Juggalo Watch

Here's Why Insane Clown Posse's Music Is Better Than You Think

Insane Clown Posse is not a critically acclaimed band, to say the least.

While ICP’s press is more positive than it used to be, and that was a low bar to clear to begin with, most of it has focused on Juggalos, their devoted fanbase. Why the FBI decided that a fanbase that embraces ICP-branded hockey jerseys and bedsets, adores getting soaked in off-brand soda, and lacks a functional definition of “self-awareness” is a gang, we’ll never truly know. Did juggalos' devotion to Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope turn them into outcasts, or did ICP just tap into an outcast goldmine?

What’s rarely discussed is whether ICP’s music has any merit for not. And while I’m not going to try and convince you that they are secretly geniuses, their music does get more of a bum rep than it deserves. ICP inhabits a world where rock kids and rap kids are united in disaffection, and it shows in their music — some of which is surprisingly conscious.

Riddle Box is a Detroit classic in the same way Fun House is in that both were made by outsiders for outsiders.

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Some of ICP's Rap-Rock Is Actually Pretty Good

ICP weren’t nü metal, but they came up when bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were gaining traction, and they’ve orbited in the same universe. Some of ICP’s best tracks come when the guitars get cranked. Often, they’re pretty simple chugs, but rap is based on loops, so they work. “Chicken Huntin” (from the ICP album Ringmaster) began as decent West Coast worship, but with added crunchy guitars on the  “Slaughter House mix” for 1996’s Riddle Box, their third record (which they’re currently playing live in its entirety), its power was truly realized. They caught a lot of shit for “Fuck The World” — who would take shots at the Dalai Lama and Oprah? — but its strength is its total lack of subtlety created by boiling nü metal’s base anger down to its simplest one-string riffs. ICP will occasionally throw a line that’s nonsensical, and they don’t get much more random than “And fuck Lyle Lovett, whoever he is.” That sort of chaos transcends genre, quite frankly.

Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J also have a taste for the classics. They may not have had access to Rick Rubin, but “Everyday I Die” from Hell’s Pit has some quality Slayer-like riffs on it, predating Lil Jon sampling “Raining Blood” on “Stop Fucking With Me.” And despite the anti-intellectualism of "Miracles," you can’t deny that the ending guitar solo is some righteous “Planet Caravan” worship. It works at the ultimate compliment to Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope’s free-flowing childlike wonder, trailing off like J talking about a pelican trying to eat his phone.

A lot of credit for this goes to Mike E. Clark, ICP’s longtime producer who helped shaped their sound so much that he was pretty much a third member. They’ve kept their demented circus vibe, from good-time metal guitars gone wrong to happy melodies twisted into psychedelic nightmares, thanks to his work. Rap and rock have never really had an opportunity to unite for good, but ICP at least tried.

Let’s not forget that Detroit has fostered some of music’s most influential names. ICP and their fans are derided as trailer trash, but guess who’s a Detroit-area musician who grew up in a trailer park? Iggy fucking Pop. Many would agree that he’s the epitome of not giving a fuck, and ICP are all about defying the mainstream and succeeding on their own terms. Riddle Box is a Detroit classic in the same way Fun House is in that both were made by outsiders for outsiders. You’d look like a fool for calling Iggy white trash.

ICP’s rise also coincided with another similarly dark rap group: Three 6 Mafia. Now, Three 6 didn’t really incorporate rap into rock, but Juicy J and DJ Paul have shown an appreciation for metal, and their nightmarish tracks from their early career are a favorite amongst rap-centric metalheads. “Cemetery Girl” from Riddle Box has a looming ambient beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on Three 6's 1995 debut Mystic Stylez. They teamed up on “Just Anotha Crazy Clique” from Three 6’s breakout record When The Smoke Clears, and Three 6 has played The Gathering of the Juggalos in the past, which is not a claim that ACL or Bumbershoot can boast. (ICP would later record an album with ex-Three 6 members DJ Paul, Crunchy Black and Koopsta Knicca as Killjoy Club, and it does not live up to the standards of all those parties, but we’re trying to stay positive here.)
They're More Woke Than You Think

ICP did not do themselves any favors with “Miracles,” which only furthered their reputation as dum-dums. And while there’s a sinister Christian undercurrent in their music, some of it is pretty progressive. Violent J lived in North Carolina briefly while his brother was stationed at Fort Bragg, and he witnessed stark racism that has influenced ICP’s lyrics since. While ICP's lyrical violence is over-the-top, it’s usually directed at bigots and people who abuse their power.

The aforementioned “Chicken Huntin’” is pretty incisive, and much like Body Count’s “Cop Killer,” it’s an anthem of just not taking it anymore. That also goes for “Piggy Pie,” and to be frank, only ICP could re-work “Three Little Pigs” into a tale of class struggle. Listen to it, and Juggalos For Bernie Sanders makes a lot more sense. Are these violent fantasies? Yes, but not without reason. “The Joker’s Wild” puts a judge and a cop in a game for their lives, flipping the script on who controls who. It’s like a carnival version of The Running Man, complete with a Faygo jingle in the middle. Even in ICP’s trademark slapstick macabre, some of their songs bring the seedier aspects of American life into light. Take “The Neden Game,” a satire of dating game shows (yeah, they love game shows) that is also a vicious commentary of toxic masculinity. Violent J would impress his date by dry-humping her mom and gawking at her teenage sister. Shaggy 2 Dope would kill any other man in her life, because life is a game, after all, and no one wants to lose. And given what we’ve read about Donald Trump lately, is Shaggy 2 Dope using his penis as a drink stirrer really all that outlandish?
They Promote Unity

Juggalos are loyal to ICP for a lot of reasons, and one is because ICP knows how to make anthems count. Obviously, there’s “What Is a Juggalo,” an explainer that Vox couldn’t better if it tried. But out of all their Juggalo anthems, “Juggalo Island” stands out. It was overshadowed by “Miracles,” but it’s the more revelatory single from Bang Pow Boom. Its sunny vibes veer close to Hatchetmargaritaville; nonetheless, it presents a utopia for Juggalos that also sounds pretty good for the rest of us. Endless burgers on the grill, cops smoking blunts, and Violent J wearing a speedo? We want in. The last thing we need is more divisiveness — in these turbulent political times we should strive for the “Juggalo Island” ideal.

Insane Clown Posses is scheduled to play Club Red in Mesa on Monday, October 17.