THE MOST HATED BAND IN THE WORLD
Universally misunderstood and hated upon, Juggalos are the fans of the hardcore hip-hop rap group the Insane Clown Posse (ICP), who are labeled the “worst rap group of all time” according to GQ magazine. Initially formed around ICP, today the term Juggalo (female: Juggalette) describes fans associated with ICP along with other artists such as Anybody Killa, Big HooDoo and Lyte who are all signed with the independent record label Psychopathic Records. The leaders and founders of ICP, Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler who are more widely known under their stage names of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, started Psychopathic Records in 1991. Today, it’s estimated that the label makes an average of $10 million dollars in revenue per year (McCollum, 2009).
According to Vice, the duo’s intense work ethic is the reason why ICP has ascended from a second-tier Detroit rap group into the leaders of their own subculture – a feat accomplished by virtually no other group in popular American music, save for maybe the Grateful Dead. Being a Juggalo has become a way of life or second “family” for tens of thousands of people in the United States and around the world. Paul Detrick, a journalist at Reason who has been covering the group for years states that “there’s Juggalos in every city, in every part of America,” in a recent podcast.
Juggalos call themselves a family, but have been labeled as a gang by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) rewarding them the same status as the notorious Bloods, Crips, and MS-13. Juggalos were first labeled as a gang in the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. In the assessment the FBI pinpoints the crimes committed by Juggalos such as the driving force for their gang label. Specifically, the report says:
“Crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism. However, open source reporting suggests that a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity, such as felony assaults, thefts, robberies, and drug sales. Social networking websites are a popular conveyance for Juggalo sub-culture to communicate and expand.”
The gang label has caused quite the stir in the Juggalo community, and has prompted the Juggalo March on Washington on September 16th, 2017. According to the official March website, “[Juggalos] are a family united by music, love, fellowship, and camaraderie… and not a gang or any other criminally minded organization.
Documentary by Paul Detrick, a journalist at Reason, that explains the Juggalo gang label and its implications.
The FBI calls Juggalos a “loosely organized hybrid-gang,” since their membership crosses the racial and cultural lines around which traditional gangs form. According to the Juggalo run website True Juggalo Family, there are “no set laws or rules for being a Juggalo,” and “any and every type of person are Juggalos.” However, when examined more closely it appears that the diversity among them is not as extensive as described by the FBI and put forward by the website. A 2010 Wired magazine piece about the band describes the fans as such:
“Despite a sizable population of female fans (dubbed Juggalettes), ICP’s following is made up mostly of young white men from working-class backgrounds. They tend to feel that they’ve been misunderstood outsiders their whole lives, whether for being overweight, looking weird, being poor, or even for just liking ICP in the first place. It’s a world where man boobs are on proud display, where long-hairs and pink-hairs mingle, where nobody makes fun of the fat kid toweling off.”
It may come as no surprise that a majority of Juggalo’s are socio-economically disenfranchised and emotionally wounded outsiders who frequenly share stories of sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying and numerous other sufferings associated with poverty when taken in the context of their leader’s childhoods. (Halnon 2014). These circumstances mirror the the conditions that Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J came to age in.
The duo grew up together in a low-income neighborhood in Detroit during the 1970s. At this time the city was full swing into its economic and sociopolitical decline. The companies that had brought hundreds of thousands of workers from all over the United States to work labor-intensive jobs in the automobile industry, the cornerstone of the Detroit economy, started moving to newer and larger factories outside of the city. Many people, mostly white individuals, moved out of the city in pursuit of a better life causing a drastic population decline. The remaining population was unable to support the city’s infrastructure and services due to the diminished tax base. Overall this led to heightened unemployment and poverty, provoking crime to go through the roof. The rampant violence and poverty in Detroit was apart of Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J’s every day lives both inside and outside their homes.
According to Violent J’s memoir Behind the Paint, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J met in elementary school and became best friends due to their common life experiences. Both boys lived in extreme poverty and lacked a father figure. They both were teased and treated like “scrubs” for their lack of material wealth. In middle school Bruce and Utsler decided to embrace to “scrub life” and make it cool to have nothing, calling themselves “the floobs.” Even today, ICP glorifies having nothing, being an outsider and a freak similar to how they did in middle school. It is this mind set and acceptance of outsiders that attracts a lot of their fans that share a similar unfortunate background. Due to this shared identity, ICP offers a space outside of the mainstream culture that denigrates the rich, and celebrates poverty and being an outsider in a society that generally worships wealth and status inviting all “scrubs, misfits, and losers” to join their “Juggalo family” (Petering 2017). Overall, the Juggalos as individuals of low social status have joined together to give prestige to the characteristics they share, and make things they have access to cool.
The fact that many Juggalos are not accepted by mainstream society, and actively resist conventional values, plays a role in their deviant label. This rejection contributes to why ICP calls themselves, “the most hated band in the world.” Resistance to “the mainstream” through music, styles, and rituals is a shared trait of subcultures when attempting to describe what they are (Haenfler 2014). For example, Juggalos subvert the “mainstream” by claiming to invert conventional beauty standards by choosing to glorify “fat bitches,” and “freaks” (Halnon 2014). Juggalos also tend to practice behaviors that are traditionally frowned upon such as wearing clown face paint, being completely or partially naked, using or selling drugs, and pouring Faygo, a sweetened and colorful soft drink manufactured in Detroit, on one’s own head or on other people during “showers.”
