Whoop Whoop Juggalos! The Insane Clown Posse has been polarizing figures in the world of entertainment for four decades running and whether you love them or hate them, its hard to ignore their legacy that they left. For over 30 years the ICP has made their mark in the wrestling world, the music industry and even the horror world with their special brand of “horrorcore” music. Without ICP there would be no Twiztid, Blaze Ya Dead Homie and possibly no Eminem either. The always controversial Insane Clown Posse started their journey that could be traced back to 1989.
Without going into an in-depth chronicle of the entire history of the group, I do need to bring up the beginnings. Growing up in the ghetto of Detroit Michigan, Joseph “Violent J” Bruce, his older brother Robert “Jumpsteady” and a pair of brothers Joe “Shaggy 2 Dope” and John “John Kickjazz” Utsler were all fans of rap music rather than the predominantly featured hair metal of the late 1980’s. Joe Bruce dropped out of school his freshman year and turned to gang life, calling his gang “Inner City Posse” while his older brother Robert enlisted in the US Military. Robert aided his brother by sending him army issued tear gas but things went south when their mother’s house was attacked by a rival gang. Joe moved into a trailer park as a teenager in Bonnie Doone, North Carolina while Robert was stationed at Fort Bragg. It was there where the brothers encountered severe racism that later would factor into their records.
Eventually Joe moved back home and decided to get out of the gang life. After reuniting with the Utsler brothers to go into independent wrestling under the tutelage of legendary Detroit wrestler Al Costello of The Fabulous Kangaroos, the trio tried their hand in music. The two Joes and John named themselves the JJ Boys and recorded the song Party At The Top of The Hill which is now the Holy Grail of ICP music since not even the guys themselves have copies of it. Eventually Joe Bruce learned that someone he knew named Dale Miettinen Jr had a karaoke machine that had instrumental tracks of popular songs at the time. Joe renamed himself Violent J while Dale became D-Lyrical and the music group “Inner City Posse” was born. Rapping over the known beats with their own lyrics, the ICP recorded their first “album” Intelligence & Violence when J was just 17 years old in 1989.
With his wrestling career pretty much stalled due to the declining popularity of pro wrestling outside of the World Wrestling Federation (a story for another day), J got his own karaoke machine from his girlfriend at the time to record another “album” in 1990. This time D-Lyrical was barely featured in favor of the Utsler brothers. The 17 year old John was renamed John Kickjazz while 16 year old Joe was christened “2 Dope”. The second cassette tape known as Bass-ment Cutz was the first one sold commercially in 1991 since Intelligence & Violence was handed out for free just to get them noticed. Robert Bruce was sent to Saudi Arabia to fight in the Gulf War but while he was stationed overseas, he told his brother to ask his friend who owned a record store named Alex Abbiss if he could be their manager. When Abbiss heard Bass-Ment Cutz he liked what he heard and established Psychopathic Records to get the group on a label. The ICP as we know it was slowly coming together but there was something missing at the time.
What made the Inner City Posse a target of criticism was they were caught between a rock and hard place. White boys didn’t do gangsta rap in 1991 which was dominated by the N.W.A, Ice Cube, Above The Law and Ice T by that point. Most white rappers were cheesy acts like Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, Vanilla Ice and the mostly incoherent reggae rapper Snow (try to decipher Informer without looking it up). Not really cheesy but one hit wonder hip hop group House of Pain truthfully did manage a top ten hit with “Jump Around” but couldn’t follow up. Doing straight up gangsta rap was taboo for the trio but they trudged on as best they could.
Their first release under the Psychopathic Records label would be the 4 track EP Dog Beats in February 1991. That’s where the group grinded for everything they could including a hilarious story once told that the trio took turns dating hideous looking women (in their opinions) who worked at Kinkos just to get fliers made they could distribute for their local shows. While J was putting fliers on cars parked outside a heavy metal concert, one of the security guards punched him out which gave J his signature crooked nose he still has today. Radio stations refused to play their music when they realized they were white and not even Alex Abbiss could get their music nationally. Instead of giving up, a dream by Violent J changed everything in the middle of 1991. J’s dream one night was of a demented clown running around Delray, Detroit and he suggested they change their name from the Inner City Posse to the Insane Clown Posse.
Just like their rival Eminem (another story for another time) eventually was discovered by legendary rap producer Dr. Dre, the ICP needed their own mentor and rap music star to help them get noticed. One of the most well known Detroit rappers at the time was 19 year old Esham Smith aka Esham. What made him different was he didn’t just rap about the usual topics his contemporaries used, but horror elements as well. Esham rapped about hell, Satan, horror and other psychotic topics that he himself called “acid rap”. When Violent J handed him a copy of Dog Beats, Esham liked the potential of the group and would do his best to get them work or mention them to anyone he could.
