Disclaimer: This is a pretty personal post about a band, and subculture, that I’m sure the majority of my followers are unfamiliar with. Or if any of you are, you either have a negative viewpoint about both, or are indifferent and don’t really care about either. However, this is something I’ve been wanting to write for ages, and I have dedicated a lot of thought, research and time into this one. So I’d appreciate if you gave this one a read, even if it’s not really the usual focus of the blog.
It’s also going to get pretty damn personal I guess. So you know the drill.
With all that said… Here. We. Go!
Wow. Defending the indefensible sure has become a tradition on this blog in the past year hasn’t it? I’ve already defended what many considered to be one of the worst Anime of 2018, and I’ve also defended what’s unanimously considered to be the worst genre of music ever created. So fuck it, I may as well attempt to defend the worlds most hated band and the even more hated subculture of followers that spawned from their music.
So let’s do this. Let’s defend the Insane Clown Posse. And the Juggalos.
Even if you don’t know an awful lot about them, you’ve probably stumbled upon the wacky world of Insane Clown Posse at some point. If not from their platinum selling records, The Great Milenko and The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, which had some very minor success outside of the realms of underground hip hop in the 90’s, then you’ve more than likely been exposed to them through their viral hit single Miracles. A song which was both widely ridiculed by neckbeard atheists who didn’t understand the message behind it and wound being the originator of the now infamous meme: “fucking magnets, how do they work?”
But aside from those two examples, it’s pretty safe for me to assume that you don’t know much about the duo at all. Or you think you do because of what the media and uninformed people have told you. Or maybe you’ve never heard of them at all and everything I’ve said so far has made absolutely no sense. So I guess I’ll explain who these two circus clowns are and what they’re all about.
Insane Clown Posse are a horrorcore hip hop duo from Detroit, Michigan consisting of Joseph “Violent J” Bruce and Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler, who have been creating music since the late 80’s. Originally starting out as a trio named “Inner City Posse”, the trio eventually became a duo, ditched the “Inner City” for “Insane Clown” and decided to don themselves in clown makeup, while using their music to tell the story of the fictional universe they refer to as “The Dark Carnival”. They quickly gained a lot of local followers and alongside the incredibly influential horrorcore rapper Esham “The Unholy” Attica Smith and the now nationwide success Kid Rock, they pretty much ran the underground hip hop scene in Detroit at the time, and helped popularise the horrorcore sub-genre of rap music. And while the duo themselves have always struggled to be accepted by the mainstream for a variety of reasons, which I’ll get into later on, they went on to influence a whole bunch of popular artists, including Eminem of all people.
Since their debut album Carnival of Carnage, Insane Clown Posse have continued to consistently put out records for the past 28 years, and even to this day have shown no signs of slowing down. They recently released their latest album Fearless Fred Fury earlier this year, and while they still aren’t widely accepted, both within the industry and by the vast majority of music listeners, they’ve still amazingly managed to be a commercial success, consistently ranking high into the billboard charts with nearly every album as a result of their dedicated, hardcore fanbase.
But as I’ve said several times now, Insane Clown Posse are a group that are widely despised by the majority of people who’ve been exposed to their music. Despite their undeniable influence and historical significance in American hip hop, the vast majority of self-proclaimed “hip hop heads” either don’t know who they are or consider them to be “trash” or “terrible rappers”. If you even dare mention the duos name in any kind of modern rap forum, you’ll be told their music isn’t welcome and to “get that Juggalo shit out of here”. The music industry has also never been kind to the duo, with many influential players referring to them as terrible musicians with no lasting impact and music critics consistently referring to them as “one of the worst bands in the world”. They even had an infamous feud with Sharon Osbourne in the late 90’s who bet them $50,000 that their next album at the time wouldn’t sell because they were “nothing but a gimmick” and that they’d stop making music as a result. Hilariously, the album went on to be a commercial success and 20 years later they’re still making music and running their own independent record label, among many, many other financially successful ventures. And no, she never paid them that money, nor did she ever mention them again. Ever.
