“We’ve always been kind of known as the ‘World’s Most-Hated Band,’ and that’s for real,” says Violent J of Detroit’s notorious, face-painted hardcore hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, as he sits with his ICP partner of three decades, Shaggy 2 Dope, at Yahoo Entertainment on the release day of their 15th studio album, Fearless Fred Fury. “Our whole career, [we have been] battling all that. We’ve always dreaded being old-school. We don’t want to be labeled old-school. But once we got to the point where we’re undeniably old-school, it seems to be, by far, the most rewarding part of our career.”
“Big time. You’re an elder. We get accepted,” says Shaggy. “Earlier today, we got called ‘hip-hop legends.’ It’s like, wow, our whole career had even trouble being accepted as hip-hop, and now we’re being considered hip-hop legends.”
Maybe so, but one faction that hasn’t been so accepting is the FBI’s Justice Department’s Gang Task Force, which in 2011 shockingly labeled the fanbase that has always stood by Insane Clown Posse, the Juggalos, “a loosely organized hybrid gang.”
“Now, picture middle-town America, Grass Lake, Iowa, any little town in America,” says an incredulous Shaggy, whose real name is Joseph Utsler. “You got these 15-year-old kids, 14-year-old kids, who go to Hot Topic and buy ICP shirts and are hanging at the mall. They’re a f***ing a gang now? MS-13, Bloods and Crips, the Aryan Nation and Black Panthers, f***ing whatever gang existed — they’re that?”
In January 2014, the outraged duo, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, sued the FBI “to ensure the right of Juggalos everywhere to gather together and express their support of the ICP without having to worry about being unfairly targeted and harassed by law enforcement.” A book by Michigan author Steve Miller, Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made, detailed the band’s fight with the FBI, which Insane Clown Posse still steadfastly believe was all part of a scheme to line corrupt small-town police departments’ pockets.
“If you’re in a rural area and you’re a police officer, and you can make the argument that there’s an active gang in your neighborhood, you get some sort of government funding to combat that gang,” Violent J (real name: Joseph Bruce) says.
“You get free billy clubs. You get free Tasers, maybe a police car, an SUV in your police department,” adds Shaggy.
“So by claiming Juggalos are a gang, or at least putting your vote to say Juggalos are a gang, it creates a lot of funding for a lot of small-town police officers that don’t normally get funding for that type of thing, and they get to get new cushions on their cruisers for their butts,” says Violent J.
The ICP/FBI battle climaxed on Sept. 16, 2017, when what the duo estimate was 4,500 to 5,000 Juggalos marched on Washington, D.C., to protest the gang classification. According to multiple reports, the turnout greatly outnumbered a pro-Trump rally taking place at the National Mall that same day. And this gathering of the Juggalos made history.
“It was big National Mall, all that s***,” Shaggy recalls. “We were trying to get into every venue within an hour of Washington, D.C., to put on a free concert. Well, No. 1, nobody showed up for the free concert as far as bands go, and we were like, ‘What do we do?’ So, by the miracle of f***ing Dark Carnival itself, somehow we played at the National Mall in front of that f***ing big-ass pool that Martin Luther King did I had a f***ing dream speech, Forrest Gump, all that s***. So now we had a stage set up, and we had a concert right there. Only three other acts did that. I know Bob Dylan was one, I forget the other two. And we were one of them.”
Although Insane Clown Posse will, of course, never be held in the same esteem as Dylan, they are no doubt household names. Earlier this year, there was an entire ICP-themed Fresh Off the Boat episode. Family, an upcoming movie starring Kate McKinnon and Taylor Schilling, depicts the life of aJuggalette. A recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race dropped a pun about an “Insane Clown P***y.” (“That’s kind of gross, but still at the same time I’m glad we’re mixed up in that culture, because we accept everybody,” laughs Shaggy.) And Saturday Night Live has done multiple skits parodying ICP’s wild and infamous Gathering of the Juggalos festival. (The real festival, which isn’t all that different from SNL’s spoofs, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a “super-Gathering” this year.)
Although this hasn’t translated into income — “Our infamy is much, much, much bigger than our success; if we could learn how to turn our household name into money, we’d be billionaires,” says Violent J — Insane Clown Posse are grateful for the attention. And they’re especially grateful for the Juggalos, who serve as the best ambassadors for the oft-misunderstood band.
“Our favorite thing is when … reporters get the assignment to do a story on the Gathering,” Violent J chuckles. “Every year, there’s more stories that come out and they say, ‘Man, my colleagues told me I’m going to get my ass kicked at the Gathering. They told me, if you’re not one of them, they’re going to kick your ass. It’s going to be awful. I’m prepared. I’m worried, I’m bringing Mace. I’m scared to death!’ And then they go there, and they get their wig flipped off their head because everybody’s so welcoming. Everybody’s so kind to them, and they heard it was the opposite. They heard that if you’re somebody new, they’re going to f*** you up. It’s nothing like that.”
“And the fact is, it’s like the second you get there, if you hungry, a motherf***er is going to give you money for food. If you’re thirsty, somebody’s going to give you water to drink. If you ain’t get nowhere to sleep, tents are open to people. That’s the greatest part about it,” says Shaggy. “And you ain’t gotta be, like, full-time balls-in Juggalo, wearing paint every day. There’s doctors, there’s lawyers, there’s judges, there’s cops. There’s everybody you could think of that are Juggalos.”
“Even senators,” interjects Violent J. And he may not be kidding. Who knows, maybe ICP made a few new fans in Washington during their 2017 march.
At the end of the day, ICP claim that their message is upbeat, despite their scary reputation and image. “Our music is nothing but positive. It’s laced up with curse words or craziness around it, but everything we say is very positive,” says Shaggy. In fact, Fearless Fred Fury is all about self-improvement, with Violent J practically turning into a motivational speaker as he describes the album’s theme.
“[The album] asks you to look at the pollution you carry within yourself,” Violent J begins. “If you regret the way you live your life every day and you don’t do anything about it … you hate your job but yet you do it every day and you just withstand that staleness every day and you don’t do nothing about it but complain to everybody that’ll listen and keep doing it. You don’t fight back to make your situation better. When you die, your Fearless Fred Fury is going to be huge and it’s going to kick your ass, because you never did nothing about it to make yourself happy. … Don’t sit there and live uncomfortably your whole life and then when you die be like, ‘Yeah, my life sucked.’ Don’t be one of these guys that’s like, ‘My life sucks!’ No. You suck. Life is actually pretty fresh.”
And Insane Clown Posse have applied that optimistic mindset to their FBI battle, despite the fact that they ultimately did not win their case. “It was extreme success for us,” declares Violent J. “That’s our way fighting back, because if we don’t … we might as well be what they say we are. But by marching, we got to fight back. We got to say, ‘Hey, we’re not OK with what you’re saying.’”
“We lost in court,” says Shaggy, “but the way I look at it, we won at life.”
This article originally ran on Yahoo Entertainment.