The Jeers of a Clown
At this point, more people have heard of The Great Milenko, the fourth CD by the Insane Clown Posse, than have actually heard it. The disc gained notoriety earlier this year when powerful agents of Disney-owned Hollywood Records, the firm that originally agreed to issue it, balked at putting their corporate stamp on a collection of songs stuffed to the gills with lurid imagery, abundant profanity and random misogyny. On the day of Milenko's scheduled release (and roughly a week after an organization representing the nation's Southern Baptists announced a boycott of Disney), the album was removed from stores. The blizzard of publicity this move provoked led to a bidding war ultimately won by Island Records, but it also suggested to the nation's broadcasters that giving airplay to the Posse might be more trouble than it was worth. As a result, neither MTV nor most radio outlets are taking the combo for a spin. So how does Violent J, the Posse's lead offender, feel about that?
"I don't give a fuck," he blusters in a blue-collar voice somewhere between that of Joe Pesci and Andrew "Dice" Clay. "I know a lot of bands say that shit, and maybe they don't really mean it. But I mean it. I really don't give a fuck. I really don't care. We're an underground thing--directly band to the people. We're like a cult. We live on our own. We play on our own. We do our own fuckin' thing."
Chutzpah like this is hard to ignore, and so is the shtick favored by the Posse, which also includes Violent J's partner, Shaggy 2 Dope. The two refer to their stage show as a "dark carnival," and to that end, they use face paint to turn themselves into menacing-looking clowns. The makeup angle is such a creaky concept that Violent J feels compelled to joke about it: "KISS got that shit from us," he insists. "I don't know how it happened, since we only came out a few years ago. But that's how I see it, you know what I mean?"
No one will mistake the act's tunes for the work of Gene Simmons, however. Musically, Milenko mates purposely cheesy circus sounds with hip-hop beats and rhymes that will seem like enjoyable curiosities to some, like boneheaded manure to others. Typical are "Piggy Pie," a gamey nursery rhyme about a porker who "likes to fuck his sister and drink his moonshine/A typical redneck filthy fuckin' swine," and "Boogie Woogie Wu," concerning the maniac impressionable kids fear is hiding under their beds. In telling the latter tale, the Posse is not above tossing overt humor into the mix: Midway through, the title character sputters, "Ouch! Fuck! I stubbed my toe!/If you'd stop leavin' your shit all over the fuckin' floor." But this couplet is followed by the lines "Fuck it--you're dead anyway/And I'll leave your head smack dead in the hallway."
According to Violent J, these sentiments didn't thrill Hollywood executives. "They said the song was about killin' kids," he gripes. "Now, I have to admit, it may sound like that. But as God is my witness, that is not how I intended it, not how I see it, not how I feel it. To me, it's just like a horror movie--a scary movie, you know what I mean? And I don't know why the fuck it is that there's a problem when something like that's on a disc instead of a movie. I mean, in a fuckin' movie, you can fuckin' see guys gettin' their heads blown off, but in music, you just hear about it. So you'd think people should be protestin' movies way more than they do music, you know what I mean? But instead, they're protestin' me, even though most of what we do is just entertainment. I don't want people to work all week and then come to a show to get preached at, like fuckin' Rage Against the Machine. I want them to have fun. So when I say, 'Yo, I fucked that bitch and blah, blah, blah,' I'm not doin' it to piss somebody off. I'm doin' it because it's funny. We make funny songs, you know what I mean? A lot of it's tongue-in-cheek, but these dumb motherfuckers can't figure that out.
"That ain't stoppin' me, though," he continues. "There could be fifty million protesters outside my concert, but I don't give a fuck, you know what I mean? Nobody is ever gonna stop me from doin' what I'm doin'. I don't care if I have to drive around with a bullhorn and yell it from the top of my car. I'm always gonna say what I say, and I don't give a fuck who I offend. Besides, all the times where we talk about killin' somebody, it's always a bigot or a greedy rich guy or a racist drunk or somethin'. So for you to be bothered by that, you got to be a bigot or a racist. I don't know why people don't understand that."
In contrast, Violent J knows precisely why the general public is so clueless about the Posse's background--because the bandmembers and the labels with which they've been affiliated have worked overtime to prevent biographical information from leaking out. It's little wonder, then, that the official version of the act's founding reads more like legend than fact.
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."
With a touch of disingenuousness, Violent J swears that he saw Hollywood's maneuver not as a marketing opportunity but as a disaster. "Insane Clown Posse always gets fucked. That's just the way it is. So me and Shaggy and a couple of friends just got in the car and drove down to Myrtle Beach. I was just like, 'I'm gonna sit on the beach and fuckin' die.'" He changed his plans after receiving a phone call from his manager the next morning: "He said, 'Hey, it's on the front of the L.A. Times, it's in every single news outlet, and every single magazine in the world is calling us.' I couldn't fuckin' believe it."