So why have I chosen to defend ICP of all things? Well, that much should be obvious. Simply put, I’ve been down with the clown since high school, and while I’ve been on and off with the group many times over the years, they’ve played a huge role in my life and have helped shape me into the person I am today. I owe an awful lot to Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope and their music means a lot to me. And seeing them get such a bad rap from just about everyone outside of the niche community of people that they appeal to frustrates me because I feel they’re the most misunderstood act in both hip hop and music in general and that they have been for the past 28 years. I feel that it’s my responsibility as a fan of ICP to at least try to shed some light on why so many people find them appealing and that they’re not just “edgy horror rap for poor, white trash kids who don’t fit in”. Because they’re so much more than that.
So now that you know who ICP are and where I’m coming from with all this, let’s get into it shall we?
It’s pretty much undeniable at this point that out of all of the various different genres and sub-genres in the musical world, hip hop is one of the most relatable types of music you can listen to because of how frequently the artists try to keep it “real”. Being a very lyrically charged genre of music hip hop artists, more often than not, try to communicate a message to their audience, whether that be an insight into the artists personal life or some form of commentary about the current state of the world. Of course there’s so much more to it than that, but to put it simply, hip hop always tries to communicate a message… Unless you’re someone like 6ix9ine and just want to scream racial slurs that you probably shouldn’t be using for 2 minutes during every single song…
And one of the most common complaints about Insane Clown Posse, is that their music doesn’t have a message like this, or that what little message it does have is incredibly juvenile and has no real weight or substance to it. People have this weird misconception that all they rap about is murder, death, sex and all other kinds of twisted, wicked shit, without bothering to attempt to understand why they’re rapping about these topics.
Because if any of these critics took the time to actually listen to a full Insane Clown Posse album, they’d realise that just about every single one of their songs has some kind of special meaning and message behind it. Sure, at a glance it may just sound like a couple of morons in makeup rapping about murdering people with hatchets, among other things, but in context of the full album, these songs deliver a powerful and meaningful message. The message of The Dark Carnival.
You see, every ICP album, barring a few exceptions such as The Calm and The Tempest, is part of a huge series of concept albums referred to as The Dark Carnival, with each entry, or album, referred to as a “Joker’s Card”. The group plans to have a total of 3 “decks”, with the first two decks containing 6 Joker’s Cards and the third containing 5. At the time of writing this post, we’re currently on the fourth card of the second deck.
It’s a pretty lengthy story of how it all came to be, but in short the general concept of the carnival is that it’s a place where the souls of the departed face judgement based on the actions and decisions they made in life, and their fate is decided by various entities within. Each Joker’s Card represents a different entity within the carnival, each with their own unique function in deciding the final fate of the departed soul. Each song on each Joker’s Card, for the most part, attempts to tie into the themes of the entity that the album is about and generally serve as morality tales to better the lives and actions of the listener. In short, what this means is that the gruesome, horrible things that they group rap about, has a point. Not only is it a part of a fictional narrative, but it’s also there to show the listener the cruelty of the world and how making bad decisions in your life can lead to bad consequences.
The song Halls of Illusions is a good example of this. It’s essentially about a series of halls where someone who made terrible and selfish choices in their life is shown illusions of what could have been had they only decided to better themselves, only to be thrust back into reality and having to reflect on their poor decisions and how they negatively affected the people around them. It’s a simple concept, but it really puts ones own life into perspective and, even for a moment, has you doing the same. Am I making the right choices? Could I better myself? Will I have regrets?
But sure, there’s no substance there. It’s just mindless violence.
Need more examples? Sure, I’ll throw some at you.
Burning Up is an incredibly dark track that focuses on the horrors that await the worst people who have passed on and warns that may happen to the listener should they decide to take a similar path.
Terrible is a some what politically charged rant about the average person’s obsession with celebrity gossip and pointless drama over the issues that actually matter, like unemployment, poverty and racism.
