The wind whistles. A camera pans up on blocky brutalist Detroit tenement buildings, looming impassively. We hear a creaking sound, and we eventually realize that it’s coming from a giant tricycle decorated in chromed-out skulls. The man piloting this vehicle is Ouija Macc, a young rapper from Las Vegas. He’s wearing studded bondage pants with Nine Inch Nails and Korn and Beastie Boys patches sewn onto them. He’s got white-guy dreads and face tattoos. Behind him, two girls ride up on tricycles of their own. Like him, they look like they were raised in a circa-1999 Hot Topic.
Ouija pulls up outside those tenement blocks and lights a cigarette. And while he smokes it, an absolutely baffling array of semi-famous rappers pulls up. Three 6 Mafia co-founder DJ Paul emerges from a gleaming black SUV, a beautiful chauffeur opening his door for him. Cage, who does not look the way I remember Cage looking, climbs off a motorcycle and puts on some occult-looking rings, which I guess you can’t wear while you’re driving a motorcycle? Stitches rolls up in a convertible, blasting “Brick In Yo Face,” his own viral 2014 hit. Mac Lethal appears, wearing a suit, a fedora, and some creaky leather Judge Doom gloves. A hearse drives up, and when the door opens, Detroit underground legend Esham comes out of a cloud of smoke, wearing a ski mask.
All of these men are underground rappers, but they all represent different genres and regions and aesthetics and approaches. None of them really have anything to do with each other. And yet here they all are, an incoherent summit meeting given cinematic weight. Only Insane Clown Posse could’ve done this.
All of this happens within the first two minutes of “8 Ways To Die,” an “ICP Psypher” video that showed up on Worldstar earlier this month. I have now watched it so many times. There have been other Psypher videos, all of them featuring ICP and their usual assortment of face-painted Psychopathic Records miscreants. Most of them are cheap fans-only affairs, taped at Detroit venues or paintball ranges or MMA cages. But this one is different because it brings together all these rappers from outside the ICP sphere — rappers who, in their diversity, present a weirdly coherent vision of the kind of underground rap that critics like me don’t talk about enough.
Ten years ago, the online “infomercial” for the 11th Gathering Of The Juggalos went massively viral, drawing enormous online snark and getting satirized on SNL. The infomercial was funny for reasons intentional and not, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. But it also looked like a weirdly great and nerdily specific rap show, with Ice Cube and Scarface and Dayton Family and Onyx sharing stages with all the face-painted hordes that were so unfamiliar to most of us. (Also: Gwar! And Vanilla Ice! And Rowdy Roddy Piper doing stand-up comedy! And helicopter rides! Shit, I should’ve gone to this.)
Point is: Over many years, ICP had built up this audience for the kind of homegrown word-of-mouth Midwestern cult-rap and for the artists from other regions who had impacted that whole style. They did it independently, and they did it by convincing this audience that ICP loved them and that they should love each other. This was, and is, a tremendous achievement. ICP’s version of underground rap is dependent on theatricality and gimmickry and violence, and none of those things makes it any less valid. So it’s absolutely fascinating to see what happens when they gather this random-ass group of rappers who, upon reflection, turn out to be not that random at all. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, and I love that. There is a lot to talk about here, so let’s get into all these rappers, one by one.
Shaggy 2 Dope
My friend and former coworker Camille Dodero, who is responsible for great feats of Juggalo journalism like this, tells me that Violent J is the cerebral theorist behind ICP, while his creative partner and childhood best friend Shaggy 2 Dope is more of a wild street dude. Shaggy is the one who doesn’t talk in interviews, who had a nice little run as a pro wrestler in the late ’90s, and who utterly failed at dropkicking Fred Durst last year. As a rapper, he’s a gravelly bulldozer, effective and only slightly silly. Best line: “Your nightmares? They my wet dreams.”
The Miami rapper Stitches came to viral fame five years ago because he had really, really terrible face tattoos and because he rapped about dealing coke with wild, over-the-top glee. He seemed like a total novelty, and he still seems like a total novelty. He invited girls from the crowd to sniff coke onstage with him. More recently, Bhad Bhabie’s people accused him of manipulating her into doing a song with him. None of that is great, but everything about Stitches — the face tats, the crime-talk, the general overwhelming air of sensationalistic sketch — makes him perfect for an ICP collab.
For such a living embodiment of the Florida Man meme, Stitches is oddly low-key in the ICP Psypher. Where he once bellowed and snarled — seriously, he could’ve been 6ix9ine-level famous if he’d come out a few years later — Stitches now raps with a gruff reserve. He might also use the N-word? I’m not sure about that one. White rappers really should not try that, but Stitches has never been a model of wise decision-making. In any case, he seems to be doing better than anyone might’ve expected Stitches to be doing in 2019, and so I’m happy for him. Best line: “I’m a dope dealer, and I’m from Dade County / I got kilos of cocaine, I keep them shits around me.”
