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10/29/2008
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Hip-Hop/R&B

(Not) just a juggalo
A, um, thoughtful interview with Violent J of Insane Clown Posse?
"You end up with a bad brain.":ICP
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Some of you may still be undecided when it comes to the Big Decision '08 — but if the country were voting "yes" or "no" on Proposition Insane Clown Posse, there'd be no fence-straddling whatsoever. If you're for the Delray, Detroit horrorcore hip-hop duo, then you're a juggalo or the female equivalent, a juggalette (damn, and I was hopin' for jigglette); you're also white and predisposed to digging violent lyrics, malevolent clowns and having soda poured on you. If you're against ICP, you don't like anything that smacks of gangs, hatchets, clowns, lyrics with the word "bitch" in them ... and you may also answer to the name Marshall Mathers.

But the Em' feud is old news now. Going into ICP's 18th year, Joseph Bruce, aka Violent J, knows full well that he's in one of the most misunderstood groups in pop (culture) history. And that goes double for ICP's devoted fans, all of whom get tarred with the same "'tard" brush when some rotten-apple juggaloo commits violent hate crimes, such as in the 2006 attacks by Jacob D. Robida, a fan who targeted gays, police and his girlfriend. After extending condolences to the victims, Psychopathic Records, the duo's label, issued a statement that read: "This guy had no clue what being a Juggalo is all about. If anyone knows anything at all about ICP, then you know that they have never, ever been down or will be down with any racist or bigotry bullshit."

"I tell you what, the juggalos have always, always, always been there for us," Violent J says about the subculture phenomenon that's grown around the duo. "They're always there with kind words and appreciation for what we do. That's pretty magical."

Following years of laying out parables of the Dark Carnival in a series of albums that doubled as what they termed Joker Cards, Insane Clown Posse and a large chunk of its fan base had a mutual epiphany in 2002, when the band released the sixth album Joker Card, The Wraith: Shangri-La, wherein the group embraced God, positivity and the ways of paradise and warned that "the end consumes us all." Critics outside the juggalo circle thought it was all a joke, just a cheap stunt that had nothing at all to do with spirituality. Violent J, however, tells a different story.

"We went on an in-store tour right when the sixth Joker Card came out," he says. "It was the most moving thing we ever went through in our lives. All across the country, it had such an effect. People would come to the in-stores crying, thanking us. A very, very emotional time. At the same time, the true ending was Hell's Pit [released two years later]. The ending of the Joker Cards, the way we looked at it, was death. Heaven and hell. That's up to each and every juggalo [to decide]. We're not an ultra religious group. I don't go to church or anything. I like to believe in God. Some people might've been upset by that, but through our eyes all we did was touch a lot of people. We definitely wanted it to be something everlasting. Maybe a 19-year-old might not understand or like that ending now. But later, when he has four kids, he might think, 'That was the shit.'"

He reflects a little more: "Making the Shangri-La record, where the theme was 'paradise wow,' what an effect it had on our personal lives! We were living life like I couldn't imagine ever being happier. Making that record felt like we were walking on clouds. It felt so good to be in that place for so long a time. And I really dreaded Hell's Pit because I knew it was gonna be the opposite. We thought about not doing it but we knew we had to."

So how did he prepare? Wear uncomfortable shoes? Stick his hand in an oven toaster every five minutes? Listen to off-centered Miley Cyrus CDs?

"I forced myself to watch a lot of Forensic Files and killer stories to transfer the pain to Hell's Pit," says Violent J, one of the unique few who get to watch that kinda stuff and actually claim it's research.

"That's probably why I'm taking four anti-depressants now," he says. "If you work lifting furniture up and down, you probably have a bad back. If you work using your brain all the time putting your brain through those ups and downs, you end up with a bad brain. But I'm fucking proud of it, man!"

Cerebrally freed up from having to come up with another weighty conceptual follow-up, Violent J and partner Shaggy 2 Dope (aka Joey Utsler) can now turn out albums like The Tempest, which includes the usual frivolous fare (i.e., "The Party"), some leftfield curves like the garage rock rappin' "Alley Rat," happy Hallowicked shit like "Haunted Bumps," and new gruesome horrorcore moments like "If I Was a Serial Killer." In fact the album stands as a kind of ICP Whitman's Sampler — although that isn't a reference to mass murderer Charles Whitman, whose story gets told in the album's "The Tower." Detractors will point to this song in particular and once again term it "glorification" of evil. On the other hand, why not go after fans of truTV?

"I've always believed that to create horror music, it's a lot scarier if you're not just talking about how crazy you are but instead you get into the mind of a lunatic and become that character," he explains. "And that's how that song came about. I tried to think of what [Whitman] was probably thinking. He'd come back from the war and I tried to get into the mind of an angry vet. We weren't glorifying him any more than a movie does. We're just trying to tell scary stories."

Just as the Gathering of the Juggalos shows mark the coming of summer for ICP and their fans, the Hallowicked shows are a kind of harvest festival and a true annual Detroit tradition. Unlike Alice Cooper, who routinely brings back classic props for his annual scarefests, ICP has a wide range of sets they can pull out of storage, sometime having nothing to do with the album they're touring behind. For the Wraith album, it was a TV game show set. For the Tempest, it was an insane asylum gone bad.

"We always have a different set, not only for Hallowicked but every tour we go out on," says the clown man. "We've been around so long that we get to dig up the many cool sets that we used back in the day and then get to use them again on a national level. Something we might've done once in '94 at St. Andrew's Hall, we can go back again and now do it nationwide-style."

Just in case you were wondering, ICP is still banned from entering Canada, owing to some past Shaggy arrest that's still on the books. That was far from the only arrest, of course. Those famous mug shots following their arrests after a Waffle House brawl can still be found on the Internet. That latter incident does beg this question, however: What is it with the Waffle House and why such famous Michiganders as Kid Rock and ICP can't eat a pancake in peace? Is it the tacky yellow decor that causes such fisticuffs?

"Local people in the community always feel like that's their spot, the Waffle House," Violent J speculates, "so when a group of rappers are there with a bus in the parking lot creating all this attention, they don't like it. Plus, the Waffle House is obviously the place you go to when you're wasted after a show. So that doesn't help anything. But for our Waffle House incident, we weren't in there at all looking for trouble. There were just 13 of us, a table full of people talking shit. That had me thinking [the people who instigated the scuffle] must be insane. Look how many of us there were!" He pauses. "That was in Greenfield, Ind. That was a really strange Waffle House. I, never in my life, before or since, have seen a Waffle House that big."

Also, just in case you were wondering, Big Money Russlas, which is the long awaited-sequel to ICP's first film, Big Money Husslas, goes into production in January. And it's a Western this time out. The guys plan to tour movie theaters around the country to show it before its DVD release.

And if that isn't enough to add some stimulus to our failing economy, there's always the band's continuing contribution to keeping Faygo Beverages afloat, a good thing since that is about the only industry that still manufactures something in Detroit that continues to sell. Plus, they've made the brand famous all over the world. Shouldn't these guys have been given stock in the company by now instead of the lack of association the bigwigs there have maintained?

"Faygo?" he laughs. "They won't even fuck with us. We wish they would do a limited edition Faygo pop run with us. Maybe one day, when they get a new CEO, they might change their way of thinking. But whoever's in charge now wants to steer clear of Insane Clown Posse. They consider themselves a family product. I guess they don't make it to throw at each other."

Insane Clown Posse's annual Hallowicked show takes play Friday, Oct. 31 at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5450.

Serene Dominic is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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