Falling Apart is about a character who’s been inflicted with an illness where their body is slowly falling to pieces. It’s actually Violent J reflecting on his own mortality after reaching the age of 40 and feeling like his own body is falling to pieces due to his poor health. He later lost a shit ton of weight.
It almost sounds like what’s behind… All other hip hop! Wow! Maybe Insane Clown Posse are hip hop after all!
And that’s not even touching on the many, many songs by the duo that aren’t about violent topics. Insane Clown Posse have always been very close to their fanbase since day one, and have embraced positive karma in a way that many acts of their size, and bigger, could never hope to replicate, with a lot of their songs reflecting on the love they have for their fans, and life in general as well. Violent J himself has even stated that they’ve written so many upbeat, positive songs over the years, that they could probably release entire compilations of them if they wanted to.
So, as I said earlier, you’ve probably heard of Miracles.
And like everyone who had no idea who Insane Clown Posse were before Miracles, you probably misinterpreted the meaning of the song because of one single line that was meme’d to death. Say it with me boys and girls:
Water, fire, air and dirt, fucking magnets, how do they work? And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, ya’ll motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed.”
So, at a glance, and out of context, this sounds like pure stupidity, right? “ICP don’t understand how magnets work!”, “They think scientists are lying?! They’re religious! What the fuck is this shit?!”
It’s not surprising that the majority of people who negatively criticised this part of the song and meme’d it to death are also very likely the kind of people who unironically post anti-religious rants on r/atheism on a daily basis. Because yeah, at a glance it sounds like the duo are denying the validity of science and calling scientists “lying motherfuckers”.
But here’s a question for you: Do you know exactly how magnets work? Does the average, everyday person know how magnets work? Can they tell me without going straight to Google and finding an answer? According to my Twitter, no. No they cannot.
As for the part about scientists being “liars”, what they’re referring to here is the fact that scientists can’t actually fully explain magnetic fields. There are many different theories out there, but there’s nothing concrete that is 100% confirmed, and therefore the truth has yet to be spoken on the subject of magnetic fields. And within the context of the song, magnetic fields are one of the many miracles of the world. They’re not saying “science is all lies” they’re saying “lots of science is based on theories that aren’t actually confirmed, and none of that changes the fact that the thing we’re witnessing is a miracle, is beautiful and should be appreciated regardless of explanation”.
And fucking hell, is it really so hard to see what Miracles is trying to say? It’s not a religious song with an anti-science agenda. It’s a song about how wonderful and beautiful the world is, and how we as a society, due to our current modern lifestyle, no longer fully appreciate it and what it has to offer. It urges us to take a step back and experience the wonders of the world, immerse ourselves in them and realise how truly beautiful life, and everything in it, is. Is that really so hard to grasp? Apparently so, because despite Violent J himself explaining the songs meaning explicitly in various interviews, everyone still seems to have missed the point.
And again, this is just one example. There are plenty more.
Freedom from their latest album is a song about how you can be anything you want and do anything you want and urges the listener to go out there and achieve their goals, while also being pretty funny and goofy.
Juggalo Island is an anthem to the fanbase, the Juggalos, and speaks of a fictional paradise just for them where they can be themselves and be together as one big, awesome family.
Juggalo Homies is an upbeat rap rock tune about the positive aspects of loyalty and love between friends.
But sure, there’s no substance here. It’s all edgy, shock factor music with no meaningful message whatsoever!
And if none of those examples were enough, there’s the actual “ending” to The Dark Carnival, covered in the final Joker’s Card of the first deck, The Wraith which is split into two albums: Shangri-La and Hell’s Pit. While Hell’s Pit is an incredibly dark album, arguably the darkest album in all of hip hop, that attempts to convey hell itself and the horrors associated with it through its music, Shangri-La is a far more interesting and thematically deep listening experience that brings the whole concept full circle.
