Quake before the wrath of the conservative moralists, whose censure and condemnation can banish a topless girl from an album cover, deny the fertile outlets of Wal-Mart to a corrupting influence, or--in the case of the Insane Clown Posse--give a flaccidly idiotic rip-off act the bad-boy cachet it needed to become a national sensation.
That's what happened to ICP's unremarkable album The Great Milenko. It was dropped by their Disney-owned label--reportedly six hours after its official release--after somebody actually listened to the album and found out it was full of jiz, blood, substance abuse, and bad words, all situated upon a dense tapestry of apocalyptic fourth-grade horror schlock. Although many think that Milenko was ICP's first album, the band's been a hit in Detroit since 1991, with four albums and almost a dozen cassettes, singles, maxi-singles, and EPs to its credit.
The two masters of ICP--familiar to most in their startling black-and-white face makeup, extremely reminiscent of KISS and faithfully reproduced at shows by their hardcore fans--grew up in one of Detroit's worst neighborhoods. Both Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Ultser) and Violent J (Joseph Bruce) can claim all the street cred that comes with a childhood full of mind-numbing urban dysfunction. (Violent J's parents couldn't even afford to get him a last name.) Since then they've developed an astoundingly fervent following--mostly white male adolescents who subscribe to the ICP cosmology with Dungeons & Dragons-like devotion.
It's a world populated by "juggalos"--hapless, spudlike everymen. The holy sacrament of the juggalos is Faygo, an appalling soft drink native to the Motor City that sells for 60 cents a two-liter bottle. Although reportedly drinkable, Faygo's primary use at ICP soirees is external, as a drenching agent. These shows--as one might suspect from a group that features choruses as elegantly direct as "Fuck, fuck, fuck them all"--are frightening affairs. Imagine the oar deck of a Roman slave galley. Paint the slaves' faces, get them drunk on Schlitz malt liquor laced with PCP, and then offer the reward of freedom to the man who can spray the most Faygo on his neighbors. Once you unchain them, you're most of the way there.
Scholars have decried ICP as the most recent installment in a long line of white artists usurping black art forms. Mr. J and Mr. 2 Dope point to their roots, note that they grew up on food stamps too, and demand credit for the social commentary that underlies their work--however extreme it may be. While this critical subtext seems to be lacking in songs like "Bugz on My Nugz," it does exist. Take a song like Milenko's "How Many Times?," which is a long declaration of Dolomite-class ho-slingin', cap-poppin', ass-kickin' street 'tude that ends with the narrator being called in to do his homework by his mom. By the same token, "Hellajahluia" is a searing indictment of the hypocrisy behind TV evangelism, apparently something of a recent phenomenon in ICP land.
But ICP and their fans aren't quite as "out there" as they think. Sure, they run the ultimate dumbass white-trash display, but it's really not that far removed from the standard-issue, everyday, dumbass white-trash display that goes on all around us. (Ask someone who isn't white if you require any elaboration on this point.) It's like their lyrics, which try to be gritty and real--"I vacuum all the fuckin' glass off from my seat/I sit down, and got a piece stuck in my buttcheek"--and wind up being something that you could get from any moron on a barstool or bus-stop bench. In the end, ICP's fatal flaw isn't that they go too far, but rather that they don't go nearly far enough.
The Insane Clown Posse plays the Bronco Bowl on Friday, February 27.