You’ve probably heard about the Insane Clown Posse even if you’ve never laid ears on their music. They’re not your typical hip hop act. Yes, ICP is that hip hop duo that wears Kiss-like clown make-up and inhabits “wicked clown” personas – that has become known for their supernatural and horror-themed lyrics and their elaborate and frenzied live performances (in which they spray four hundred two-liters of Faygo on the crowd at every show, often incorporating monsters, dancing clowns, trampolines, etc). Oh, and they’ve also formed their own professional wrestling federation, publicly feuded with Eminem, and claim an extremely dedicated gang of followers (known as Juggalos) who have been known to perpetrate some pretty ugly crimes in the duo’s name.
As if ICP wasn’t already dangerously close to caricature-dom, along comes Jon Ronson’s article for The Guardian two weeks ago, which again gained the duo of Violent J (born Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (born Joseph Utsler) some unfavorable national attention. Ronson’s article ostensibly revealed for the first time that the two Detroit-raised gangsta-clowns were in fact secret Christians and had been planting Christianity-inspired spiritual messages in their music since day one. Many originally thought the “outing” was a hoax, as ICP has long been known for their violent and explicit lyrics, as seen below in “Chicken Huntin’.”
However, for many of the duo’s faithful, their alternate identity was no revelation; many had known (or suspected) for years that the group was Christian and believed in God – and, in truth, ICP had begun talking about their mostly-hidden spirituality as early as last year. The Guardian’s article (and reactions to it) went viral, creating somewhat of a critical uproar – with the underlying sentiment that ICP was the embodiment of modern religious hypocrisy, illustrated in the glaring incongruity between the group’s seeming celebration of violence, murder, rape, etc. with all that traditional Christian spirituality represents.
In an interview in June with The Columbian’s Alan Sculley, Violent J or Joseph Bruce, said of their employ of Christian spirituality [sic], “[Sex and violence is] the stuff that people are talking about on the streets … to get attention, you have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this and it might transfer over instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.” His words implying that ICP had always been Christian but didn’t want to be heavy-handed or seen as proselytizing in fear of alienating their many followers.
“[Sex and violence is] the stuff that people are talking about on the streets … to get attention, you have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this and it might transfer over instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.” -Violent J
Yet, though the Web was abuzz with talk of ICP’s “outing” as Christians, Bruce reacted to the spirituality-inspired virility as if it were a non-story, saying on his Twitter feed [sic], “I think its crazy how some press say we’re a Christian band and act like we’re all religious holly roller and shit when in reality … we only said that in one song, one time out of almost 20 years of constantly releasing music. Besides I’m proud that we believe in God but I haven’t been to church since I was like 10. I don’t even know if Shaggy’s ever been to church! Whatever, it is what it is. The fact of the matter is this … The Wicked Clownz wil never die! …”
Now, this is not to say that ICP should be excused; as two guys that believe in God, you might think that lyrics like, “I stuck her with my wang. She hit me in the balls. I grabbed her by her neck. And I bounced her off the walls. She said it was an accident and then apologized. But I still took my elbow and blackened both her eyes,” should probably be a little difficult to spiritually, uh, justify. In Ronson’s article, however, Violent J eschews spiritual justification and simply explains that lyrics like these are just plain “funny” – they’re jokes. And maybe they are, even if I’m not really laughing that hard. Or at all.
“Miracles,” a track off ICP’s 2009 album, Bang! Pow! Boom!, garnered a lot of attention over the last year (Miracles’ music video gained 4.5 million hits on YouTube) – again because of its supposedly “spiritual” message that, according to the duo, focuses on natural phenomena humans experience in life that often goes unnoticed and uncelebrated. Certainly, the lyrics ostensibly cover “introspective” themes, which – at the very least seem to be pretty uncommon in ICP’s work – though Violent J might disagree: “I love this side of ICP and I think it’s important to who we are. It shows our depth, I believe,” he said in a review of “Miracles.”
Yet, lyrics to “Miracles,” which include ones like these,
“I see miracles all around me, stop and look around it’s all astounding, water, fire, air and dirt, fucking magnets, how do they work? And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed,”
were questionable enough to get the song parodied by SNL — and were met by the wrath of many bloggers and scientists who claim that the duo is, essentially, glorifying ignorance.
Of course, the non-cynical or knee-jerk liberal approach to this song and its lyrics might be, “hey, ICP is simply attempting to celebrate the ineffable things in this world, and the wonder of being alive, and the staggering mechanics of natural phenomena.” This, in and of itself, is something art, philosophy, and everything in between have been playing with / waxing about throughout human history, right? So maybe ICP’s consideration of these topics, rather than the typical homicide and armed robbery, is laudable and shouldn’t reflexively be dismissed. Right? Maybe these guys are admirable examples of the non-neo-conservative, open-minded, modern Christian who believes there is room for debate, room for the hip hop lifestyle in Christianity, and room for trying to win over their fellow secular Christians by relating to their life-experiences and their anger – all while implying a positive message of hope and beauty.
On the other hand, if ICP is truly a Christian duo and has any intention of being identified as Christians, wouldn’t their being more proactive in resisting the ignorant exploitation of their lyrics and messages by angry teens who didn’t know any better, make all of this feel more “real”? Wouldn’t taking a firm stand one way or another on the “misconceptions put forth by the media” — rather than weakly on a Twitter page — make you want to believe them? After all, even clown gangsters can learn to use the media to their benefit.
The point is this: Everyone deserves a fair shake — if these guys say their Christians, then they’re Christians, and they deserve to be judged by the content of their music rather than what happens at their shows, what they said to Eminem 10 years ago, what the Juggalos do in their name, or what their creed happens to be. My hunch is that these guys aren’t glorifying ignorance (as some reactionaries claim), or trying to warp the minds of America’s youth — or anything malicious at all, really.
HOWEVER, without taking a firm, ballsy stand on your faith or who you are or what you really believe — instead just letting the fact that you believe in God be passively leaked and shyly responded to in a few articles, then become publicly defensive when people make fun of your music videos — many will continue to feel as if you’re simply using Christianity as a means/authority by which to give credence or depth to a body of work that didn’t have any to begin with. Because, at this point, as much as I would (honestly) like to empathize with a couple of depressive and oft-maligned clowns, I have to admit (prima facie) their music sucks, and there’s good reason that Blender rated these guys the worst artist in music history. But, hey, at least they were called artists and not blasphemers, right?
-Written By Rip Empson