This video depicts the atmosphere at a typical ICP concert by demonstrating the Faygo showers sprayed on to the audience.
These specific behaviors are considered deviant to mainstream society, but in ICP they are socially acceptable and constructive contributions to the group’s family vibe and member acceptance and authenticity (Neely 2014). For example, at the Gathering of the Juggalos, ICP’s annual festival, the chant “Fam-il-y, Fam-il-y,” and greeting “whoop-whoop,” are pervasive and shouted by and to all participants regardless of familiarity.
This short documentary about the Gathering of the Juggalos shows the importance of family through personal interviews conducted with attendees.
Another aspect that sets the Juggalos apart as deviant, is their unique image. It is common knowledge that fashion and style are signficiant markings of authenticity and belonging in subcultures (Force 2009; Haenfler 2014). Juggalos are known for their painted clown faces, clown masks and t-shirts, caps and jewerly that feature the symbol of ICP, the hatchet man (Neey 2014). They also use tattoos, such as the hatchet man symbol, as a permanent indicator of one’s sense of belonging in their community. Overall, Juggalos seem to be primarily brought together by a sense of rejection from mainstream culture.
THE DARK CARNIVAL
The Insane Clown Posse performs horrorcore, a subgenre of hip-hop that features explicit supernatural and horror inspired lyrics. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope were motivated to make this style of music after hearing the Houston rap group, the Geto Boys. The Geto Boys create music that is inspired by both gangster and horror film imagery. ICP takes this theme even further, focusing their lyrics on the mythology of the Dark Carnival, a “liminal reality or ‘second life’ that inverts the inequalities of everyday life and centralizes on the grotesque, including ludic violence (Halnon 2014).” In the Dark Carnival, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope perform under the personas of wicked clowns who dole out punishments to “unfair judges, selfish rich people, and an array of rapists, pedophiles, domestic batterers, bigots, and racists (Halnon 2014).” For example, in their lyrics rednecks are carved up and eaten (“Chicken Huntin‘”), and pedophiles are stabbed in the colon (“To Catch a Predator”). Violent J told Rolling Stone–
“It’s like a haunted carnival, you know what I mean? It’s coming to the racist people and fucking them up and punishing the evil! Getting the fucking wealthy ones, the evil, no-good suburbanites that don’t fucking give a shit about what’s happening in the city, in the ghetto neighborhoods. That’s where that’s where we were living when we were making that music, so that’s what was going through our mind.”
The Dark Carnival is the universe in which ICP’s mythology is based. Living within the Dark Carnival is a crew of extremely violent fictional characters such as the Great Milenko and the Ringmaster who judge and kill the selfish and perverted “chicken” and “piggies” of the world based on their individual actions (Halnon 2006). Each character in the Carnival is represented by his or her own “joker card,” which serves as the cover art for each character’s concept album in the bands LP’s. Currently, ICP has finished one whole deck of cards consisting of six albums: Ringmaster (1994), Riddle Box (1995), The Great Milenko (1997), The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999), The Wraith: Shangri-La (2002), and The Wraith: Hell’s pit. Currently, ICP is working on its second deck of cards starting with the release of Bang! Pow! Boom! in 2009.
Each card has a hidden message for the Juggalos to decipher. Often times the messages offer introspection and guidance for living a moral life. All together, the album cycle introduces, plunges the depths of and ultimately reveals the secret behind the Dark Carnival. It was revealed that Insane Clown Posse has been religious all along.
GENDER POWER DYNAMICS
Since the first gathering the public has seen Juggalettes as nothing more than glorified strippers who show their tits to impress Juggalo men.
Juggalo Beauty contest. (“Talent,” “Bathing suit”) – Judges are men, same with the MC.
Mike Busey – Sausage Castle King – leader of the most “ratchet” girls.
It is not all negative – there is feminism- changed by Rachel Paul – take back role of Juggalettes in the Juggalo community. Juggalette feminism is based on acceptance.
Vimeo visits the Gathering of the Juggalos to better understand the subculture. During the video, attendees are interviewed and allowed to speak their minds.
Greybox TV visits the 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos to spend a weekend getting to know the Juggalos at their annual event in order to get a new perspective on their subculture.
Insane Clown Posse: Six Jokerz – Unauthorized is a DVD documentary that follows ICP from their earliest days to their current status to shed light on ICP’s background and history.
Miller, Steve. 2016. Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World they Made. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
This book explores how ICP went from a small, Detroit rap group to a successful world-wide player/business in the music industry. Miller also goes into more detail about why the FBI has labeled Juggalos as a gang.
Rabin, Nathan. 2013. You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes. New York: Scribner.
In this book the author, Nathan Rabin, goes on a journey with the fan bases of Phish and Insane Clown Posse to explore the human need for community and acceptance.
J, Violent and Echlin, Hobey. 2003. ICP: Behind the Paint. Royal Oak, MI: Psychopathic Records.
This book is the autobiography of Violent J. It focuses on the entirety of his life beginning with his childhood, wrestling endeavors and ending with his current music career. Violent J goes into more detail about his inspiration for the Dark Carnival and the development of the Juggalos.
Petering, R., H. Rhoades, H. Winetrobe, D. Dent, and E. Rice. 2017. “Violence, Trauma, Mental Health, and Substance Use Among Homeless Youth Juggalos.” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 48(4): 642-650.