Sometimes the clowns really do get the last laugh. For most of their two-decade career, the face-painted Detroit rap duo the Insane Clown Posse (Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope) were met with almost universal critical disdain as their hyper-loyal fanbase of “Juggalos” was demonized by the conservative media and made the butt of countless jokes by just about everyone else. But all the while ICP were slowly building their label Psycopathic Records into arguably the most successful empire in all of independent music. As ICP’s Violent J prepares for their annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival, which hits Cave-In-Rock, IL this weekend, he took some time to talk to Hive about his early gangsta rap fandom, growing up poor in the suburbs and the loyalty of his fanbase. On Wednesday Violent J discusses the line-up for this year’s Gathering and why Juggalos always support underdogs, in part two of Hive’s ICP interview.
How did you first get into hip-hop back in the day?
I was 12 or something. The first record I remember I guess would be [Sir] Mix-A-Lot‘s Swass. That record was the shieet, hands down. Mix-A-Lot? The “Buttermilk Biscuits” that voice he did! [mimics vocals]. That was also the first hip hop concert we ever saw, that was devastating. But the records that changed my life forever were two that came out simultaneously, both of them were gangsta rap from Priority Records: Eazy E’s Eazy Duz It and a local kid named Awesome Dre from Detroit. All my life me and Shaggy wanted to be wrestlers but when we we heard Awesome Dre talking that gangsta s*** from Detroit, talking about “I’ll bust your f***ing teeth on the curb” and all that and we heard NWA and Eazy E’s high pitched voice it just changed everything. It was over from there. The funny thing is me and my brother had an older sister that used to get into a lot of trouble, she put my mom through hell. So right out of little kidness we always vowed that we wouldn’t do anything bad so my mom wouldn’t have no stress and we even considered swearing something bad. I didn’t even cuss until I was seventeen. Then I made a career out of it. [Laughs]
When NWA came out man it was just over with. From there it was all gangsta s***. Later on in life we discovered Paris and then Ice Cube went solo and it was all Ice Cube s***. Paris was calling white people the devil and Black Panther this and that, he had the f***ing ruthless panther growls in his music, he had those low droning bass noises. It just was devastating. Then Too $hort‘s Life Is… Too $hort album came out with that devastating thick ass 808 bass, “Freaky Tales” and everything. It was just over. We moved from the suburbs to the city to be thugs. [Laughs] We moved in with some friends who lived in Southwest Detroit and started a gang because we wanted to be gangsters so bad.
How’d that work out for you?
Not good, not good at all! [Laughs] We got our asses kicked! And when we started rapping it really got bad. People started talking about our gang because of the music and that made the real gangs even madder that we were being talked about and we were phony. It was just all bad.
Did you start winning people over with the music itself?
Yeah… in the suburbs. We did basement tapes, we’d hand them out all over the neighborhood. We were called the Inner City Posse. I had a karaoke machine and I’d sit there and dub f***ing gangloads of them, like twenty a night. Then when we did it for real we went to the studio and recorded an EP called Dog Beats as Inner City Posse and then it was just too much. They were breaking my mom’s windows out and it was just bad. But then we became the Insane Clown Posse, which is when we switched our whole style up and the rest is history.
Growing up how did you feel being a white kid and digesting stuff like Paris and Ice Cube, that really intense and militant pro black music?
I just felt the anger in it. I was always the poorest kid in my neighborhood. Yeah I’m from the suburbs but I grew up on f***ing foodstamps and powdered milk, man. I grew up from a broken home. We didn’t have s***, my mom was a janitor. We got food from the hunger barrel at our very school. The kids would come and drop food in the hunger barrel and that s*** would come to my house. Straight up, we were always mad broke. I don’t know how they do it today but a hot lunch was like a $1.10 and if you owed money for a hot lunch they would announce your name on the PA in the morning. And every f***ing day it was “Joe and Rob Bruce, Joe and Rob Bruce.” That s*** was embarrassing. I don’t know what they thought they were doing with that psychological s***. So when I heard all that music, even though I lived in the suburbs and I was white, I just felt that f***ing anger. And I’m sure I had it easier and better than everybody but I related to it. It was like therapy, man. Hearing them talk about going to the suburbs, that’s how I felt about rich people. I don’t like talking about this s*** because it’s really f***ed up, but we used to ride around beating up rich people. We’d ride out to this neighborhood called Birmingham and we’d just look for rich kids and stomp their f***ing head in. We were f***ed up like that. It don’t make no sense looking at it now. That’s when a motherf***er is most dangerous when he’s like 17. Your mind ain’t right. You’re all kind of rebellious, you don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about, you think you own the world. We did a drive-by shooting man! I think about that now, if I’d have gotten caught for that, if we’d have killed somebody I’d probably still be in prison. I got a long list of s*** I’m not proud of but I don’t know what it was. But of course I grew out of that s***.
Well that’s what I’ve always appreciated about your music. What more traditional hip hop did for inner city kids — give them a sense of community, an outlet for their aggression — you guys seem to do for poor kids from the suburbs.
Yeah. And they’re out there. Just because you live in the suburbs doesn’t mean you have it all made. I know we didn’t have it all made, we came from a home as broken as it could possibly be broken, f***ing shattered and busted. My life was never easy. I was in and out of jail, doing dumb s***, being stupid. I sat in jail for three weeks on a hundred dollar bail. My family couldn’t come up with a hundred dollars for three weeks.
What was the Detroit rap scene like when you guys were coming up?
Detroit was about characters, man. It wasn’t like anywhere else that I know of. Awesome Dre did his thing but what was really making the real noise where we lived was Kid Rock. He was riding a tractor in his videos and he was rapping about mowing your lawn and he had a cowboy hat on. He was a redneck. He rapped about being from 23 Mile Road, you know what I mean? Being from Romeo which is way the f*** out in the middle of nowhere. And he had balls to say that s*** but that’s where he was from. And of course you had Esham and Natas they used to come out on stage with a coffin with a big glow in the dark 666 s***. Everybody thought he worshipped the devil and he’d do this thing with his voice where it sounded all high pitched. It sounded like the devil rapping. We used to play his tape and the sky turned red. We honestly believed that. I remember sitting up in our bedroom, playing that s*** and we were all like “It’s cause of that tape man!” I remember one time we called the number on the tape, they answered and we hung up. Then they called back. This was the first time I had ever heard of *69! [Laughs] We called these supposed devil worshipers and they said “Reel Life Productions” and we just hung up. Then they called us like “What you hang up for?!” We were like “Aaahh!” But yeah that’s what Detroit was doing. You had dudes that were characters, it was like wrestling. It wasn’t just about characterless rappers who had skills. Kid Rock sounded like he was from the barns and the farms, Esham sounded like the devil was in his music. When we came up we became the wicked clowns and we put the carnival in our music.
It’s cool how you guys reach back and give the Eshams and Awesome Dres an audience today.
Yeah we later worked with both of them. We did everything we could for the both of them, we felt like we owed them. To this day my personal life centers around those phases, being a child. Even at the Gathering this weekend we have this Legends of Wrestling show going on and it’s all our favorite wrestlers. We’re sort of answering the mysteries. We get to actually book them and find out what they’re like and ask them those questions we’ve always wanted to ask them. I’ve spent a great deal of my life uncovering the mysteries that I had as a teenager. These things were just larger than life to me and then you get to know those people and uncover those mysteries, I’ve pretty much done them all now. There’s not a lot that I haven’t [talked to]. I still never met Mix-A-Lot but I’d like to and sit there and kick it with him.