Insane Clown Posse, the band that gets more mileage out of acting put-upon than any other, has a new album out next week — “They’re undisputably the most hated band in the world,” begins the infomercial for it. Really, they have four new albums out next week: there are three variant editions of The Mighty Death Pop, each with an additional album included. Its single, whose video appears below, is “Chris Benoit,” named after the wrestler who killed his family and himself in 2007.
ICP’s been at it for a solid twenty years now, but even before they established themselves, there was another Detroit rapper who was following a wildly idiosyncratic path, releasing a fusillade of albums on an independent label devoted to his own work, assembling a fanatical cult (including a few much bigger names), and burning a lot of bridges in the process. Esham’s name is very familiar to almost every hip hop listener in Detroit, and not to a whole lot of people outside Detroit.
Rashaam Smith, a.k.a. Esham, made his first album, Boomin Words from Hell, in a single day in 1989 — when he was 13 years old, or maybe 15, depending on what source you’re looking at. He and his brother James established their own label, Reel Life Productions, which released Esham’s records for the next decade or so. Here’s Boomin Words’ opening track, “Esham’s Boomin.”
By the time Eminem was starting to make a name for himself in mid-’90s Detroit, Esham and his unbelievably grim, cruel “acid rap,” as he called it, were a pretty big deal in their home town; in addition to his solo records, Esham had started a group called Natas (“Satan backwards, if you’re dyslexic or something,” he told Murder Dog magazine). He even got a quick shout-out on Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP — in “Still Don’t Give a Fuck,” Em describes himself as “a cross between Manson, Esham and Ozzy.”
The mutual admiration between Eminem and Esham didn’t last long. In 2001, Esham’s “Chemical Imbalance” included an attack on Em’s daughter (“Hailie’s in a coma/ I smell the aroma/ Of a dead body”); that pretty much destroyed the relationship between their respective camps.
Esham had made a guest appearance on the first Insane Clown Posse album’s tracks “Carnival of Carnage” and “Taste,” back in 1992; ICP’s Violent J had written about how he’d been inspired by seeing Esham’s clown makeup on the cover of the 1991 EP Homey Don’t Play!, and he also talked about Esham’s influence on ICP in the duo’s interview with Hive. When ICP became a big deal, they signed Esham to their Psychopathic Record label, releasing three albums, including a best-of called Acid Rain, narrated by Violent J.
By the mid-2000s, though, Esham returned to self-releasing his music — both his solo material and the Natas records–through his Reel Life Productions/Gothom label. Here’s “Why You Gotta Lie,” an “Enter Sandman” rip from Natas’s 2006 album N of tha World.
Esham revived his old Homey the Clown character for 2009 I Ain’t Cha Homey EP, with its suicidal-clown cover and clown-paint makeup video for “Happy Happy Joy Joy.” ICP took it (and tracks like “Dead Clownz” and “Juggalotus”) as a dis; they apparently haven’t talked since.
Unsurprisingly, the Juggalo nation rose up to glare angrily at Esham, who in turn apologized via a very strange YouTube video, “To All Juggalos”– not a song or even a video of Esham himself, but a a rambling message superimposed on a performance of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Keep It To Yourself.” “You guys should know that I suffer from substance abuse and have abuse my body, mind, and spirit being such a fucking drug addict I am getting help for that … Rehab!” (sic), the text reads in part.
Esham’s most recent album is 2011’s DMT Sessions, almost all of whose tracks are named after one psychoactive substance or another. He made a video for “Methylenedioxymethamphetamine” (i.e. MDMA), below. He followed up the album with a five-part documentary called Death of an Indie Label, about the fall of Reel Life/Gothom, and then followed that with another scrolling-text video, “Death of an Indie Label Part 666 The End of It All,” accompanied by the claim that “This is it I will never speak on eminem icp psychpathic or anything they have to do with” (sic).
The hip-hop mainstream rolls on, mostly without Esham, although he occasionally crosses its path. A few months ago, he recorded “Big Thangs” over a track by the late J Dilla, and it appeared on the recent Rebirth of Detroit set — Esham made a video for it, too.
Esham’s continuing to crank out music; supposedly, there’s another album, Venus Flytrap, on the way, and its track titles mostly refer to plants that are processed into psychoactive drugs. His new single is named after another allegedly mind-altering substance: “Bath Salts,” accompanied by an extremely silly, extremely low-budget, extremely NSFW video.