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Insane Clown Posse Basks in Media Circus

Company Town

June 27, 1997|CHUCK PHILIPS and MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Getting its raunchy album yanked by Walt Disney Co. could end up being the best thing that ever happened to the Insane Clown Posse.

The obscure Detroit rock band vaulted into the national spotlight Thursday when it became known that Disney released and then quickly recalled from retail stores 100,000 copies of the group's "The Great Milenko" album.

As Disney executives hunkered down in meetings Thursday to decide the fate of the band, Insane Clown Posse manager Alex Abbiss was inundated with calls from major media outlets seeking interviews with the act.

"It's unbelievable," Abbiss said. "Everybody's calling--TV, radio, newspapers from all over the country."

Sources said representatives for several of Disney's competitors approached Hollywood Records on Thursday expressing interest in snapping up Insane Clown Posse--should Disney decide to dump the act in the weeks ahead. Sources speculated that Disney might sell the band's contract to a competing firm, which would release the recalled album as soon as possible to capitalize on the controversy.

Although Abbiss predicted that Disney would drop Insane Clown Posse from its roster, a spokesman for the corporation said no such decision had been made.

"I think everybody has just got to step back and let some time pass," the Disney spokesman said. "The label and the band will have to sit down next week and talk about exactly how to proceed."

Industry sources said Disney is likely to receive some revenue from sales of "The Great Milenko" album before retailers were notified to return the product earlier this week. Record distribution sources said there is no way to force a retailer to honor a recall and speculated that many merchants will try to sell off their inventory before the media firestorm subsides.

Southern Baptists, who last week voted to boycott Disney, applauded the entertainment company's decision to recall the obscenity-laced album.

"In reference to the battle between Disney and Southern Baptist, it's Southern Baptist, 1, Disney, zip," said the Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, who originally proposed the boycott.

Insane Clown Posse, a white hip-hop act described as a cross between Kiss and the Beastie Boys, is virtually unknown outside its hometown of Detroit. A Hollywood Records biography states that the group's initials came from Inner City Posse, a gang it says was founded by band members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. The band has released a handful of sluggish-selling albums, including "The Terror Wheel" and "Carnival of Carnage."

Hollywood Records talent scout Julien Raymond signed the Insane Clown Posse last June on the watch of former Hollywood President Bob Pfiefer. The band delivered a demo copy of "The Great Milenko" to Hollywood Records in January and the label forwarded the tape with transcribed lyrics to its internal review committee within weeks.

Lawyers working for Sandy Litvak, Disney's chief of corporate operations and senior executive vice president, reviewed the lyrics and requested several changes in March.

Disney approved the edited demo in late March and gave Hollywood permission to move ahead with the release of the record. Sources said the company invested more than $1 million to finance the recording, film music videos and market the album.

On June 18, Hollywood's distributor PolyGram shipped 100,000 copies of the album to retailers nationwide--the same day the Southern Baptists called for a boycott of Disney. On June 19, Disney studio chief Joe Roth, who oversees the music division, became aware of the content and insisted that the company pull the album, sources said.

Over the weekend, sources said Roth, Litvak and Disney chief Michael Eisner discussed the situation and decided to pull the album. Disney decided to wait to pull the plug on the project until Tuesday--six hours after the band finished hosting a midnight signing party at Harmony House Records in Sterling Heights, Mich.

More than 700 fans lined up around the block to attend the signing party, according to a Harmony House employee.

"People were stretched around the mall as far as the eye could see," the employee said Thursday. "This band is huge in Detroit. They will probably be huge everywhere after this."

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