How I Learned to Love Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalo Family

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Insane Clown Posse
Photo by Nate "Igor" Smith
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There may be no band more famous but less heard than Insane Clown Posse. If you're even slightly culturally aware as an American in 2017, chances are you know of ICP, even if it's just as “that band with the clown makeup and fans who paint their faces too. What are they called? Juggalos?”

Yes, those fans are Juggalos, but ICP is more than a band. It's a movement, a way of life, and, in many ways, an idea whose time has come. During the duo's checkered 20-year career, it has morphed from a jocular horror-core concept to one of underground music's strangest and most powerful entities, and we could all learn a lot from the Dark Carnival crew.

I was introduced to the happy-go-fucky, hatchet-wielding psychos in 2000. I was about 11. My father is fascinated with the fringes of society, horror, and the slightly sinister. Scary movies were the norm, and scary things were worth exploring — within reason. The Columbine High School shooting stunned America like it had walked into a glass wall in a fun house. These were innocent days when public shootings weren't common, and schoolyard bullying wasn't cause for concern. The news reported that the shooters were fans of this clown-faced rap crew from Detroit. My dad had to investigate.

He bought their albums The Amazing Jeckel Brothers and Bizaar. Instead of hearing blood-dripped hymns to Satan, he laughed to find humorous dis tracks, skit comedy tunes, and prideful odes to flyover-state, low-rent lifestyles. I, with my pubescent sense of humor, also found it fascinating. They said bad words and made fun of Eminem, who I also found hilarious and incredible.

Years went by and my taste in music became more serious, but I always had a special place in my heart for the Dark Carnival kind. I, too, was a popular target of the grade-school halls, and anyone who was loud and proud to be different was A-plus in my book. Maybe I didn't follow them down the path of The Wraith: Shangri-La, but if I ever saw a truck with a hatchet-psycho sticker on the window, I'd nod. You're safe around the Juggalos as long as you're straight up about your shit and don't start any trouble.

The band's eighth album debuted at number 15 on the Billboard Top 200. Those who live that Midwest reality flocked to ICP shows. In 2000, the duo founded Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual camp festival that brings the painted-face hordes to a dusty, wooded point to get fucked up, spray Faygo (a Detroit-made soda they love), shake their tits, and otherwise give no fucks while enjoying music that celebrates togetherness in the bizarre. In 2009, the event drew 20,000 clown faces to Illinois. The news decided it liked ICP again, but it treated the Juggalos like a sideshow, and when 2010 saw performer Tila Tequila pummeled with human feces, things began to change.

ICP and it's Juggalo family have been mislabeled by the FBI as a literal, actual gang. Imagine if a Wu-Tang fan couldn't get a job for having a WU tattoo, or if Miami Hurricanes fans were ostracized for painting their faces orange and green. The grand irony is that ICP's Violent J spent years pulling himself out of gang life. He was jailed for 90 days in 1989, an experience that forced him to reevaluate his life and choices. Today he and bandmate Shaggy 2 Dope are proud fathers and quite upfront with their Christianity. Though ICP certainly doesn't mind gratuitous sex and violent imagery in its lyrics, it also spends a large portion of its bandwidth motivating its fan base and trying to teach its members valuable life lessons. On the latest album, 2015's The Marvelous Missing Link (Found), the song "The World Is Yours” goes, “You can't have it till you take a stab at it/Until you reach for it, you can't grab it/You might realize you ain't bad at it/And if you fall down, your ass has it.” Even if you're a prisoner, they say, you can find a new way.

The Juggalos made headlines recently when they marched on Washington, D.C. The band and its fans demanded to be taken off the FBI list. Sure, a few people who like Insane Clown Posse have done terrible things, but you could say the same for fans of any band. Reports of the March of the Juggalos were positive. They came, they gathered, they were peaceful, and they were friendly. Don't they deserve to be treated in kind? When you see a group of clown faces in baggy jeans huddled around the entrance to the downtown Miami nightclub the Hangar next Wednesday, don't fret. Those are just your friendly neighborhood Juggalos, and they don't bite — unless you want them to.

Insane Clown Posse: The Great Milenko 20th Anniversary Tour. With R.A. the Rugged Man, Lyte, and Web Three. 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 18, at the Hangar, 60 NE 11th St., Miami; 786-480-4203; thehangar305.com. Tickets cost $25 to $30 plus fees via ticketfly.com.

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