Insane Clown Posse can't get no respect. You might know Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J as the clown-faced rappers who frightened Mickey Mouse with their 1997 release, The Great Milenko. That album spent six hours on the shelves before its recall by Disney-owned Hollywood Records, then achieved platinum sales with its re-release, thanks to a Midwestern teen army arguably larger and more devoted than those of the Detroit duo's hometown rivals, Eminem and Kid Rock.
With the sudden rise of their fellow Caucasian rappers and the continuing ascension of Korn-schooled rhythmic metal mutations, the timing couldn't be better for ICP to ride a wave of rock-rap fusion. They are marketing their own comic-book series and promoting "Play With Me" ICP dolls, and they have starred in a direct-to-video cinematic caper, Big Money Hustlas. And they'll continue to embarrass the hell out of white and black folk alike with their first manifesto forged under the mainstream gun, The Amazing Jeckel Brothers.
Unless you're already a Juggalo (that's Posse-ese for fan), you've probably never heard ICP's music and have probably heard that it sucks. Aside from a few spins of the novelty record "Santa's a Fat Bitch," radio hasn't touched ICP. MTV has looked the other way. Critics have taken particular glee in trashing these Jean-Claude Van Dammes of the hip-hop world. No rap act has inspired such a credibility gap between sales and status since the glory days of Vanilla Ice. And like Ice or Kiss or Spice Girls or Detroit forefather Alice Cooper or the World Wrestling Federation, ICP are more about conceptual exhibitionism than introspection and skill. Boasting revenge-minded raps, toxic-level testosterone and Y2K-timed concepts of divine retribution, ICP aim to stage a big-top hip-hop wrestling bout in which the forces of good-evil (theirs) and bad-evil (everyone else's) duke it out. Yeah, it's kinda corny, and the routine is designed to separate the Juggalos from the nonbelievers, a split that fuels ICP's us vs. them sensibility but that hasn't actualized their goal of world domination. As J himself once put it, the ICP experience is "not really a display of talent. . . . We use [theatrics] to hide the fact that we suck."
Like their previous four albums, six EPs and two-CD B-sides-and-outtakes hodgepodge, Jeckel was put together with Mike E. Clark, a Detroit producer-engineer-remixer who has freaked the funk for George Clinton and Primal Scream. Here, Clark manages to supply ICP with enough musical hat tricks to sustain their voodoo-doodoo thematics. While Shaggy and J endeavor to explain their latest morality tale — one involving Jake and Jack Jeckel, brothers who juggle the sins of man until Judgment Day — Clark brings the hip-hop beats, carnival organ riffs, power chords and shotgun blasts that Juggalos expect, plus a whole new slew of alt-rock swindles.
Whereas Milenko included rock-cred-conscious contributions from Cooper, Slash and Sex Pistol Steve Jones, Jeckel boasts hip-hop-profile-boosting cameos by Snoop Dogg and Ol' Dirty Bastard, the Jerky Boys' phone pranks, heavier guitar and numerous familiar flavas. "Everybody Rize" alternates banjolike plucking and Van Halen-esque guitar squeals over the groove of House of Pain's "Jump." "Bring It On" suggests Gary Numan synth doodles during the breaks, Suicidal Tendencies' machine-gun thrash in the chorus. "Another Love Song" impersonates Beck's ragged "Jack-Ass" strum while parodying the anguished whine of Korn's Jonathan Davis.
Yet no musical sleight of hand can disguise the fact that Shaggy and J remain the ultimate wack MCs. Without skills, they serve up shock tactics that are no longer shocking. Jeckel generates a continuous stream of failed punch lines, secondhand misogyny, grade-Z gore, sexual insecurity and klutzy rhymes more laughable than laugh-worthy. "People think I got bombs in my locker/If teacher gonna open it up, I'm a stalk her/Get the fuck back and leave me alone/Before I have to come to your home and see ya," goes a typical verse — and if the sentiments coincidentally suggest the trench-coat mafia's outcast passion play of victim and victimizer, Shaggy and J's hammy delivery and sound-alike nursery-rhyme cadences undermine any social commentary.
Competitor Eminem mines similar demonic territory but identifies as underdog, shares realistic storytelling specifics and pulls you into the truly fucked state of his self-esteem. More domineering than downtrodden, Shaggy and J are, by contrast, bullies who brag in big, nasty wrestler voices about killing cats and stuffing them in mailboxes — a cool activity if you're young or psychotic enough to be consuming vindictive vigilante fantasies dressed as rock & roll. Don't believe the tripe.