November 16, 2011

My Gut Reaction: Insane Clown Posse - Carnival Of Carnage (October 18, 1992)

I'm apparently sticking with the carnival theme introduced yesterday, which I am fast-forwarding to its most obvious endpoint, that of a hip hop world filled with killer clowns from Detroit and the men and women who love them.  If anybody out there was taking bets as to whether I'd have the balls to actually throw this onto my iPod, I'd like to see them raise their hands, because they'd all be liars, as I didn't even decide to listen to this until yesterday.  I have to keep myself on my toes, too.

So, the Insane Clown Posse.  There isn't much I can say about this duo (made up of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope) without resorting to preconceived notions developed by fellow Detroit superstar Eminem's hatred toward the band (which has been reciprocated, multiple times, until apparently D-12 and Psychopathic Records, ICP's label, called a truce, which was news to me), so let me stick with the facts I was able to conjure up.  The duo started out as a trip called the Inner City Posse, with Shaggy's brother, John Kickjazz, rounding out the team.  Their interests ranged from gangbanging to fucking, from hip hop to professional wrestling (indeed, the first time I had ever heard of these guys was when they appeared on either the WWE (then the WWF) or the WCW's Monday night wrestling program, I forget which), and somehow they convinced themselves to form a group after finding mild success on the Detroit underground scene.  

They connected with horrorcore-slash-acid rap professional Esham and found their lyrics skewing more toward the grim, bleak lifestyle of a masked murderer, doing so as a heightened metaphor for their own frustrations.  (No, seriously.)  However, so as not to be confused in the dark horrorcore scene with any other rappers, the ICP adjusted their name to Insane Clown Posse and took to wearing clown makeup (an idea agreed upon after Violent J allegedly had a dream about a clown running the streets).  In 1992, they recorded and released their debut album, Carnival Of Carnage, which only last year sold enough copies to earn the group a gold plaque, but gained the trio, quickly pared down to a duo (John Kickjazz conveniently left the group right before they became famous, which may or may not make him the Jarobi of the crew), a solid fanbase who referred to themselves as "Juggalos" and took the group's hardcore lyrics to heart, so much so that they have now been desiginated a "gang" by none other than the fucking FBI, thanks to their incessant need to commit violent acts and generally not understand that the Insane Clown Posse weren't really trying to be taken all that seriously.

That last part is real, by the way.

An uncredited track introduces the proceedings.  To which I say: o-kay............

This instrumental interlude, with the only dialogue being laughter and the repetition of the track's title, appears to have been inserted fairly early in the tracklisting, so as to ease the listener in to what's about to go down.

I'm sure that Prince is thrilled to have his "Kiss" associated with the track that inadvertently named ICP fanatics "Juggalos".  Over a Mike Clark co-production that sounds like it took all of five seconds to create and loop the fuck up (save for the aforementioned Prince sample and the demented carnival sounds during the hook), Violent J manhandles three verses (even taking a quick potshot at the South, for some reason), going out of his way to blend horrorcore with straight-up shit-talking.  Maybe Slim Shady and the Insane Clown Posse had a lot more in common back in the day than you would like to believe.  Anyway, it's probably not a great sign that I thought the first real song on Carnival Of Carnage was too fucking long.

For the most part, this stunt month has featured a ton of trash talk and braggadocio presented without proper context (actually, most of the write-ups on this site fit that criteria), so whenever a rapper takes his of her time to tell a story, and actually sees it through to the end, it's somewhat refreshing.  "First Day Out" is not refreshing, but it is a coherent narrative, and Violent J's flow sounds like that of MC Ren (probably by design, but it isn't that bad of an impression), so I didn't completely hate this song.  I never plan on listening to it ever again, though, as the lyrics are a bit too simple for my tastes, even if the switch into "mack mode" during the final verse was a bit silly.