Although Violent J didn’t want to rap about Satan as much as Esham would, he got a new direction for the group’s lyrics from another dream he had. One night he dreamt that ghosts taking the form of a traveling carnival was coming to town. This became the basis of not only their first album, but most of their discography moving forward. The “Dark Carnival” saga was born and so was their first album Carnival of Carnage. J’s horror inspired lyrics and themes came from the “Joker Cards” which was a concept J came up with about your journey into the afterlife through six (seven technically) joker cards. The album kicks off with the intro narrated by J about the Carnival of Carnage coming to the listeners town to hold everyone accountable for their ways during their lives. In many ways Insane Clown Posse haters misunderstand the lyrics that even though they rap about violence against women and chopping heads off, they’re doing it as a warning NOT to do that. Esham himself pitched in for the second track but said carnage wrong so J had to overdub himself.
The third track inadvertently became a staple of their impending fanbase but was originally supposed to be a character from the “Joker Card” called The Juggla. The Juggla was supposed to be a hatchet swinging clown that targeted racists, wife beaters and assorted trash but while performing the song live, J called fans “Juggalos”. Juggalos and Juggalettes have been the official names of the fans ever since. Not only did Esham appear on the album but so did Robert Bruce who was back from the Persian Gulf. Now known as Jumpsteady, Robert was featured on the final track “Taste” along with Esham, a longtime friend of J’s named Nate The Mack and Russian president Boris Yeltsin…just kidding. The final guy was Capitol E on the last track. A special guest on the track Is That You? would be a 21 year old aspiring rapper named Robert Ritchie. Don’t recognize that name? How about his stage name KID ROCK? That’s right, a young Kid Rock who many claim worked harder than Eminem and ICP to get to the top did a duet with Violent J although he showed up to the recording session drunk off his ass. To show that he wasn’t as bad as he seemed, Kid returned the following day sober to re-record his parts and even though 2 Dope didn’t like him as a person, he respected Rock for being professional enough to come back sober. One funny story ICP tells is Kid Rock asked how much Esham was paid to be on the album and they said 500 dollars. Kid Rock said to give him SIX hundred and he’d do Is That You? for them. 2 Dope later said they should have lied and said Esham did it for 150.
One of the concepts of the album was judging those that committed sins on a daily basis including racism. As mentioned earlier, the Bruce brothers experienced racism first hand when they were in North Carolina and epitomized their loathing on Carnival of Carnage. Although Violent J carried the load for the most part lyrically throughout the album, the Utsler brothers were featured in two tracks tackling racism head on in Red Neck Hoe and Fuck Your Rebel Flag. One of J’s battle cries on The Juggla was “Fuck the south”. Amazing how a horrorcore rap group that specializes in lopping off body parts for fun doesn’t tolerate racism but hey, at least they have SOME morals. To this day the ICP condemns domestic violence and racism while continuing to point out the lyrics are for entertainment, not to be taken seriously. So how did Carnival of Carnage do commercially when all was said and done? It sold a whopping 17 copies its first day on October 19, 1992 and that number ended up being a running joke moving forward. The sad note was John Kickjazz left the group after the album was completed and after a failed experiment by having a fan be on their next EP to replace Kickjazz (which ironically was the plot of the movie Rockstar with Marky Mark himself), 2 Dope and J continued on as a duo. One has to wonder what would have been if Kickjazz stayed and its a shame that he passed away in 2015 at the age of 42 years old.
Without rambling on about the career of ICP, their legacy to this day is still controversial. Because Juggalos are some of the most loyal fans to a fault and due the nature of the Insane Clown Posse’s lyrics, they’re bound to have some bad apples. Well the apples were apparently bad enough that the Federal Bureau of Investigation foolishly classified Juggalos as a legitimate gang in 2011 and were deemed wanted by the government. The logo for Psychopathic Records has always been a tiny man with a meat cleaver and the FBI deemed that their gang symbol. That doesn’t stop the ICP or their fans from having a weeklong Woodstock like event called The Gathering of the Juggalos every year. Fans that attended this year got a copy of what could be ICP’s last single “The Hunt for Big Smoke“.
Violent J is semi-retired now at the age of 50 after years of heart related problems while the 48 year old Shaggy 2 Dope still performs nationally as a solo most of the time. It all goes back to 1992 when Esham, Alex Abbiss and producer Mike Clark took a chance on the Insane Clown Posse with Carnival of Carnage. To this day some of the songs such as Night of The Axe, The Juggla and Fuck Your Rebel Flag still hold up and their good friend Dr. Phil (yes of course I’m serious) vouches for all the good work they’ve done to set people straight despite their image. Love them or hate them, their impact the last 30 years can’t be ignored. So give one last Whoop Whoop! for the family, and come one, come all for the Carnival of Carnage.