Island wasn't the only record company eager to capitalize on the barrage of press: Interscope and several others also made offers. But, Violent J says, "they were the only ones who weren't just talkin' about Milenko; they were talkin' about the whole structure of the six joker cards. They were totally into it, you know what I mean? They even got us a distribution deal with Polygram for our first two albums. So they're really behind us. They're the shit."
The Great Milenko, featuring guest appearances by Alice Cooper and Slash from Guns N' Roses, returned to stores in August, complete with the three songs Hollywood had attempted to excise. Because of the controversy, most articles written about the Posse since then have dismissed the music as an attention-getting novelty. In Violent J's opinion, such criticism is mired in ignorance. "These people are tryin' to step into my world, and they don't know a fuckin' thing about it. It's like, you shouldn't let me review an opera record, because I don't know shit about it, you know what I mean? I'd take the greatest opera singer in the world, whoever he is, and I'd tell you he sucks, because I don't know good opera from bad opera. And most of these reviewers don't know the dark carnival from fuckin' corn. USA Today said Milenko was a 'sorry joke.' But it's already sold over a hundred-fuckin'-thousand units. So how can that be a 'sorry joke'?"
In other words, Violent J subscribes to the popularity-denotes-quality point of view--and he doesn't back away from it even after he's reminded that taking this theory to its logical extension means that the Spice Girls are a swell group, too. "They sold three million records, so they must be doin' somethin' right. You and I might not like them, but it's perfect for a twelve-year-old kid, 'cause that's their world. We don't understand why Barney's popular, either, but kids love him."
A lot of kids will probably love the Insane Clown Posse as well; the band's cartoonish exterior and faintly dangerous air have youth appeal written all over them. But how young is too young to listen to the Posse? Violent J chews that one over for a microsecond or two before responding, "As soon as he's face-to-face with the things that we talk about in our music. A kid who's seven years old, he hasn't dealt with any of the issues we deal with, so he shouldn't listen to it, you know what I mean? But a kid who's thirteen is dealin' with the shit we're dealin' with all the time. So I'd say twelve or thirteen is fine to listen to our music--because kids that age are a lot more advanced than most people think. Like, I learned about sex education way before they tried to teach me about it in school. I was havin' sex, you know what I mean?
"The way they teach sex education is bullshit anyhow," he goes on. "About a year and a half ago me and my whole crew went and had HIV tests, because we wanted to be smart or whatever. And we're sittin' in the lobby in the fuckin' doctor's office and they're showin' us a video on the TV. So we're watchin' as these two fuckin' dorks come on the screen. And the guy says"--he affects an Eddie Haskell voice--"'Come on, Jill. Let's have sex. Everybody's doin' it.' And she says"--his voice shifts into Marsha Brady mode--"'Gee, I don't know, Bobby. That might not be the thing to do.' And I'm lookin' at these fuckin' idiots on the TV and thinkin', if I was a kid and saw this, the first thing I'd want to do was to run out and have unprotected sex, 'cause I wouldn't want to be anything like those fuckin' dorks. The people who make these films need to wake up and smell the fuckin' coffee. They oughta let us do a video like that. We'd show them how it should be done."
Although this offer may strike terror into the hearts of moms and dads out there, Violent J doesn't think it should. After all, he says, "ninety percent of our music isn't educational, but the other ten percent is. I just say things in a language that's interestin' to kids. You think Nancy Reagan sayin' 'Say no to drugs' ever made any fuckin' high-school kid not smoke a joint? Nancy Reagan? I mean, who the fuck is that? That's gonna make me want to smoke a joint, you know what I mean? So I don't get up all corny and say, 'Don't be a racist. That's not cool.' I say, 'I'm gonna cut a fuckin' racist neck from ear to ear.' And then the kids are like, 'That is cool.' I get kids comin' up to me sayin', 'My parents are bigots and shit, but I ain't gonna be nothin' like that.' And that makes me feel like maybe I'm doin' somethin' good."
The Posse's messages may never spread to a mass audience. But Violent J, like the dark carnival barker he is, is brimming with confidence. "I see Insane Clown Posse goin' triple platinum, because we're the greatest band to ever step on a stage, even though we don't know how to play an instrument. And we know how to get the word out. We're applyin' the same tactics we used in Michigan, and it's workin'. Island's comin' to us, askin', 'What do you think we should do next?' Which is pretty cool--because we're a bunch of fuckin' idiots."
Insane Clown Posse. 8 p.m. Friday, September 26, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $14, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-
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