I spend a lot of time sitting at the edge of my bed flipping through rows of albums and scanning across puny CD spines. These musical artifacts occupy about the same space in my bedroom as they do in my brain, and they sleep more comfortably than I have for the past 20 years. They exploded into a alphabetical disorder around 10 years ago yet I still know where each and every one lives. “Hundreds” is an understatement and when scientists are standing over my cold body examining what’s left of my brain I hope they are able to make sense of this spastic dewey decimal system developed by years of passion, boredom, and obsessive compulsion. Each row has a theme, each rack has a feel. They are spaced out like any great album - they aren’t front loaded, I often saved the best for last. The second row from the top may seem like poor placement for The Donnas album left behind by an ex girlfriend, but it sits there to offset the greatness of Dinosaur Jr. and Drive-By Truckers. It’s not a coincidence that a pristine copy of Quadrophenia is stashed in the back of the hardest to reach row of all - it’s a treat for me when I take the time to thumb through all the Chicago albums. Nothing is there by accident, and yet there is one row of CDs there at the bottom that isn’t like the others. I refer to it to anyone who asks (myself) as The High School Bunch.
Lifehouse, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Natalie Imbruglia, Staind, Insane Clown Posse, and Twiztid. I can’t explain how poor Natalie has been stuck down there all these years with those misogynist pigs. I’m sure there’s plenty of “Show Your Boobs!” chants echoing in those plastic cases.
You know - that first Korn album isn’t so bad. Stanley Climbfall by Lifehouse is strangely a half decent album. Linkin Park was catchy, Papa Roach was angry, and Staind was commonly on sale at Best Buy. I was wrong about Limp Bizkit; at least I got out before Chocolate Starfish. That leaves me with the Psychopathic Family.
If you think the violence depicted in an average Insane Clown Posse song is despicable, you’re lucky you’re not in my head as I gaze down at The High School Bunch. It’s a war between music credibility and mediocrity. Do the ten albums recorded by rapping clowns negate the almost 20 years I’ve spent assembling the Bridgeport branch of John Peel’s collection? Am I a born again musical expert by way of repenting for my Juggalo sins? Truthfully, I’m not all that distraught about this internal struggle, but it sets the tone for the next few paragraphs where I will attempt to do what not many correctly spelled words and tattoo free fingers have done before. Convince you that...
Insane Clown Posse should be respected.
Yelling that out in a crowded room is apropos to watching Leno while Kimmel and Letterman are on, but I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t be. My knowledge of the Dark Carnival is a little rusty, I’m unfamiliar with anything they have released since the early 2000’s, and I probably haven’t listened to a song put out by Psychopathic Records in years. All I need to know to fuel ranting is that 20,000 people spend a weekend in Bumfuck, IL every year united by their allegiance to two face paint covered forty year old men spraying pop in their eyes while rapping about magic carpet rides to heaven. And It’s not a victory lap or the crowning achievement of their careers; it is business as usual.
This argument that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope should be respected is far different from an argument that you should enjoy their music. It isn’t for everybody, and it’s rarely even for my 28 year old self. Still, to treat them as a punchline like Nickelback is unfair. Nickelback is forced on those using Top 40 radio as background music and have recorded the same song over and over again to be sure not to stir the pot much. Insane Clown Posse, for better or for worse, have evolved and shifted and had a spoon in many different musical pots over their long and successful careers. Fans have to seek them out; they aren’t playing NBA All-Star halftime shows. It’s not repetition that has built a massive Juggalo following, it’s longevity. Most people may view them as an ice cube that just won’t melt, but like them or not they’ve built an empire on their own.
