember why they’re supposed to hate them in the first place. I won’t try to convince you that you need Insane Clown Posse in your life. If their music alone isn’t enough to convince you, fine, fair’s fair and all. But you should come to that conclusion for yourself, instead of just going by the various parodies of them on the internet or SNL. After all, if actual bad rappers like the members of Young Money who aren’t Drake get a free pass, it seems only right that the Wicked Clowns get their due.