The Insane Clown Posse guys are about the same age as Esham, but they seem to regard him as a revered elder, and this is exactly what they should be doing. Esham is a regional rap legend and a clear antecedent for a whole lot of the things happening in rap right now. He’s been active since 1989, and his bloodthirsty, surreal storytelling basically set the template for the Detroit underground. Esham rapped on the first ICP record in 1991, and he briefly signed with Psychopathic in the early ’00s. There were also feuds and reconciliations over the years, and now Esham is a regular at ICP events like the Gathering.
Esham sounds a bit winded on “8 Ways To Die,” and when he shows up, the beat switches up into an unfortunate nü-metal guitar-stomp. But he still connects the track to a long and proud Detroit tradition of rapping about gruesome horror-movie shit. Best line: “Psycho cyphers, Michael Myers / Set your body on fire / Let the air out your head like a flat tire.”
This one caught me off-guard. When I saw Mac Lethal’s name in the YouTube description, I assumed it was a different Mac Lethal, not the one I saw open for Sage Francis in 2004. Nope! Same guy! At that show, at least as far as I can remember, Mac Lethal came off as a fairly generic nasal Scribble Jam battle-rap type, albeit a pretty good one. (I remember him getting sacrilegious ooohs on a line about skipping tracks on Illmatic.) I’d never heard of him before that show, and he mostly went off my radar after that. If I encountered him at all, it was within the same backpack-underground context where I first encountered him. (He released an album on Rhymesayers in 2007.) But now Google tells me that he’s reinvented himself in recent years as a sort of YouTube rap comedian.
Mac Lethal is both an absurdly skilled technical rapper and an unrepentant goofball, which means he’s good at viral stunts like demonstrating a couple dozen rap styles in quick succession or speed-rapping about cooking pancakes while cooking pancakes. Those stunts impressed the Juggalo braintrust, guys who have plenty of experience going viral. (Plus: Mac Lethal is from Kansas City, Juggalo stronghold and home of longstanding ally Tech N9ne.) And so Mac Lethal has played the Gathering Of The Juggalos and toured with ICP buddies Twiztid, and now here he is on this song.
An avowed nerd like Mac Lethal looks a bit out of place next to the face-tatted and facepainted goons in this video, and he sounds slightly ridiculous doing hyper-violent horrorcore punchlines. But he’s clearly having fun with it, and he made the smart decision to dress like an undertaker. His nasal fast-rap attack makes for a fun change of pace, and it’s pretty amazing to hear two rappers named “Mac” back-to-back on a song in 2019. Once again, Here’s a guy who I haven’t thought about in years, one who I am happy to see doing well. Best line: “Everybody fuck with me / I rip so nice and fast, kid / If you ever fuck with me, I’ll dip your wife in acid.” Or maybe: “I’m with that dark Juggalo clique / The Incredible Hulk, on some Mark Ruffalo shit / I got a big hard buffalo dick.”
It makes so much sense that Psychopathic Records basically has its own SoundCloud rapper now. Would SoundCloud rap even exist without ICP? White kids with inadvisable tattoos who do lo-fi raps about drugs and depression: That is Juggalo shit! $uicideboy$, for instance, are basically what happens when Three 6 Mafia and Insane Clown Posse’s styles marinate for 20 years in a fetid New Orleans gutter. Ouija Macc comes from Las Vegas, and he apparently had an extremely rough upbringing: Bullet wounds, stab wounds, overdoses, mental health treatments. In his Instagram bio, he calls himself the “vegan art goon of the century.” He is, in other words, a classic Juggalo underdog. He makes sense here.
Ouija’s Psypher verse is mostly about pimping, and I guess that’s something that a lot of people in Las Vegas probably do? I’m willing to take it at face value, anyway. Best line: “Talk that shit now / Ouija got a chick with a dick now.” (I would love for Ouija to elaborate on this, but no, he just moves on.)
The originator. DJ Paul and Juicy J co-founded Three 6 Mafia way the hell back in 1991 — the same year, in fact, that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope started Insane Clown Posse. Paul and Juicy’s gothic churn and splatter-heavy lyrical style might make them the single most influential group on the circa-2019 rap underground. And while genuine real-life Oscar winner Paul hasn’t found crossover success in the past decade the way Juicy has, he’s been cranking out pretty-good underground mixtapes lately, and he’s been working off-and-on with the surviving ex-Three 6 members. And Paul also seems like a fun hang. I saw him do a solo set at SXSW a few years ago, and he was so drunk.
Paul has also been down with the clowns for probably longer than any other mainstream-ish rapper. ICP and Twiztid both guested on “Just Anotha Crazy Click,” a Three 6 Mafia song from 2000. Violent J was on the intro, yelling about “stab you with an umbrella and then open it, because I’m sick like a diseased Ethiopian.” That had to be validating for those guys.
I once called Paul my favorite untalented rapper, which was true but also unfair. Paul is a producer first, a genially chaotic presence second, and a rapper third. But I love the husky boom of his voice, and he knows how to knock a brutal beat around. He has presence and authority, and in a weird sort of way, he validates this whole Psypher just by being here. Best line: “Niggas copy, but I do get paid / Surf’s up, tryna ride this wave / I got pocket rockets and some knotted wallets, keep the molly in a Gucci safe.”
