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The Sound

The Insane Clown Posse, not your average ‘Juggalo’ Joe


ICP plays the Val Air Ballroom on Friday, May 17.

ICP plays the Val Air Ballroom on Friday, May 17.

It’s easy to write-off the Insane Clown Posse. Really easy. I mean, just look at them. There’s the clown makeup, the clothes. Then there’s the whole “Juggalo” lifestyle and the songs about not knowing how magnets work. In short, it’s easy to understand why people would look at ICP as a running joke.

But, as is often the case, there’s more to it. And while I’m certainly not going to try and convince anyone to start being an ICP fan, from a professional standpoint, it’s very hard to argue the facts that ICP is an extremely hard-working couple of cats and that the pair has had enormous success as a result. Not only has ICP sold nearly 7 million albums in its time, but the duo of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope has starred in two self-produced feature films, spent time in professional wrestling federations before forming their own (JCW) in 1999, and — in their yearly “Gathering of the Juggalos” — they’ve launched one of the most notorious independent music festivals in the nation.

Success was always something the group worked for, even if multi-media cross-over fame was not.

“The plan from the beginning was just to be rappers and sell records,” explained Shaggy in a phone interview. “(The rest) was just natural progression. We didn’t do it the conventional way. We would get money — some of us had jobs, some of us hustled — everything would go into Psychopathic (Records, the group’s self-created label) to further ourselves. We’d make 24-hour trips to Kinkos, spend days flyerin,’ anything you can think of to further ourselves. Any free time we had, we ate, slept and breathed ICP.

Prep Iowa

“From there, we started pressing our own shirts and promoting our own shows, and that’s how it got started.”

From the beginning, the pair’s trademark — dare we say iconic — look came about not as a means of realized self-expression but (ironically) as a kind of perverted conformity.

“In Detroit back then, that’s what was crackin,’ ” said Shaggy. “There was (onetime Psychopathic Records stable-mate) Esham, who was supposed to be this kind of devil-worshipping rapper; there was Kid Rock, who’s gimmick was this hick from out in the sticks. In rap, everybody was doing shit like that, so we fell right into it.

“Nobody thought we were weird, because that’s what everyone was doing.”

But ICP’s growing fan base identified with that gimmick. And while Esham bounces between looks as the whim catches him, J and Shaggy have embraced the carnival of the macabre with both arms. Which led more or less directly into the creation of the Gathering of the Juggalos.

Founded in 2000, The Gathering is a five-day festival of music and decadence where Juggalos gather to commiserate and generally cause havoc.

“We originally held it in convention halls,” said Shaggy. “But then we kind of got blacklisted from all the convention halls after a Juggalo got arrested for punching a police horse in the head.”

Now an outdoor festival, the Gathering attracts thousands of ICP fans each year and stands as a lasting reminder of just how good ICP is at what they do. Gimmick that it may be, ICP has remained true to its fans and garnered a reputation as rappers devoted to their craft: The Gathering’s featured acts include George Clinton, Tech N9ne, Method Man and Ice Cube, and ICP continues to proudly represent the fans who support it, and the city it came from.

“It’s the underdog factor,” Shaggy concluded. “Because there’s no industry in Detroit anymore. If you’re going to come from Detroit, you’ve got to crack ass a little more.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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