It’s not so big of a deal nowadays when the concept and plans of the Dark Carnival have been fully detailed and everything is easily available on the internet for newcomers, but back when Insane Clown Posse dropped what everyone assumed was to be the final album in the series, The Wraith: Shangri-La, it shook the entire underground hip hop world to its core. Unlike every other album in the series, it started off with Walk Into The Light, a song that was literally a celebration saying “all the Joker’s Cards have fallen, we finally made it, and it’s all thanks to you guys. This album is our gift to you.”
From there, the album only goes on to celebrate the more positive aspects of the world that the group has created over the years. Of course it’s all still wrapped in the clown’s goofy, edgy and even slightly juvenile sense of humour and there’s still some darker songs in there as well, but for the most part Shangri-La almost feels like a thank you to the fanbase, and is a celebration of the Juggalo world and everything it stands for. And it’s all tied together in the final song Thy Unveiling, where it’s revealed that the message of their music was always about embracing positivity, learning from the moral stories and making it to Shangri-La, having lived a fulfilled life. They even go as far as using the term “God”, although they believe “being right with God” is more of a concept of “knowing right from wrong” than an actual being who exists. The duo felt that the best way to convey this message was through dark, twisted music because otherwise the people they were trying to reach with their message wouldn’t have been willing to listen. This is obviously something that the mainstream once again misunderstood and continue to do so to this day, despite Violent J explaining it all in many interviews. In his own words: “Violence is the stuff that people are talking about on the streets…to get attention, you have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences.”
It’s because of this final track, and how it ties everything in the saga together, that The Wraith: Shangri-La is one of my favourite albums of all time. There’s very few musical experiences that are as emotionally satisfying to journey through than the first six Joker’s Cards, and while the second deck is still underway, it’s proving to be a worthy successor as well.
So, I think I’ve more or less given as detailed an explanation as possible as to how Insane Clown Posse aren’t just a couple of idiotic thugs whose music has no depth or contains nothing of value.
But before I move away from the music side of things entirely, I want to quickly talk about the groups production. Insane Clown Posse’s production initially started out very raw and cheap sounding, but as the years went on, it became more and more unique and interesting. This is mostly thanks to Mike E. Clark, who remains one of the best and most sought after producers in hip hop to this day, and who has had a close relationship with the duo since their early days.
With carnival organs, shotgun blasts, heavy guitar riffs, synthesizers, and a whole array of insanely unique sounds, ICP definitely stand out creatively in terms of production and it’s one of the best things about the group.
And of course, here’s some examples:
So now that the music stuff is out of the way, I guess I should talk about the duo themselves and what they’ve accomplished over the years. Because like them or not, Insane Clown Posse’s success in the music industry is undeniable, and it’s impressive how much they’ve achieved in spite of the fact that the industry and general population alike have been completely against them since day one.
Very early on in this post, I mentioned that they had two platinum certified albums, The Great Milenko and The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, but what I didn’t mention was that they achieved those sales figures with no help from anyone but themselves. They’ve barely had any radio play, they’ve had next to no video play and despite being with major labels at the time, said labels weren’t interested in promoting the group or their music, and refused to properly market it, causing Violent J and Shaggy to take matters into their own hands and market themselves to people. Thankfully for them, this was something they’d been doing since they first started out, before being signed to any label. They learned how to press up their own albums and market the shit out of their music and sell it to people when they were teenagers, in an era where independent artists weren’t anywhere near as big as a phenomenon as they are now.
Sure, their success is still minuscule compared to someone like Eminem or Kendrick Lamar, but unlike them, and every other mainstream artist, J and Shaggy have never had the help of a major label or producer to get their success, and ICP have always taken pride in this. That their success is their own. That they “made it” themselves. That they didn’t wait to be discovered like so many other rappers from their era did. And that they didn’t sell out to the mainstream and have next to no interest in catering to it.
And that’s something myself and many other fans of the group appreciate about them: that they’ve never sold out or changed their style to appeal to a wider audience. That sounds a little hipster, but Violent J has always stated that they can’t stand the mainstream and that they’ll never let what’s popular or what’s “in” affect the kind of music that they want to make. They’ll make any kind of record they want, regardless of many or how little people it appeals to, so long as it’s what they want to do. On top of that, the duo don’t even consider themselves celebrities and treat their fanbase as equals, even hanging out with them casually after shows. And while they do make a hell of a lot of money, the vast majority of it goes to charity, funding their independent record label to keep other underground artists afloat and The Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual music festival celebrating underground music with attendance in the thousands, planned and ran entirely by the duo and their associates. They also spend the entire year planning it out.