Here’s a weird one. Cage is about the same age (mid-forties) as ICP, Esham, and DJ Paul, and he’s been rapping for almost as long, starting out in 1993 after surviving a deeply harrowing upbringing. He spent years tearing up the New York underground, and when Eminem found his Slim Shady character, Cage made some pretty credible claims that Em was stealing his style. (Em responded on The Slim Shady LP: “I bought Cage’s tape, opened it, and dubbed over it.” Between Cage and Esham, there are two Psypher rappers who got namechecked on The Slim Shady LP. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, meanwhile, got namechecked on The Marshall Mathers LP, but it was in the context of a homophobic blowjob skit.)
Cage eventually founded the Weathermen, the crew that came to feature people like El-P and Aesop Rock. I really liked Hell’s Winter, the album that Cage released on El-P’s Def Jux label in 2005. Before the album came out, I interviewed him in a Brooklyn café, and I really liked him. (I think we mostly talked about the Dead Kennedys, so when Cage wore a DK shirt at the record-release show, I was a happy guy.) But Cage had demons, and I think those demons are what stopped him from maintaining the underground stardom he’d found. I remember seeing him one year at the Pitchfork Music Festival, crawling on the stage floor and slamming his own head into the speaker cabinets. There was a minute where Shia LaBoeuf was going to play Cage in a biopic, but that never happened. (A few years ago, I heard an unconfirmed report that Cage was still living in a Los Angeles loft that LaBoeuf was paying for, and I would love to know more about that whole story.)
Cage showed up on Kid Cudi’s “Maniac” in 2010. A year later, he and Cudi played French-speaking serial killers in a LaBoeuf-directed short horror movie, also called Maniac. And after that, I have no idea. He just disappeared into the mists. Google tells me that Cage had an acting role in Paint It Black, a 2016 drama that Amber Tamblyn directed. (He plays a character called Nick Nitro.) Last year, he apparently released an album called Book Ov Sam: Infernal Depths under the name Sam Hill, which is news to me. I was not ready for Cage to show up on this Psypher, with a waxed-up mustache and a trench coat and spooky rings, looking like a magician. But he sounds good! I’m happy to see him! Best line: “I see some demons that might be trying to fuck me or fight me / Because I wasn’t wrapped tightly / At Heaven’s Gate in black Nikes.”
The beat turns into this terrible galumph the moment the Juggalo king shows up, and this seems oddly appropriate. This guy is the only reason a video like this can exist. I like this guy. Best line: “I’ll slap you, spin your face round to the back of your head / You’ll have to chop a hole through your head or suffocate dead.”
I hope this shit happens again and again. I hope ICP keep putting together random lineups of rappers for 12-minute posse cuts. Just looking over the last few Gathering Of The Juggalos lineups, I want see them rapping next to Waka Flocka Flame and Immortal Technique and Yelawolf and Slick Rick and Twista and Lil Debbie and Brotha Lynch Hung. Let’s keep this going.
1. Joe Moses & RJMrLA – “Stop It”
In which two of the great unheralded rappers of the early-decade DJ Mustard wave jump on a new Mustard beat and talk shit like it’s still 2011. This type of thing sounded great then, and it sounds great now. God bless the time vortex that is Los Angeles rap music.
2. DJ Muggs & Eto – “What You Sayin”
Eto comes from Rochester, New York. I once had a couple of days of pro wrestling training in Rochester, in what appeared to be a burned-down post office. Based on what little I’ve seen in that city, Eto’s relentlessly bleak lyrics seem pretty plausible. And it’s cool to see DJ Muggs, the Cypress Hill legend, teaming up with a hungry East Coast underground guy like this.
3. Saviii 3rd – “The Glory”
This Long Beach rapper has a beautiful melodic singsong voice and a guttural force to his delivery, and here he’s riding a beat that sounds like a water balloon hitting a sidewalk from a great height. Bonus: Extremely cute puppy-related content during the video outro.
4. Epic Beard Men – “Hedges”
Maybe it’s not a great idea for white underground veterans Sage Francis and B. Dolan to name their rap duo after a vaguely racist old white guy who won a viral bus fight nine years ago. But this is some excellently breathless rap storytelling, and it’s also an incisive character study. It has me curious what Sage Francis and B. Dolan have been up to the same way I’m now curious about what Mac Lethal and Cage have been up to.
5. El Camino – “Venice Beach” (Feat. Benny The Butcher)
Benny The Butcher really rhymed “Bronco” with “condo,” “Blanco,” “Jimmy Wopo,” “potholes,” “capos,” “Alpos,” “Gwyneth Paltrow,” “mouth closed,” “house code,” and “south pole.” I love rap music.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
"don't say my car's topless, say the titties is out" was nas' way of answering the age-old question "what part of a car….is the breasts?". and the answer is YOU (and your passengers, if you happen to be in a carpool situation). you are the breasts of a car.
— Illingsworth (@illingsworth) March 10, 2019