Release Date: August 14, 2012
Despite their reputation as violent, sexist, mind-corrupting cracker rappers from the mean trailer parks of Detroit — and for the moment, putting aside the very real and very weird fact that the freaking F.B.I. has labeled their fans (infamously known as “Juggalos”) a gang — the Insane Clown Posse should be feared only because of their unwavering, intimidating sincerity.
Their Gathering of the Juggalos, a massive, fan-friendly, money-losing weekend get-together going 13 years strong — with the latest installment finding room for both the roast-chicken-skinned wrestling legend Ric Flair and Skrillex-haired rapper Danny Brown — is one big celebration of seriously giving a shit. When “Miracles,” off 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!, molted into a meme (“Fucking magnets, how do they work?”), the song shocked snarky internet users simply because it fully inhabited the unspoiled wonder one has as a child.
And so, ICP’s 12th album, The Mighty Death Pop!, a jaunty disco-horrorcore record about man’s hubris and God’s silence, filtered through ’80s slasher flicks and pro-wrestling grandiosity, with three different bonus discs (including Freaky Tales, a staggering, hour-long(!) take on the Too $hort classic of the same name), has no time for cynics or guffawing outsiders. If their previous albums haven’t grabbed you, well, this one won’t, either. Juggling a goofy-ass sense of humor with willy-nilly musical fusion (hip-hop breaks, butt-rock guitars, Jimmy Buffet-y sing-alongs, nutty nods to the Dance Dance Revolution side of party music) and a dead-serious moral code that retrofits outraged ’80s rap to their cultish worldview, it’s nonetheless hard to dislike. The kitchen-sink-and-then-some production allows each song to barrel into the next, keeping the wonky momentum going for the full hour. And though ICP. are clunky MCs, they’re also ridiculously entertaining: Violent J’s a braying goofball, while Shaggy 2 Dope’s in-quotes mean-mugging is like Eminem if he rediscovered his spastic gallows humor from a decade ago.
See, their sincerity is not the proud, PostSecret-style wearing of flaws and insecurities that began with Kanye West and has reached its icky nadir with Drake, but a kind of “LiveJournal spewing vs. Tumblr cool-curating” dynamic that revels in rage and ridiculousness in order to transcend a cruel world. “Chris Benoit” taps into the psyche of the professional wrestler who killed his wife and child and then took his own life back in 2007, and uses it to stare into the void; tracks like “Blasta,” “Night of the Chainsaw,” and “Bazooka Joey” are similarly candy-colored comic-book tales of frustration.
But probably the best way to understand The Mighty Death Pop! is the mid-album combination of “Shooting Stars” and “Juggalo Juice,” the two purest examples of ICP’s pissed-off moralizing and canny self-mythologizing slamming into one another. The former is a grinding “By the Time I Get to Arizona” wannabe, in which our heroes attend the Grammy’s and kill domestic-abuse superstar Chris Brown; the latter comes complete with a Morning Zoo-voiced dude listing soda flavors while Shaggy and Violent J endlessly praise the much-loved cheapo soft drink Faygo.
The Mighty Death Pop! is actually at its best when it gets real. “Where’s God” is a pulpy take on a spiritual crisis: “How the fuck is shit fair out here? / Homeless family froze on the stairs / Where’s God? / Bumpin’ his iPod? / It’s odd, I’ll be the lighting rod / I want to know.” And then a Weird Al sound-alike asks, “Where’s God when shit goes down?” It’s pretty much the kind of existential junk Ingmar Bergman spent a whole filmography dealing with, compressed into honest, hilarious dude-bro outrage. Death playing chess… God listening to his iPod… not that big a difference, really.
Like Master P’s long-gone No Limit, Three Six Mafia’s once-fulgent Hypnotized Minds imprint, or the Wu Tang Clan at the height of their powers — back when 1997’s Forever came with an enhanced CD that gave you a virtual tour of the Wu Mansion, for some reason — ICP have constructed a feedback loop of fan-friendly promotion, junk-culture lionizing, and strangely personal, incredibly rarefied, even more ridiculous hip-hop. They’re world-builders running the last closed-circuit circus in town. The FBI is taking them seriously. So should you.