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The Boston Phoenix Bus Boys

Rapping with Insane Clown Posse

By Matt Ashare

MAY 24, 1999:  A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a publicist at Island Records, one of the labels that became part of the giant Seagram/Universal conglomerate earlier this year. Insane Clown Posse, the controversial Detroit-based white rap duo who paint their faces like evil circus performers, were on their way to Boston. In a bus. A customized bus all done up in hellish flames and stuff. A customized bus that would be parked in front of the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel for an entire afternoon while Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope received visitors from the press and radio.

They wouldn't be performing in the area or anything -- that would come later, after the release of their new The Amazing Jeckel Brothers. This was just a promo tour, a chance for Violent and Shaggy to meet their media adversaries face to face (if any journalists or radio programmers dared) and to help generate a little publicity in advance not only of the album's release but of a Kiss-style onslaught of comic books, ICP action figures, and a straight-to-video feature film. This in the wake of the Colorado high-school massacre that had community demagogues trying to pinpoint a scapegoat from among pop music, films, and video games (instead of, say, taking a closer look at the often cruelly segregated social hierarchies of our high schools). Given ICP's attitude toward critics -- "Fuck critics/Fuck your review/Even if you like me/Fuck you!", goes one refrain on the new album -- I was a little wary. But there are some things you just gotta do. I was going to board the bus.

First, some history. In the first half of the decade, when the Jerky Boys were making their initial assault on good taste, ICP found a local audience in Michigan the old-fashioned way -- through a series of low-budget self-released cassettes, EPs, and albums. Then, two years ago, Disney's Hollywood Records released ICP's major-label debut, The Great Milenko, only to drop the duo and recall the album the same week. Apparently, someone in middle management forgot to memo Michael Eisner about the rather violent and offensive content of the disc. Anyway, as former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren will tell you, you can't buy that kind of publicity. When Island re-released The Great Milenko a couple months later, it shot to the top of the charts and went on to sell well over a million copies. A compilation of early ICP tracks and a live-concert video/mockumentary released the following year fared every bit as well.

Which brings us to The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, an album the Billboard chart doctors are already predicting will debut at #1. Wu-Tanger Ol' Dirty Bastard and No Limit soldier Snoop Dogg offer moral support in the way of cameos, but, except for the occasional calliope sample, the music's pretty run-of-the-mill, the beats more dopy than dope. As for the lyrics, well, here are some sample verses: "I could go back to school instead and try to get my diploma/But I'd much rather bang your head on the wall until you fall into a coma"; "Fuck preschoolers/Fuck rulers, kings and queens and gold jewelers/Fuck wine coolers"; "Bitch, I love you, and know you gotta die." Pretty silly shit, right? I mean, if anything, we should be concerned about the implications of living in a world where a couple of jokers with bad taste can be considered a serious threat. And I had the feeling even Violent J would agree.

"We're from the old school," is how he explained it. "We're putting on a big-ass show, right up to the point where we hide our faces in public. People don't like us because what we're saying is all negative. But I believe that in entertainment, whether it's music or movies, you don't have to give a fucking message. It's not our fucking job. When a kid who's been working or going to school all fuckin' week buys a $45 concert ticket and he's sitting in the crowd half-drunk, he doesn't want to hear about the fucking monks in Tibet. That's where we come in. We don't give a fuck about the monks in Tibet. I ain't saying that they shouldn't be helped. But we're just there to entertain you."

In fact, Violent even makes a case for ICP's being responsible citizens in their own particular way. "We don't deny that what we do is offensive to many thousands or billions of people. But, check this out, we just turned down an enormous offer to do Ozzfest. We turned down Lollapalooza two years ago. We turned down the Rob Zombie/Korn tour. That's because we never subject what we do to an audience that doesn't want to see us. Our music is filled with all types of obscenities and raw shit. But you don't hear it on the fucking radio. We're doing radio interviews right now for stations who won't play our shit. And you don't see us on MTV. We don't shove shit down anybody's throat. You gotta come looking for it."

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