On top of all that, they’ve also funded and created their own independent record label, Psychopathic Records, which has gone on to become one of the biggest independent labels in the industry and has been, and continues to be home to some of the most unique and incredible artists, each with their own unique character and stage persona. You have Twiztid, ICP’s proteges who would adopt a similar horrorcore style, but make it their own through a comic book inspired aesthetic and an emphasis on the darker side of the genre. They’re a success story themselves too, having gone on to form their own record label, Majik Ninja Entertainment, with its own roster of unique artists. There’s Boondox, a southern, country inspired hip hop artist who plays the character of a murderous scarecrow with a focus on the deep south. You’ve got Ouija Macc, an absolutely bonkers trap rap artist whose aesthetic is freakishly awesome, and who has some of the most interesting sounding music that’s coming out right now. He’s also a bit mental. The scene of Psychopathic Records and Juggalo music is one of the most interesting and diverse parts of the hip hop world that is unfortunately overlooked by the vast majority of hip hop fans because it happens to be associated with ICP. And it’s a real shame, because what the duo have built here is something incredible. And even if you’re not into it, you can’t deny how amazing it is that two high school dropouts, who came from nothing, managed to create an entire world of underground music, while also being successful themselves.
They were also on WWF a few times. They’re big wrestling fans, and even run their own wrestling promotion. They’re not half bad either, apparently.
And with all that said, I guess there’s no better way for me to close this out extremly lengthy, rambly post, by defending the far more despised, and widely ridiculed fanbase of Insane Clown Posse: the Juggalos.
“What is a Juggalo?” you might be asking. Well, they’re typically said to be extremely devoted fans of ICP’s music, which was what the term originally started out as, but over the last two decades, it’s grown into something far bigger than just ICP and is no longer something they can “control”. Being a Juggalo isn’t just about listening to ICP or their related artists, it’s become a form of lifestyle. And no, not a lifestyle where it’s a fashion statement, but a literal way of life. Being a Juggalo is about expressing your individuality and being a positive thinking person. It’s about accepting people from all walks of life and embracing those important to you as family, even if you’re not blood related. It’s about having a good time with your pals and drinking some Faygo (unless you’re outside the USA like me, then you’re fucked). That all sounds like pretty standard stuff, but in short, it’s just a positive form of lifestyle that happens to tie into some really cool music.
So of course people who are outside of it feel compelled to throw negativity at such a positive group of people.
Despite everything I’ve said about how much Insane Clown Posse are made fun of and despised by the general populace, it’s nothing compared to how much unnecessary shit that Juggalos have had to take over the years.
Because Juggalos are often stereotyped as nothing more than a bunch of wannabee street thugs who wear clown makeup and cause trouble everywhere they go, get fucked up on drugs and have an incredibly low IQ with an even lower chance of succeeding at anything in life. The mainstream media and average outsider would have you believe that the average Juggalo is a complete fucking moron, incapable of contributing anything worthwhile to society. And while there definitely are plenty of Juggalos that do fall under this stereotype, there are also plenty who are anything but stupid and who are wildly successful, just like you’d have with any other subculture. Most of them don’t even wear facepaint outside of concerts and The Gathering.
And I guess I can think of no better example than myself.
That’s right. I’m a Juggalo. Like I said, I’ve been listening to Insane Clown Posse since I was in high school, and while I was never on board with the whole Juggalo thing back then, I am now, and I have been for a while.
And I’d like to think I’m doing pretty well for myself. I’m married, I have a well paying job, I recently bought a house, I’m well travelled and I have a semi-successful blog on the internet where I share my dumb opinions about Anime, video games and now apparently silly underground music that my core audience probably doesn’t care about.
