Week 34 Review

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 BackgroundThe 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.

What Works: 

  • 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.

What Doesn’t:

  • 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)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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Week 29 Review

Tech N9ne – All 6’s and 7’s (2011)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 6.76 out of 7 stars album. Tech is a very interesting figure in the world of hip hop and his albums clearly reflect that. All 6’s and 7’s is jam packed to the brim with intense energy and emotion covering an impressive range of topics. You need to listen to it just to hear one of the greatest rappers out there do his thing.

Artist BackgroundTech N9ne is the biggest independent rapper in the world as far as I can tell. He’s sold a million albums by 2008. So he’s doing pretty well. And he co-founded his own label, Strange Music, in 1999 with Travis O’Guin. I imagine he has far more control over and freedom with his albums than many of the other artists out there as a result of this. Tech grew up in Kansas City and makes sure his city is well represented in his music. He’s built a hardcore and devoted following for himself. Tech N9ne is known for his rapid delivery which is just incredible. But I think I appreciate him more for the content of his songs, which tend to be introspective and often philosophical in nature. If he’s questioning something about life, he’s going to let you know.

Album Background: The album, All 6’s and 7’s, is much longer than your average hip hop album at 76 minutes with 18 songs and 6 skits. This album was his first mainstream success as it was his first album to crack the top 5 of the US charts at number 4. This album includes a lot of guest artists including B.o.B., Hopsin, Yelawolf, Snoop Dogg, Jay Rock, Twista, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, E-40, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, and a bunch of other people. It’s pretty packed and the well chosen guest rappers are a big part of why this album is as good as it is.

Favorite Track: My favorite track is Am I a Psycho. It was a really close race though; it wins but just barely. The chorus is very memorable and catchy. Tech N9ne, Hopsin and B.o.B. let their imaginations go to a dark place and come up with some clever lines throughout the song. All three of them rap solid verses both in content and delivery. Their approaches to the topic of psychosis are different enough that it keeps your attention for the entire song. I could start listing the lyrics, but I really think you need to hear the song to get a sense of why I like the song so much. It’s definitely not the most technically impressive song on the album, but still very enjoyable because it’s so fun.

What Works: 

  • Four The first four songs on this album (Technicians, Am I a Psycho, He’s a Mental Giant and Worldwide Choppers) plus the two accompanying skits of The Pledge and Military is the greatest opening for any album I’ve ever heard. All of the songs are easily 5 star songs and the intense energy projected during these songs is through the roof. Put them all together and you have something I’m not sure anybody else will ever be able to replicate. For those looking to duplicate it, I found this really cool video put out by the guy who did the beats for Technicians and he explains how every sound used to make the beats was put in there. It’s pretty amazing to see all the work that went into the beat. I wish I had that kind of technical knowledge about making music.
  • Rhythm I know everyone is incredibly impressed with how quick Tech can spit. And I am too. His delivery is instantly recognizable. But I think I’m more impressed with rhythms used in his delivery. While Tech N9ne can go 200 MPH, he also knows how to and when to change it up. I love how he will flip back and forth between very distinct rhythms in his song without missing a beat. Or deliver 10 lines in a row using the same intricate pattern perfectly.
  • Exposure Tech is very much willing to let his fans into his world. In Cult Leader, he talks about the comparisons that have been with him to Jim Jones and David Koresh. I love that he basically trolls those making the comparisons by delivering a very cult like speech to a group of “followers” at the end of the song. O-W-H-H! The songs Delusional, So Lonely, If I Could and Mama Nem discuss some of the difficulties of his life. If I Could talks about the struggles of trying to provide for your family and still be there for them. I can definitely relate to this with all the hours I am putting in at work right now. Mama Nem may seem like your average cliche mother song, but the collection of songs preceding it clearly show Tech is nothing but sincere with his music. Unlike your generic cliche mama song, Tech fills his with numerous specifics that give you a real glimpse into his life and the pain he felt. It’s quite obvious he’s making this song for himself rather than trying to tap into something that he knows everyone would identify with in order to sell more records.

What Doesn’t:

  • Graphic Like really damn graphic descriptions of sexual acts. I honestly don’t have a problem with it. However, I’m not sure everyone is going to be comfortable listening to music with lines like ****** ***** **** * ****** or ******* **** **** ****** ****** *****. I’m going to go as far as to say the songs are really well done and do a fantastic job celebrating sex in its most pure and raw form. And surprisingly, it does so for both genders. In Pornographic, I feel like Tech is talking to one woman in particular and sharing something with her rather than having this feeling of all women being interchangeable. Unfortunately, Snoop Dogg ruins it with his misogynistic verses; very similar to what he was doing in 2001. To counter things like this, Tech dedicates an entire song to pleasuring women properly in the bedroom with Overtime. There’s actually a great part in the song where the rapper hands off the line “pack a stud in your luggage” to Stevie Stone. I don’t know how often trading lines like that happens but I loved it every time I heard it. On top of that, Tech N9ne starts out the collection of sex songs on the album with Kansas City Poet Camile’s graphic ripping apart of a boastful man who didn’t quite live up to his promises. I can’t really repeat any of it but I love how she ends it with “I love you, Tech N9ne! You inspire me!” Like I said, I think the songs are well done, but I think it might be really alienating to some people.

In Conclusion: Tech N9ne’s All 6’s and 7’s is such a great album. Tech deserves all of the praise that he gets. He is incredibly talented and pours so much of himself into his work. If you’ve never listened to him, this is where you should start. If after the first 4 songs you aren’t blown away like I was then you can stop listening and move on. But I think that you’re going to want to make a trip to Strangeland and, like me, never want to leave. And remember: Tech won’t go mainstream. Mainstream will go Tech.

Music Video Links:
Tech N9ne – Am I a Psycho? (feat B.o.B. and Hopsin) (Official Video) 
(I seriously hate this video. It doesn’t even come close to what they could have done with such great lyrics. So incredibly boring.)
Tech N9ne – He’s a Mental Giant (Official Video)
 
(I actually like this video since it’s done in the spirit of one of my favorite book series of all time: The Wizard of Oz.)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site