The Jeers of a Clown

A major label tried to muzzle Violent J of the Insane Clown Posse. Here's why.

As Violent J tells it, he grew up in Detroit in difficult circumstances: "When I was a kid, we had to live on fuckin' food stamps, and I dropped out of school in ninth grade." Shortly thereafter, he joined a street gang called Inner City Posse. In 1989 Violent J and fellow gang-banger Shaggy formed a gangsta-rap outfit dubbed ICP in honor of their crew--but after issuing a recording, Dog Beats, Violent J says a gang scuffle landed him and his partner in the pokey. While they were cooling their heels, he maintains that they were visited by the spirit of the dark carnival, who told them that they would be reborn as the Insane Clown Posse and make six "joker cards," or albums.

"That was all--it would be six albums until the end," Violent J declares. "It could be the end of the band or the end of the listener or the end of the world. But after the six, there wouldn't be any more. And all of them would have black covers with a clown on them."

In 1991 the Posse created the first joker card, Carnival of Carnage, for their own label, the subtly named Psychopathic Records. After another full-length (The Ringmaster) and a series of EPs--Beverly Kills 50187, Terror Wheel and Carnival Christmas--that aren't counted as joker cards, they inked a distribution pact with Jive Records. Under Jive's auspices, they delivered another LP, The Riddle Box, and its success in Michigan and beyond helped push the total number of Posse platters sold over the 300,000 mark. Given statistics like that, it's no surprise that talent scouts from Hollywood Records soon turned up on Violent J's doorstep. He and Shaggy were receptive to their entreaties, in part because of the claims they made about Hollywood's autonomy.

"They said there were gonna be no problems," Violent J asserts. "They were like, 'Disney owns Miramax Films, and Miramax puts out Pulp Fiction and all kinds of ruthless movies. We're just like that. We're doin' our own thing.' And I believed them. Plus, I thought the idea of us bein' on a label owned by Disney was fuckin' funny. Here I am, the bad guy, and Disney's payin' my paycheck, and every time they fly us out to L.A., our tickets had Mickey Mouse on them. I was like, the whole world is fucked up."

It didn't take long for the situation to sour. "The first sign of trouble was when we handed in our album about six months ago, and they sent back all the lyrics typed up and highlighted everything they wanted us to change with a yellow highlighter. So of course we said, 'Fuck you.'"

The boldness of this response didn't take long to wilt, Violent J concedes. "We sat around for about three weeks thinkin' they'd change their minds, but when they said the record's not comin' out until you change it, we buckled. But we didn't exactly sell out. I said the same things I wanted to say before--I just said them in a different way. For example, we had a lyric in 'Piggy Pie' at the end of the first verse: 'I blew his fuckin' tongue out the back of his cranium.' They said, 'You can't say that.' So I said okay and wrote, 'I pulled his fuckin' tongue out the back of his cranium,' and they said, 'That's fine.' Ain't that crazy? And they said you can't say 'Mossberg Pump,' which is a kind of a shotgun. So I asked if I could say 'twelve-gauge bucket,' which is a street term for the same thing, and they said okay.

"You're talkin' about a bunch of old men sittin' up in Disney Tower who don't know nothin' about slang, you know what I mean? Like in one song, I said, 'Toss me an action, I'll toss you a dead bigot,' and they hit the fuckin' ceilin'. So I changed that to 'Toss me an action, I'll toss you a dead chicken,' because 'chicken' is slang for bigot. And they were like, 'Fine,' because I guess it's okay to kill a chicken." He laughs. "They didn't realize that a chicken isn't always just a chicken."

These weren't the only compromises the Posse made to mollify Hollywood. The boys also agreed to leave three tunes--"Boogie Woogie Wu" and two sexually explicit rousers, "Under the Moon" and "The Neden Game"--on the cutting-room floor. "After that, everybody seemed happy," Violent J says. "The album was gonna come out, and we'd booked a two-week in-store tour and a real tour after that. But then everything got fucked up."

When Hollywood dropped The Great Milenko on June 24, no one from the imprint bothered to contact the band. "We'd done this midnight sale at a record store in Detroit the night before, and we stayed there signin' autographs until seven in the morning," Violent J recalls. "Then we went home and slept for about four hours and got up to go to a record signin' at another store across town. And when we got there, there were kids all lined up outside. But inside, it was a like a fuckin' funeral, because they'd gotten the call to pull all the albums, and they knew they couldn't do it, because those kids would've burned the motherfuckin' place down, you know what I mean? So we did the in-store there, but everywhere else across the country, the stores yanked them off the shelves."

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