Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999)
Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.5 out of 5 stars album. Critics seem to love to rip on ICP. I can’t say their points aren’t valid, but for me everything comes together to make the traveling dark carnival an incredibly fun time. At the end of the week, I was still smiling and laughing, so they must be doing something right.
Artist Background: The Insane Clown Posse roots started in the mid-80s but the group didn’t use it’s current name until the early 90s. The band is made up of Joseph Bruce aka Violent J and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope. The duo builds it music around the imagery and themes of the Dark Carnival. Both the name Insane Clown Posse and the idea of the Dark Carnival actually came from two separate dreams that Violent J had. ICP has a rather controversial history including a major protest of the group when they were signed to Disney records. They’ve also had several run-ins with the law over the span of their career. But despite all this, ICP has continued to build a successful following with each album release.
Album Background: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers continues with the Dark Carnival themes set up by it’s predecessors. This particular album focuses on the 9 circles of hell. The Jeckel Brothers Jack and Jake represent the duality of mankind and the internal struggle between good and evil. I’m not sure you need to know that to enjoy the album, but it does help make sense of the significance of the intro track. The album is 70 minutes long and is a combination of the genres horrorcore, hip hop and rap rock. With this album debuting at number #4, it is the most successful album in their discography. And it should have felt very satisfying for them given the intense amount of hate they received through the attention of the protests against them regarding their previous album, The Great Milenko. In addition to being successful, the album was also a major step toward being treated with more respect within the hip hop world by securing appearances by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Snoop Dogg on the album. (Snoop just keeps popping back up on my reviews, doesn’t he?)
Favorite Track: Picking the favorite track is sometimes a struggle, but with this album it was an easy pick. Mad Professor checks all the boxes for me. First, the opening skit of the man buying a couch then being bludgeoned to death with a cartoonish-sounding frying pan is hilarious. This is then followed with one of the funniest lines I think I have ever heard delivered in an album skit: “You want my couch?…You can’t have my couch!” Couches are comedy gold for music. Two more people die during the song with additional skits, which nicely breaks up the song’s longer than usual run-time of almost 6 minutes. The song itself makes heavy use of samples from old sci-fi/horror movies, though, I couldn’t find any specific titles used. The heavy sampling and overall sound reminds me of the classic sci-hop album, Dr. Octagonecologyst by Dr. Octagon aka Kool Keith aka Keith Thornton. What really seals the status as favorite track is the ending reveals the song is actually an origin story for ICP as the Mad Professor’s creation is none other than Shaggy 2 Dope.
- ODB It turns out ODB aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard gave ICP very little to work with for the song Bitches as it amounted essentially to incoherent rambling when they first received his recordings. The duo pressed on, though, and dug through the ramblings to create something that actually worked as verses. They then re-recorded their verses to fit better with the lyrics they scraped together from ODB and thus Bitches was born. The song is incredibly misogynistic but given their starting point, I think they did an admirable job. I also enjoyed them reusing the backing vocals/chanting from the Wu-Tang classic Clan in da Front. ODB is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan for those not familiar with him. Props for the beat used on this song which is very playful.
- Story Telling ICP are such good story tellers. My favorite track, Mad Professor, is a great example of this. But so is I Want My Shit which tells the incredibly epic and equally silly story of the 200+ year old Violent J who participated in key historical events and hung out with notable figures. Violent J remains immortal until he obtains four cornerstones of the Juggalo mythology which include an oxidized axe, knowledge in the mystical art of voodoo, an overweight female companion whose given name is Bridget and nature’s sweet elixir, Faygo. Faygo is a soda line based in Detroit, Michigan that heavily featured in ICP concerts. ICP has a lot of love for their hometown and makes sure the city is well represented on their albums. In addition to the compelling comedic tale, the rock-oriented beats complement the lyrics quite nicely and help to maintain the aggression of the chorus. Play With Me is another interesting tale from the point of view from a now abandoned toy and its need for revenge on its former child owner.
- Comedy ICP is funny as hell. In particular, The Shaggy Show, which features real life ska band, Gangster Fun, is filled with numerous moments of hilarity. I especially like the mock commercial for a Player-Hating Degree program. And, although this doesn’t fall under comedy but since we are discussing The Shaggy Show, I have to mention this. I was impressed that ICP decided to reference Violent J’s real-life panic attack that occurred on-stage in 1998 as part of the interview between the two. In addition to some very funny tracks, some of the songs include skits at the end of the song. While all of them are pretty funny, the disgruntled truck driver looking to unload a payload of male masturbators for an ICP show as part of prank call to ICP’s management team made me smile every time I heard it. The prank calls were done by The Jerky Boys and were executed perfectly. There are just so many moment in the album that I can’t help but smile. How these guys got so much hate mail boggles my mind. They do nothing but make me happy.
- Abrasive I listen to albums on repeat during work but also on my commute. Some of the mornings were particularly brutal due to the over abrasive sound on some of the ICP songs. Bring It On is probably the biggest offender of being overly harsh due to the multi-layered screaming of the chorus. Multiple times I found myself thinking it is way too early in the morning for this kind of music. And I’m the kind of guy who will head bang to AC/DC’s Back in Black on his way to work. So it’s really saying something when I think they need to dial it back for some parts of the album.
- Length At 70 minutes, I think the album is too long. The second to last track, Echo Side, was actually meant for a different album with a different group that ICP is a sub-set of and I think the album might have better pacing without it. I will say the song is interesting with the inclusion of what I think are backward lyrics but it’s not essential. Overall, I think a lot of the songs would’ve benefited from trimming off some of the excess fat. Quite a few songs go past the 5 minute mark and some run into 6 minutes. Don’t mess with Mad Professor though.
In Conclusion: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers is probably not for everyone. Sadistic rapping clowns that regularly denounce racism, bigotry and child abuse while telling vulgar stories of violence and demonic darkness probably doesn’t have universal appeal. I get that. But I think if you go into it with the right expectations, you’re going to finish the album feeling better off than when you started. ICP has never been and will never be lyrical geniuses. But I do think they are very creative with their Dark Carnival concept and do a wonderful job creating a fun, playful environment with dark gritty overtones. I’m not sure just anyone could pull off the balancing act ICP does, so unlike some others, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for this album.
Music Video Links:
Insane Clown Posse – Another Love Song (Official Video)