I used to be a juggalo. Like, a hardcore juggalo.
**Disclaimer: This post is long. Really long. Probably my longest yet. I don't intended to ridicule or mock ICP or their fans, just give my account of what being a juggalo was like for me.**
This isn't really a fact that I keep hidden away out of shame. I'm totally open about it, but it's not really something that comes up a lot. Until the release of ICP's "Miracles" video most people either didn't know what a juggalo was or didn't really care. Most of my friends know that I used to listen to all those Psychopathic Records artists, but for the ones who didn't meet me until later it's probably not something they can accurately visualize. Well in today's post I intend to shed some light on my personal experience as a juggalo.
First off, let me explain the picture. I drew Raphael as Violent J and Donatello as Shaggy holding microphones and spraying Faygo. Mike and Leo are behind them as Jamie Madrox and Monoxide Child from Twiztid.
Now, let's start at the beginning.
ICP formed in the early 90's as Inner City Posse, a gang/hip hop group going under the names Violent J, Shaggy 2 Dope and John Kickjazz. Eventually they decided to change styles and dropped the "gangsta rap" for a more "horror-core" themed style of hip hop. They kept the ICP initials but changed the name to Insane Clown Posse and started wearing clown face paint to differentiate themselves from the rest of the scene. Sometime before the release of their first LP John Kickjazz left the group creating the Insane Clown Posse you know and love today.
Fast forward a few years to 1998 and that's where I come into this story. About a year after ICP's fourth full length album, The Great Milenko, came out to huge controversy a radio mix began getting heavy rotation on Party Radio in the Phoenix area. I was in 8th grade at the time. I remember I had heard of ICP before this, but didn't really know anything about them or their music. The radio mix was pretty funny and I think I borrowed the CD from someone or someone copied it onto a cassette or something. That Christmas I got my first ICP CD as a gift. Thanks, mom!
I can definitely say at first it was all about the comedy factor for me. A lot of the songs are very ridiculous and intentionally funny. Plus I was still a kid and still figuring out my own taste in music. Late in 1998 ICP came to Phoenix and played a radio festival put on by Party Radio. I was excited about seeing a local band called the Phunk Junkeez, but me and my two best friends also wanted to go and see what ICP was all about live. We got to the show late, maybe about half-way through the Phunk Junkeez set. Shaun tells me that Twiztid--newcomers at the time--played before the Phunk Junkeez and this was the first time we would miss out on seeing them live. Once ICP hit the stage it was literally like no show I'd ever seen before and really haven't seen since. Their set pieces are massive and intricate, they never stop going from the beginning of the show to the closing lines of the last song and they usually have at least a few other people on stage with them to keep up the chaos.
One of the more unusual hallmarks of an ICP show is the Faygo. Faygo is a cheap brand of soda found mostly in the midwest and based out of Detroit. I guess because it's so cheap all the members of ICP grew up drinking it and it kind of became their thing. The story goes that during a show early in ICP's career Violent J threw an open bottle at a row of hecklers and people loved it so they've continued the practice ever since. Bottom line, if you are anywhere near the front of the crowd at an ICP show you will come out drenched in Faygo. It might sound gross, but I can't explain what a relief it is to be stuck in a hot sweaty crowd at an ICP show and catch a nice, cold, half-full bottle of Faygo freshly kicked off the stage. It's like catching a health potion. I heard they use mostly diet flavors because it's less sticky, but it really doesn't matter. Dry soda is always sticky.
Over the years I lost count of how many ICP shows I went to. If I had to guess I'd say I probably saw them somewhere between 10 and 15 times. The first show was eye-opening for sure. We weren't quite as into them yet, but after that first concert I remember painting my face up for every single one.
I remember one show, in the summer of '99 I believe, Shaun, Ricky and I were getting ready for a show at Ricky's house. We were all dressed in our finest XXL ICP shirts (I seem to remember the shirts only being available in XXL and above at the shows) and painting our faces in the bathroom downstairs. We were waiting for Ricky's Dad to show up because he was supposed to be the one taking us to the show. When he finally got there we were all ready to leave and trying to rush out the door and he told us there was no way he was going to take us to the show if our faces were painted and his wasn't. He literally wouldn't leave until we painted his face. So the four of use crammed into the bathroom to paint Ricky's Dad's face.