But perhaps I’m just the exception to the rule. After all, Juggalo culture is practically non-existent in my home country and is mostly exclusive to America (we don’t even have the Juggalo’s favourite soda Faygo over here!). But then again, I know I’m not alone in my success because I interact with the online Juggalo community, which is full of people who are both successful and awesome to talk to.
Yeah, there are plenty of idiots waving the Juggalo banner. If you were to visit one of many online Juggalo message boards it wouldn’t take you long to find some immature comment along the lines of “i fucked ur mom last nite whoop whoop juggalo4lyfe fam”, but is that really so different from any other community out there? The way Juggalos are negatively stereotyped by outsiders is no different from, or any less unfair than, the way Anime fans are negatively stereotyped by outsiders. Every community has its fair share of idiots, it just so happens that our idiots are very vocal because we’re a very loud and passionate group of people.
If you were to actually approach the Juggalo fandom with an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn about our world, you’d be in for a real good time. Juggalos are some of the most open-minded, positive thinking and welcoming people in the world. After all, part of being a Juggalo is accepting people for who they are and treating them like family. If you were to ever go to a Juggalo concert, or The Gathering, you’d be welcomed with open arms by people you’ve never met before. To see such a welcoming and accepting group of people misrepresented as mere street thugs who are thick as shit and contribute nothing to society is just really upsetting to me, and I hope that one day the world can come to accept Juggalos for what they really are. They’re simply passionate underground music fans who bring some much needed positivity into a world that could use far more of it.
I know this post has been ridiculously rambly and lengthy, but I hope I was at least able to provide a more positive perspective on both the Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalo world and that I was able to communicate why someone may find them appealing. And if you’ve never heard of the group before, I hope you at least found this interesting. This has been something I’ve wanted to write for the longest time, and I put a lot of work into this piece. So if you made it all the way to the end, thank you for taking time out of your day. It’s appreciated.
If you’re at all interested in the music of the Juggalo world, here’s some recommendations to get you started:
- The Great Milenko – Insane Clown Posse: In my opinion, the most accessible of ICP’s albums and a great place to start for anyone due to its rock oriented sound.
- Bang! Pow! Boom! – Insane Clown Posse: The album with Miracles on it and, in my opinion, the duos best work. Excellent production that pulls from a variety of genres, fantastic storytelling and just really inspired.
- The Wraith: Shangri-La – Insane Clown Posse: More positive and uplifting than most of their work and extremely cathartic to listen to, especially if you’ve heard the previous albums that came before it.
- Hell’s Pit – Insane Clown Posse: If you’re into extremely dark music, this will be right up your alley. Easily the darkest and most disturbing album in hip hop and the most painful work the group has ever done.
- Riddle Box – Insane Clown Posse: One of their earlier works that’s more of a pure hip hop record. Some real bangers and very memorable.
- Man’s Myth – Twiztid: Just pure horrorcore greatness from ICP’s proteges. Has a lot more technical rapping than ICP’s stuff.
- Gutterwater – Ouija Macc: The debut album of one of Psychopathic Records’ newest artists, Ouija Macc is an incredible, horror influenced trap rap act with an extremely unique style and voice. Gutterwater is incredible, and if you’re into Soundcloud rap, this’ll be up your alley. Even TheNeedleDrop liked it!
- Ape-X – Gorilla Voltage: Absolutely kickass album with some proper bangers that combine heavy electronics with hardcore hip hop.
- Tales from the Lotus Pod – Dark Lotus: The debut album from a supergroup consisting of ICP, Twiztid and Blaze Ya Dead Homie. It’s amazing seeing these three artists come together to make such a dark, twisted work of pure horrorcore. Legendary stuff.
And that’ll do I guess.
As for Anime stuff, I know I haven’t been writing on the blog at all lately. I’ll be addressing that in an update within the next few days, but I assure you that there’s more to come. Now that this is out, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. A (very late) seasonal breakdown is coming!
But until then, have a good one. And thanks for reading!