|Insane Clown Posse - The Wraith: Shangra-La|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 08 April 2003|
Take two white guys from outside Detroit, paint their faces with KISS-inspired makeup, infuse them with the energy of WWE wrestlers and give them mouths that a sailor would wince at and you’ve got a idea of what the Insane Clown Posse is like. They’ve been in the rap game since the early ’90s and, despite virtually no radio airplay and no videos, and albums that have been bashed by critics, ICP has released several platinum albums.
Now, with the assistance of DTS Entertainment, they are one of the first hip hop acts to embrace DVD-Audio technology with the release of The Wraith - Shangri-La. Joseph Bruce (a.k.a. Violent J) and Joseph Utsler (a.k.a. Shaggy 2 Dope) seem like wacky goofballs on the surface, but in reality are smart businessmen and artists who aren’t afraid to embrace new technology. They also aren’t afraid to stick with the characters they have created. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope may not have the best lyrical flow nor the freshest rhymes, and sometimes they have trouble singing in key, but they make up for their marginal talent with their “We don’t give a f%&*” attitude that goes a long way with the kids who want something that isn’t like every other rap group out there. The bottom line is that many will find their music juvenile and immature, but these clowns don’t care what you think.
Rivalries in hip hop are nothing new, and IPC always seem to have a major bone to pick with someone. For several years they have been feuding with Ozzy Osbourne’s wife Sharon over $50,000 they claim that she owes them. Fellow
white Detroit area rapper Eninem has a major problem with ICP and frequently insults them on his albums, but strangely, ICP doesn’t use The Wraith to vent their anger at anyone specific person or group. The focus of this album is not to bag on other white wrappers that they don’t like; rather, it is their ode to a dead butterfly. Yes, you read that correctly, a dead butterfly. In a section on the disc’s bonus material called “Thy Dedication,” Violent J tells a story about when he was an innocent child, long before sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll corrupted his innocence. Violent J and his brother caught a butterfly and they thought it was so cool that they wanted to save it and keep it as a pet. They decided to put it in a jar and poked holes in the lid to make sure the butterfly could breathe and even went so far as to put a fan next to the jar to get extra air into it. It turns out that this ended up killing the butterfly and as a result, Violent J was devastated. It seems almost impossible that a man who wears clown makeup, and poses with a hatchet in his hand while dressed like an angel, could be so sensitive. I’d have guessed that he would rather have pulled the butterfly’s wings off, but the whole point of his story was to illustrate that he was once just a regular kid and this album is his way of trying to get in touch with the innocence that he felt when he didn’t know about things like racism, drugs and corruption. Sounds nice in theory, but it’s hard to fully buy into this being the true concept of this album, with song titles like “Birthday Bitches” and “Get Ya Wicked On.”
As the album begins (in the default DVD-A 5.1 surround mix), static blasts from the speakers around the room while the beat to the intro throbs quietly and swells in volume. For a split second, you may think that you are hearing some digital distortion, but I quickly realized that this was an intentional audio trick that immediately gets your attention. Being a “concept” album with a heavenly theme, almost all of the songs blend from one into the next, overlapping several seconds on each track, the first real song after the intro is the appropriately titled “Into Thy Light.” The music and vocals on this song sound a little like Detroit rapper Kid Rock’s mix-master Uncle Kracker. The low-key twangy guitars and drum machines continue on the next track “Welcome to the Show” and the album doesn’t start to pick up ‘til the funky staccato metal groove of ”Get Ya Wicked On.” This segues into even more metal guitar on the track “Murder Rap,” with Public Enemy meets Anthrax riffing and siren-like synths squealing all around making for a very intense sound.
On the song “Juggalo Homies,” ICP borrows another musical cue from Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker. Honky-tonk-influenced rap is the musical bed for this party tune, as ICP pays tribute to their friends and fans around the world. A video clip for this song is included on the disc that can be accessed from the main menu. Chances are you’ve never seen an ICP video on MTV, so this is an opportunity for people to see what these musical clowns look like in action. They dress in wanna-be gangsta clothes and party at a rundown house in a tough Detroit neighborhood, while Ninjas spell out the word HOMIES with their bodies in various poses. The video has a very “Kinda Fly For a White Guy” by the Offspring look to it.
The Wraith is one of only a few discs that feature the DTS 6.1 technology called DTS ES. It also features a 5.1 DVD-Audio mix, as well as a folded-down stereo mix for those who only have a stereo DVD player or a portable DVD player with headphones. Some of the songs are just so silly that I can’t listen to them, but all of the album sounds terrific sonically in all three sound formats. I do not have a rear center speaker, but I was able to play the 24-bit DTS ES mix on my Kenwood DVD-A player, and found this to be the best-sounding of the three. As the album progresses to better songs such as the dark and brooding “Crossing Thy Bridge” and the “Thy Raven’s Mirror,” I found myself being drawn deeper into the album. The power of the surround mix makes the music so much more engaging and engrossing.
ICP sings off-key a lot, cusses a lot and has some very cheesy lyrics, but if you don’t take them too seriously, there is some good fun to be had on this disc. According to the first track, this album is going to be the group’s last. They say that many years ago, they were visited by spirits from a mysterious carnival and were told to deliver six joker cards to the world. This album is that sixth card, so I assume there will be no more IPC albums following this. However, at the end of the album, the final track is called “The Unveiling,” perhaps setting them up to record another album. It’s tough to say if this album will be successful enough to warrant another go-round in DTS EX surround sound, but if you are fan of rap and tired of waiting for the latest Eninem or Kid Rock album to be released on DVD-Audio, you better come join the Juggalo Circus starring the Insane Clown Posse.