Juggalos Are Human Beings: An Interview with Insane Clown Posse
Published Jun 15, 2016Thanks to a love of face paint, Faygo soda and the fabled Dark Carnival, there's no denying that Juggalos are one of the most singular subcultures to emerge in the last few decades. While it's impossible to deny their uniqueness, however, the group's strange features have made them the subject of scorn from the outside world.
The Juggalo movement was birthed out of the fantastical music of Insane Clown Posse, the Detroit-based hip-hop duo who blend horror rap's demented storytelling with the theatrics of pro wrestling. ICP is made up of Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), and they have spent the last 27 years refining and perfecting the world they've created for themselves — something they will finally show off on their fast-approaching Canadian tour.
On the phone from St. Louis, MI, Shaggy 2 Dope sounds exactly as you might expect if you've ever heard him rap: He cusses frequently, punctuating sentences with the phrase, "You know what I'm saying?" A young child lets out squeals of impatience while they wait in a drive-thru for their White Castle order to be ready.
"The biggest misconception from people looking from the outside at Juggalos is that Juggalos aren't people, you know what I'm saying?" Shaggy 2 Dope tells Exclaim! "It's just like, we could sell a million, two million records, all those people are gonna say is, 'Oh you only sold them to Juggalos.' You know what I'm saying? We could sell out a fucking stadium, and they'd be like, 'Oh it doesn't matter, you only sold it to Juggalos. Who cares?'
"How does that make sense, you know what I'm saying? Juggalos are sub-humans or something? You know what I'm saying? It's like, Juggalos are just as significant as anybody else, you know what I'm saying? A Juggalo is a person."
Decades into his career Shaggy has grown accustomed to the hate, though even he can't quite pinpoint where it comes from. While it would be easy to blame classism, he points out that all walks of life enjoy the Juggalo lifestyle.
"I don't understand what it is, because we do meet and greets, and people that are doctors come through," he says. "Lawyers come through. One of our lawyers is a Juggalo, you know what I'm saying? So you can't really classify what walk of life people are Juggalos.
"I mean, maybe the majority come from broken homes or poor backgrounds or whatnot. That's not everybody, you know. Even if it is, does that make them less important than everybody else? You know what I'm saying?"
The Juggalo hate doesn't just rest with cultural snobs, either. In a 2011 report, the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center listed the Juggalo movement as "a loosely organized hybrid gang." Since then, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J have been embroiled in legal battles to have the report revoked.
According to Shaggy, ICP have been working with the American Civil Liberties Union to help resolve the long-standing dispute.
"What happened was a judge just threw it out like it wasn't shit — like it wasn't important enough to review," he says. "What they did was, they just didn't put out a new gang list. You know what I'm saying? So as far as I'm concerned we're still on that gang list. They just have to not put the new list out. So basically they're saying we're a gang like the Crips or Bloods or MS-13, you know? So it's like, what the fuck, man? That's insane.
"It's a shame, though. Some 15-year-old kid who lives in the sticks, just because he has a Psychopathic [Records] shirt? He's not in a fucking gang. Get outta here, you know. Just the whole thought of it is so crazy. It doesn't seem real. You know what I'm saying? It's something you might hear about in some third world country or something. It's just fucking amazing to me how stupid it is."
Gang status or not, there's no denying that Insane Clown Posse have connected with a massive group of people throughout the world. Along with an impressively large body of musical work, ICP have created an entire world surrounding the Dark Carnival — a complex belief system that serves as the Juggalo religion.
"It just grew organically, you know what I'm saying?" Shaggy says of the Juggalo mythology. "We just did what we did, and people started catching on."
That said, the belief system requires a shared suspension of disbelief.
"Obviously we weren't born on Juggalo Island," he says. "Nobody was born on Juggalo Island unless some chick was working there and happened to be pregnant and dropped a baby from the stress. Who knows, you know? But nobody is from there."
Thanks to the rise of the Internet, however, the pair can't hide behind their art quite like they once did.
"We're so far in our career, there's no truth to hide anymore, you know what I'm saying? With the Internet age and all that shit, there's no mystery to it no more," he says. "Back in the day, before the Internet, you could be never seen without your face paint on, because there wasn't fucking pictures all over. You got a fucking video camera on every phone now. You can't hide no more. It's fucking gone. So you create this story, and you live this story, but once the fucking curtain is pulled, you gotta pull it back."
Shaggy 2 Dope insists that the output of Insane Clown Posse is meant to be seen as entertainment, adding, "We don't keep it real — we keep it entertaining."
That said, there's an authenticity to everything they do that connects with their fans.
"I think that's why we got such a deep connection with the audience, because we basically are the same fucking people," he says. "We came from the same fucking place. And you know we don't go to Hollywood parties. We don't rub elbows with celebrities. We're just two normal motherfuckers. You know what I'm saying? We're not living in fucking mansions in Malibu, you know what I'm saying? We live in fucking houses outside of Detroit…. There's a connection that a lot of people don't have with their audience."
There's also an authentic connection to the history of hip-hop. A DJ since he was 10, Shaggy insists that his eclectic personal tastes have always included an obsession with rap. He cites influences that include everyone from the Ghetto Boys and N.W.A. to Egyptian Lover.
"Everything we do is no mistake," he insists. "It's not some rap wannabe shit. We grew up on that shit, you know. It's not some corny ass Limp Bizkit shit. It's the real deal."
This summer, Insane Clown Posse will launch their first Canadian tour in over a decade. According to Shaggy, the lack of Canadian love was caused by legal trouble.
"It's not like we didn't want to come up there, we just couldn't," he says. "But all that shit's taken care of and squashed now. Now that we're coming up there, this is just going to be the first of many times you know. We're gonna be Canada's fixture. We're going to be up in the Canada ass, for real."
He adds that Insane Clown Posse still have plenty of plans for the future.
"There's really nothing that we can't do if we don't try to, so there's really no wish list. We set our minds to it, it gets done. We're in our prime right now. Sure, we've been around for 20-plus years, but we're just getting started."
06/24 Montebello, QC - Amnesia Rockfest
06/25 Windsor, ON - Boom Boom Room
06/26 Sarnia, ON - The Station Music Hall
06/28 Oshawa, ON - Music Hall
06/29 Barrie, ON - Roxy Theatre
06/30 Toronto, ON - Opera House
07/01 Brantford, ON - Club NV
07/02 Guelph, ON - Guelph Concert Theatre
07/06 Winnipeg, MB - Pyramid Cabaret
07/08 Regina, SK - Pump Roadhouse
07/09 Edmonton, AB - Union Hall
07/10 Saskatoon, SK - TCU Place
07/11 Red Deer, AB - Wild Bill's
07/12 Calgary, AB - Marquee Beer Market & Stage
07/14 Kelowna, BC - Sapphire Club
07/15 Vancouver, BC - Venue Nightclub
07/17 Victoria, BC - Distrikt Nightclub