The ooooold art versus business argument. Billboard charts have been around since the 1940s, and have always been ranked by the number of sales. The “chart” that the majority of the people have used as the status symbol for success in the music business over the past 70 years ultimately comes down to how much money people are willing to shell over to hear songs. It is my opinion that the average consumer is of below average intelligence and that 50,000 Gangnam Style fans can’t be right, but for every lonely teenager teaching himself guitar in his basement because he loves it there’s an office full of greedy men looking to turn MP3s into $$$s. It’s undeniable that music is a two sided coin and that no matter what side of the coin you prefer you’d much rather have it in your piggy bank than have it lying in a field in Cave-In-Rock, IL.The theatrics of KISS mixed with the DIY ethos of Black Flag and the prolificacy of Robert Pollard all wrapped into a Grateful Dead caliber cult as loyal as Star Wars fans that has been profitable as long as Microsoft. That statement should get almost everyone’s attention. Almost. My name dropping won’t turn the heads of those interested in bass dropping, but they’re currently musically hopeless and I pray that one day Deadmau5 is to them what Limp Bizkit is to me. Also absent from this paragraph’s opening sentence is a reference to a hip hop artist, and since ICP are ultimately a hip hop act that’s inexcusable, but there’s a reason for this.
My hip hop fandom is as casual as the dress code in a Google office on a Friday in mid July. I know every word to a few Eminem albums and dabble here and there with some of the greats like Jay-Z and The Roots. El-P’s new album was one of my favorites of 2012, and I was the one that carried the boombox and the Doggystyle cassette to the back of church try to drunk on a 6 foot tall rim back in grade school. Besides that I pretty much only listen to hip hop when I’m stuck in a car that has 107.5 as the #1 preset on their stereo or an iPod full of album art that was created in 3 minutes using Microsoft Paint. But there’s one rapper that seems to always be in heavy rotation in those cars, and I actually witnessed live at Bonnaroo. And I’m here to tell you that the Insane Clown Posse are just as good if not better than him.
If I woke up one day to find a notification on my phone stating I have an email from Consequence of Sound (a great music site, check it out!) that contains a link to an article titled, “Physiological Experiment Revealed by Renown Music Critic” that goes on to explain that for years critics have been giving Lil Wayne positive reviews to see just how much influence a 4 sentence blurb in a popular magazine has on the mind of a consumer, I’d get out of bed and eat my oatmeal without giving the seemingly earth shattering news a second thought. Not once in the hundreds of songs of his that I’ve heard or the hour and a half “concert” of his that I witnessed did I hear anything resembling a well constructed lyric or song that was any better than an ICP track. I’m sure 93.1% of you disagree with me, but that just means the experiment is working! People still think There Will Be Blood is a fantastic movie so either my opinion is odd or these experiments are widespread in all forms of entertainment media.
Lil Wayne is well respected and I suspect it’s because people are conditioned to respect him. Insane Clown Posse are hated and I believe it’s the outcome of the same cause and effect. Maybe the story of the Dark Carnival narrated by foul mouthed rapping clowns is a tough pill to swallow, but superheroes and vampires own the box office and our 3D televisions are packed with Harry Potter of the Rings fantasy shows. The Amazing Jeckel Brothers seems to fit right in.
And it isn’t the language - hip hop is full of potty mouths and death threats. Lil Wayne talks about bitches and murder just as much as the clowns. The reason Lil Wayne is on Barbara Walters’ most interesting people list and ICP are on the FBI gang list is because people have convinced Barbara Walters that Lil Wayne is a respectable artist. Think about it this way - do you really think Barbara Walters put on Tha Carter IV and enjoyed it? Neither did most people who call Lil Wayne the greatest rapper alive. It’s hard to criticize two men for putting removable paint on their faces and sing the praises of a man that has a face covered in permanent tattoos.Insane Clown Posse are not The Beatles and they don’t strive to be. They are grouped together in a musical genre that is almost always mediocre and flawed. But nothing musically makes them different than the next mediocre and flawed rapper that is obsessed with stabbing hookers, slapping bitches, and killing dudes. The difference is their persistence, a rabid fan base and continued success. They have been doing this for over 20 years and have sold millions of records around the world. They play sold out shows everywhere an airplane can land and are responsible for bringing 20,000 plus to a village with a population of 390 each year. They’ve been mocked for being awestruck by science and went viral for watching “Call Me, Maybe.” They’ll never be in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, or crack a greatest albums of all time list; but if you can somehow respect Lil Wayne, it shouldn’t be difficult to somehow respect ICP.
I was wrong about Limp Bizkit.