On the way to that same show we ran into a bit of trouble; we got a flat tire on the freeway. The four of us climbed out of the car to change the tire (well, Ricky's Dad changed the tire; we waved at traffic) on the side of the US-60 in the middle of a summer day in Phoenix. Oddly enough this is a fond memory for me.
Even though we got there late we saw most of the show, including Snoop Dogg who was a surprise opening act. That's right. I saw Snoop Dogg open for ICP. We missed Twiztid again, this time because Jamie Madrox was incarcerated at the time for drug possession or assault or something. This was the second, but not the last time we would miss out on a Twiztid show.
Another show, later in the year, this time at the Nile, we were forced to wait four hours for ICP to show. No one really knew what happened, but people were getting restless. At some point Soul Man from the Phunk Junkeez showed up and started DJing onstage. I thought it was cool of him to try to help out and he was even wearing a Psychopathic Records hockey jersey. Unfortunately juggalos are fickle people and they started throwing stuff onstage. Eventually he left and we were forced to continue waiting in silence. When they finally showed up it was so late that Twiztid didn't perform and ICP went straight on stage instead. We found out later that one of the members had weed in his bag at the airport and was detained for several hours.
I moved from Gilbert, AZ to Cedar Park, TX in the summer of 2000, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Coincidentally the summer of 2000 also happened to be the first annual Gathering of the Juggalos. Somehow Shaun and I convinced our parents to let us fly to Novi, MI (with Shaun's mom chaperoning) to attend the event. I'm still not entirely sure why they let us go at 15 years old, but I'm glad they did. We flew to Detroit and stayed at the Double Tree directly across the freeway from the Novi Expo Center where the Gathering was being held. It was two days of concerts, wrestling, signings, seminars and pretty much any other Psychopathic Records related insanity you could think of. Shaun's mom stayed at the hotel while Shaun and I walked over to the Expo Center. We hadn't even made it inside yet and I saw a kid volunteer to be crucifix power-bombed off a two foot high retaining wall into an empty dumpster. I also remember seeing a guy walking down the line asking the girls to flash his disposable camera. You'd be surprised how easily you can get a female ICP fan to flash you just by asking nicely. OK, maybe you wouldn't be that surprised.
After we got in there was a lot going on. I don't remember everything that happened in those two days so I'll just try to hit some highlights.
There was a museum of sorts constructed of portable fabric walls hung on PVC (like most convention booth dividers) chronicling the different eras of ICP's career. There was another area where you could walk through all of the different stage sets they'd used throughout the years. There were a few actual booths with "celebrities." The only person I actually remember meeting was "Missy" from their movie Big Money Hu$tla's (who I have just learned was a porn star). There was an area allocated for signings. I think the only signing we went to was the Kottonmouth Kings/Corporate Avenger/Too Rude signing.
There was a room for "seminars." I honestly don't remember any of the seminars except the one Shaun and I attended, the "Secret Seminar." All they told us was that there would be a prize for the people that made it through the seminar and then there were a series of eliminations. If I remember correctly it started with you pulling an envelope from under your chair. Inside was a ridiculously difficult test, but when you flip to the end it says something like "Who could answer these questions? This test is ridiculous. Just sit there and don't move," or something along those lines. The people that actually started the test were kicked out, while the people that didn't got to stay. Next they held up a box of 64 crayons. They said the next task was for everyone to get a crayon and then they throw them out into the crowd. Shaun and I both found crayons relatively close to us (mine was "Tickled Pink") so we sat and concealed them just in case it was another trick. It was and we stealthily hid the crayons in our backpacks. The guys running the seminar knew a bunch of people were lying about not having crayons, but instead of forcing the issue they complimented us on our resourcefulness. Next they told us there were five bingo cards hidden somewhere in the room and to find those. This time Shaun and I just sat there. This turned out to be a mistake. Only the people who found the cards got to stay and get the prize. To this day neither of us has ever been able to find out what that prize was, but I still wonder some times.