There are a lot of rap songs (and I mean a whole fucking lot) that reduce women to the role of sperm receptacles, so the inclusion of "Red Neck Hoe" isn't surprising in the least bit.  However, ICP takes one specific classification of female (the hot country chicks), pares it down to a racist stereotype (which they immediately cop to: hell, there's a vocal sample looped into Chuck Miller's beat that repeats the phrase "fucking bigot"), and makes them sound as unappealing as possible.  Perhaps this entire track was meant to be an allegory for racial struggles in America, and Violent J, Shaggy 2 Dope (in his first appearance with a real verse), and former groupmate John Kickjazz are merely reporting from the front lines.  I prefer to think that this song is about getting pussy.

At least the Insane Clown Posse see the humor in our chosen genre, writing an entire track as a goof on The Wizard Of Oz, adding more violence and psychosis than absolutely necessary.  The instrumental is pretty gosh darn wack, and the fact that these guys seek out the "Wizard Of The Ghetto" instead of the titular character smacks of poor proofreading, but I'll give these guys credit for their commitment to the bit.  None of this shit is remotely memorable, though, so it's best that we just keep it moving.

The title seems to imply that this track will be another horrorcore exercise in futility.  Well, Violent J likes to subvert expectations, so this track actually seems to be about our host's quest to obtain all of his blown-off body parts and organs in an attempt to rebuild himself.  If it was ever explained just how all of this happened in the first place, I must have missed it: I thought the first verse was actually interesting enough, in that it could be interpreted as being told from the point of view of a soul standing in the room where his body recently killed himself via shotgun to the face, but then all this talk about large intestines hanging from telephone wires fucked all of that shit up.  It should be noted that there is actual scratching to be found on this record, and it is terrible.

This weirdly feels like producer Mike Clark's take on an N.W.A. track, with Violent J reverting back to MC Ren mode while the guest star, a pre-fame Kid Rock (who, yes, was an actual rapper before that "Bawitdaba" shit changed the course of his career), rides shotgun as Eazy-E.  "Is That You?" is strange in that, aside from the asinine chorus, it isn't awful to listen to, because the inclusion of an outside guest (although Bob Ritchie is from Detroit, so it's not like these guys went all that far out of their wheelhouse) changes the energy just enough to keep you awake, at least.  Also, Kid Rock refers to himself as a "n---a", which, even though he isn't saying anything derogatory, you'll probably rewind just to make sure that you heard him correctly.  Bet he wouldn't pull that shit today, though.

This is the second track off of Carnival Of Carnage where Violent J references a woman taking a dump.  It's weird what kind of things people become obsessed with.  This song is pretty bad, mainly because our host's killing spree isn't presented in enough detail for the listener to (a) imagine what's happening, and (b) care.  I would think that an axe would also be a burden to carry around everywhere, but that's why I'm not a serial killer wearing clown makeup to replace my feelings.  The beat is also not very good, which doesn't help Violent J's homicidal impulses.  The fact that the story just kind of ends is ridiculous, too.

You would think that this song would be batshit crazy, but you'd be wrong.  Some of the elements of Chuck Miller's beat actually pay homage to old school hip hop, though, so that was unexpected.  The lift from John Carpenter's score to Halloween?  Not so much.

Quickly deteriorates into a revenge fantasy against a woman who somehow did both Violent J and Shaggy wrong, and when I say "deteriorates", I'm specifically referring to how the lyrics toward the end aren't even remotely clever.  ("I'll take your life and take it"?  The fuck?  Are you having a laugh?)  Fans of Eminem who wish that he had written more songs about murdering his ex-wife in increasingly gruesome ways may find this funny, but that would also make you the type of person that I may not want to hang around for an extended period of time.

Actually quite ambitious for an Insane Clown Posse song, as Violent J's three-act play occupies three separate instrumentals, each one better than the last.  (With the middle section, it's also beyond obvious that producer Mike Clark has a Dr. Dre fetish.)  The story itself is traditional murder spree/faux-psychotic shit, and I liked how the information presented in the first verse foreshadowed the finale just a little bit (with the clown that couldn't die and all), but, suffice it to say, anyone expecting the ICP to write a song about how hard it was to grow up in Detroit will be very disappointed.

