words and photos by Kyle Cochrun
A juggalo pushes through the crowd clutching a black plastic trash bag and yelling, in his best impression of a ballpark hotdog salesman, “Dead Bodies! I got dead bodies, here!” Within the hour, schlock soda from Detroit trickles down the walls while schlock MCs from Detroit rap about decapitating chickens under blood-red stage lighting.
An Insane Clown Posse show resembles a family reunion in the slaughterhouse, equal parts endearing comradery and horror-flick splendor. On Sept. 6, members of the rap duo’s devout clan, the juggalos, crammed The Outpost Concert Venue in Kent to maximum body count. A fire code violation seemed probable, but ICP’s nightmarish clown adjutants came prepared with multi-gallon buckets of Faygo, the group’s favorite soda, to douse the audience with in case the hatchet-happy rhymesayers set the roof on fire.
The turnout was diverse in age range – 20-something to near-geriatric – if not in color. There was a lot of Joker-inspired face paint and even more Dark Carnival-themed t-shirts depicting evil card-deck jesters. I stood behind Dark Lotus and Jake Jeckel, their names stitched across the backs of their football jerseys. Within ten minutes of Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J appearing onstage in their customary clown makeup, wearing black and red priests’ robes and holding staffs topped with bloodied animal heads (a pig for Shaggy, a lamb for J), the crowd already reeked of sweat, nicotine and sticky soda splash.
It wouldn’t be hard to write an entire concert review on these guys without mentioning the music; there’s enough visual stimuli to fill a graveyard shift of Halloween specials. That’s not a slight on the group’s mutation of boom-bap hip-hop. GQ magazine once ranked ICP first on their list of the worst rappers of all-time, but that’s an unfair distinction (especially in a world where Pitbull is signed to RCA). People talk about how much these guys suck without ever having listened through an entire song. I used to be one of them.
The haters aren’t really missing the mark, though if they’ve never attended an ICP show, I would say they’re missing out.
Shaggy’s delivery is sharper than critics give him credit for, and J’s gruff garble feels apt when he’s rapping about dismembering bigots with his axe, feigning a rage that can’t be constrained by enunciation.
Some of the group’s instrumentals are – dare I say “underrated” while discussing the alleged worst rappers ever? Really, though. I’m convinced that if you scrubbed the depraved funhouse rhymes from some of these beats, true-school heads would give the approving nod. “Halls of Illusions” curbstomps Clinton-flavored west coast g-funk into cranberry jam, whereas “The Great Show” debases early nineties east coast jazz-rap, replacing brick highrises with carnival tents. Over The Outpost’s speaker system, bolstered with crisp low-end bumps, these tracks sounded as wicked as ICP thinks they do. Even songs lacking in musicality, like the trick-or-treat anthem “Every Halloween,” got by on gimmick value, which is all casual listeners expect from these guys anyway.
“All of a sudden, face painting’s in style / And I’ve been doing it ever since Gilligan’s Island was on,” Violent J rapped to all the middle-aged juggalos who’d appreciate the reference. The crowd stormed the stage for the last song, squeezing out thick streaks of cola-colored Faygo that wormed through the damp air while juggalos down below welcomed the shirt stains and threw up hand horns.
These folks don’t give a damn what GQ thinks of their favorite potty-mouthed circus clowns.
Personally, I can’t get behind clumsy slant rhymes about the funsies of axe murder, no matter how cartoonish and jokey the delivery. But now I better understand the appeal of the “We are all freaks” comradery ICP instills in their fanbase, and I have a hard time imagining how someone wouldn’t consider this a great way to spend a Sunday night.
Don’t believe the gripe.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.