More than a few words with ICP's Violent J
On Juggalos, fatherhood, Michael Jackson and 2-liter technique
This isn’t the first time we’ve written about Insane Clown Posse and friends. Here’s some of our earlier coverage:Melissa Giannini's 2000 article on the first Gathering of Juggalos, photos by Doug Coombe Hobey Echlin on ICP in 2002 Serene Dominic’s 2008 piece on the duo Brett Callwood’s 2010 piece on fellow Psychopathic recording artists Twiztid Brett Callwood’s 2010 piece on fellow Psychopathic recording artists Twiztid
Also worth checking out:The FBI’s 2011 National Gang Assessment that put Juggalos on the U.S. law enforcement radar The YouTube video of ICP press conference on possibly challenging the FBI juggalo gang assessment is here The now-classic ICP video for "Miracles" As well as the Saturday Night Live parody Check out some pics of ICP from the author Doug Coombe
Published: August 15, 2012
We're hanging out with Violent J (Joseph Bruce) of the Insane Clown Posse in one of his homes in a bucolic stretch of Milford. It's a nerd's paradise, full of pro wrestling memorabilia, a collection of soda from around the world, toys for his son, JJ, and daughter, Ruby — ages 7 and 5, respectively — a shrine to Michael Jackson and a copy of the Beach Boys' Smile box set sitting proudly behind his writing desk.
He spends most of the time enthusing about ICP's new record The Mighty Death Pop and classic hip hop that's playing nonstop on Backspin Radio in the background the entire time. This cozy slice of Pure Michigan hardly seems the home of half of the world's most hated band.
But it's a badge of honor that Violent J has worn with pride along with his bandmate Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Ulster) for 20 years now. And over the last couple years there's been a noticeable thaw in that hate. Call it Juggalo global warming if you will. Loving parodies on Saturday Night Live. A viral YouTube smash with their goofball video for "Miracles." A Distinguished Achievement Award at the Detroit Music Awards in 2011. A collaboration with Jack White that left some of Jack's fans scratching their heads.
Even if you don't love their music, chances are you love them for the pop culture icons they've become. And how can you not love a couple of pro wrestling-loving, makeup-wearing clowns rapping in the middle of an unrelenting storm of Faygo to a sea of rabid, dressed-up, merch-obsessed fans?
And how can you not respect their classic Detroit-grind work ethic? They've created a band, a record label (Psychopathic Records), and a wrestling league (Juggalo Championship Wrestling) that are all hugely successful on top of creating an entire gonzo subculture of Juggalos, a merch-obsessed fandom ready to be showered in baptismal Redpop. Not bad for a couple of kids that started out hustling records from the trunk of their car. Did I mention they make B-movies in their spare time?
There's only one major problem in the Juggalo universe. In 2011, the FBI took the unprecedented step of declaring ICP fans — Juggalos — to be a gang in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (the last Detroit group to earn the attention of the feds would probably be the MC5).
According to the FBI, "Most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft and vandalism." Kind of sounds like the parking lot of any metal show anywhere in America. In fact the parking lot at ICP's last Emerald Theater show consisted mostly of kids sharing Faygo, Newports and face paint in the midst of chanting "Family" — signifying that all freaks are welcome in a gathering of self-described scrubs.
In response, ICP announced that they "are investigating a possible lawsuit against the FBI or other governmental agencies that have violated the rights of Juggalos on the mistaken belief that they are 'gang members.'" (You can see their announcement on juggalosfightback.com.)
While it's easy to see Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope as merely their onstage caricatures, offstage they're full of surprises. They're just as likely to go off on how brilliant Brian Wilson is or the importance of tolerance as they are to tell you how rad Hulk Hogan is. We sat down with Violent J to talk about the new record, the Gathering of Juggalos, how the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson inspire them, what it's like having the FBI consider your fans a gang, and how in hell you shoot a bottle of Faygo 100 feet.
Metro Times: What makes The Mighty Death Pop your biggest project?
Violent J: It's four whole albums, each album was given everything we had. Two-and-a-half years we've been doing this. It's trying to battle the fact that CDs don't matter no more — it's trying to fight that. And the guests we got on it? We got Ice Cube, Color Me Badd and the Geto Boys. One of the versions — Red Pop — comes with a bonus album of covers. We do Tears for Fears, Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson, Public Enemy and Yo Gabba Gabba! Without a doubt it's the longest, hardest project that we've done it. We didn't rush it, we stayed focused.
MT: How is The Mighty Death Pop different from Bang! Pow! Boom!?
Violent J: Musically it's covering new terrain, it has the classic shit everybody loves, but I also I think we did a lot of cool things with our voices. I think our rhyme style is really cool. And with [producer] Mike [E Clark] we went through hundreds of beats looking for stuff we've never fucked with. I'll admit my voice has changed over the years, but with this record I stopped smoking weed, I didn't drink, we'd fucking drink hot tea while we were cutting the vocals.
The good shit keeps coming. That's awesome. We're so fortunate. It's not like our best days are behind us.
> Email Doug Coombe