Okay, that shot taken at the South earlier on "The Juggla" makes much more sense now: the Insane Clown Posse appear to be vehemently against any form of racism, and have singled out Confederate flag-loving rednecks specifically to be the recipients of their rage.  There they go, subverting expectations again: Violent J and his boys are much more socially aware than one would expect from guys who don;t know how fucking magnets work.  This track is an interesting curiosity piece that never heeds to be actually heard, but it's nice to know that it exists, I guess.

The lower energy level present on the beat (co-produced by Esham and Violent J) was a nice change of pace.  The song itself is far too similar to everything else on Carnival Of Carnage, though, and all of this shit is blending together in a bad acid trip-kind of way.

Okay, I'm convinced: Carnival Of Carnage is actually ICP's N.W.A. album.  The beat on this closing posse cut seals the deal, and the fact that "Taste" is actually a socially conscious track is a pleasant surprise.  There are too many people on this track for there to be a coherent flow, and yet everyone is on the same page (except maybe Esham toward the end, as he brags about getting "more pussy than Bell Biv Devoe").  Have to say, I did not see this coming.  This was actually a nice way to end the album.  Weird.

THE LAST WORD: So that just happened. Insane Clown Posse's debut album Carnival Of Carnage isn't a good album.  Let's get all of the negative shit out of the way right now: the overall production on here is a generic Xerox of other, better work from different producers, namely Dr. Dre; the horrorcore aspect of the lyrics immediately jumps to shock value for shock value's sake; and Violent J's malleable flow isn't very hard-hitting.  (Shaggy 2 Dope barely registers as an actual rapper on this project, so it's impossible to formulate an opinion on him.)  Unless you're already a Juggalo (and if you are, odds are pretty good that you wouldn't be reading my blog anyway), there is no reason to ever care about Carnival Of Carnage, let alone purchase the motherfucker.  But here's the thing: I was expecting these clowns (literally) to goof on rap music, dragging the art form down to their sophomoric level while they purposefully embarrass themselves on the mic.  What I received, however, was one dude (Violent J) who actually seemed to appreciate our chosen genre and was focused just on carving his own niche, as opposed to following anyone else's lead.  Although you two never need to listen to this shit, you should at least be aware that the Insane Clown Posse, at least back in 1992, wasn't doing this as a joke.



  1. (ken kaniff voice):

    ohh jayyy, viooolent jayy

  2. Nice review. I'm not an ICP fan nor am I likely to ever own one of their albums. But on the rare occassions I come across an interview with these guys I'm kind of impressed. They do love hip hop, create and perform to the best of their ability, and articulate a worldview that is socially and spiritually at odds with what I think of when I hear the word "juggalos".

  3. you have to review celph titled & buckwild album straight up

  4. Ballsy move, my friend.

  5. That was a fair assessment of that album. I'm from Detroit, but I never claimed to be a Juggalo. I do own a handful of their early albums.

  6. 1. I cosign the shiz out of celph titled and buckwild

    2. When they said "forget keeping it real we just keep it entertaining" That took away everything people tried to convince me otherwise. I had not even a glimmer of hope that I would ever respect them.

    3. Good review, but I really cannot tolerate these fools

    I was so surprised you chose to review this when it popped up on my screen I literally screamed out WHAT?!

  7. that dude VenomMenace has speaked the truth, so did the dude asking for nineteen ninety now

  8. Derek ClaptonMarch 01, 2013

    I give ICP credit where it's due. Two men born poor in a poor rough city. With clown make up and a karaoke machine as their only assets they forged their own destiny, opting to be kings in hell rather than slaves in heaven. Rather than waking up at age 40 as a regional manager at Wal-Mart they've accumulated a legion of devoted fans that even the US Government is intimidated by.

    On the other hand they do make exceptionally ignorant (and awful) music, so there's some perspective.

    Also Faygo is delicious.

  9. You think you'll do more ICP album reviews, or was CARNIVAL OF CARNAGE enough for you?

  10. Twiztid Mostastless was a classic but none of you fools probably even heard of it