Later during the Gathering I became the first person to complete the ICP trivia challenge and I won Shaggy's solo EP entitled Fuck Off!. I almost got run over by Shaggy on a mini-bike and we saw Jamie Madrox from Twiztid almost get into a fight when a security guard tried to kick him out for cutting in line at his own merch booth. It was a crazy two days and at the end of it all we were treated to a massive ICP show to close things down. Near the end of the set ICP called the crowd on stage. I happened to be pinned up against the barrier at that point and I've never been one to shrink from the chance to jump on stage so I hopped the fence and climbed up there. I was one of the first few people to make it so I started pulling other people up behind me. It was pretty crazy and according to wikipedia over 300 audience members ended up on stage and ICP performed for another 30 minutes with everyone up there. It's all a blur to me, but I was happy to find out afterward that somehow Shaun got a picture of me on stage from his spot in the crowd. It was one of the most insane and fun two days of my young life.
After I started school in Cedar Park I didn't really make new friends and thanks to the internet and instant messaging I didn't have to. I wasn't a total loner; I floated among several groups and was on friendly terms with a lot of people at my school, but I didn't really have any close friends besides the ones I left behind in Arizona. I did make friends with a kid a couple of years younger than me who was also big into Psychopathic Records. My mom and a friend drove us down to Houston for a show once. It was on the second floor of a tiny club and I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if that thing had collapsed under the weight of all the people packed into it. My mom told me later that she got hit on by another woman while she was waiting for us downstairs.
During my later years in high school is when my fandom started to wane. There wasn't really one big thing that started it, but a combination of little things. For one I always listened to music other than just Psychopathic Records artists. That may not sound like a big deal, but a lot of juggalos don't stray very far from their main collection of Psychopathic Records groups. I always liked alternative, punk, ska and whatever else caught my attention even if I did listen to mostly ICP and affiliated groups.
One thing that always bothered me was that ICP was constantly feuding with other musical acts. They were good friends with the Kottonmouth Kings, but probably three of four times when I was listening to them there would be some feud started for no reason and all of a sudden juggalos weren't supposed to be fans of the Kottonmouth Kings anymore. They started a feud with Eminem that I still don't think has been resolved so juggalos can't listen to Eminem. Same thing with a rapper named Marz that they toured with and I happened to really like. Maybe that's just the hip-hop world, but it got a little old and I don't like basing my musical choices on who's mad at whom.
The thing that really did it for me in the end, though, was that I just didn't really feel like part of the "family." I had a lot of fun at shows and the Gathering was a blast, but I didn't ever really fit in with the juggalos. Don't get me wrong, juggalos can be great people and I never had a problem with any one in particular; it was just another group that I was on good terms with, but I was still hanging out on the fringes. For me it was always more about the idea of being juggalos with my friends. It had very little to with wanting to be a part of the family in general. To be perfectly honest the juggalo family is a big part of the listening experience with ICP. If you don't feel connected to the group you kind of lose the point of being a fan.
So over the course of my last years in high school my interest faded. One night I just decided to take down all of my posters (my room was literally covered floor to ceiling) and I gave them to my friend who was still a fan. I started selling off my t-shirts, jerseys and hoodies. I made a killing on eBay, but not even close to what I spent originally. Sometime later I sold off most of my trade goods (comics, toys, etc...) and finally, a few years ago I gave away or sold all of my CDs (after ripping them to iTunes of course). The only hold-over I have from my time as a juggalo is a set of Psychopathic Records Beenie Boyz.
I do still occasionally listen to some Psychopathic Records music, every few months or so I might get the urge. Usually I listen to Twiztid or Psychopathic Rydas. Twiztid has always been my favorite Psychopathic Records artist because I feel like they're much better rappers than ICP in general. Psychopathic Rydas is just so ridiculously over-the-top gangsta rap that it's funny as a bit of a parody, but there's still so much talent in the group that it's actually good hip-hop if you like that style.
It seems like being a juggalo is a lot like being a member of a secret society in that most people don't want to join, but they're all curious as to what actually goes on. The desire to write this post originally started when Shaun, Ricky and I were all reminiscing about our good ol' juggalo days a few months ago. Since then I've been thinking about it and wanting to sort through those times with a new perspective. While I was writing this I started listening to all of ICP's main discography (Joker's Cards and EPs) in chronological order to get some inspiration. What I also discovered is that even though I rarely ever listen to them anymore I still enjoy ICP's music. Part of it is nostalgia, I'm sure, but none of it is ironic. I don't believe in liking things ironically. I think that's a stupid concept and I don't see what's wrong with having a genuine interest in something, even if that something is thought to be pretty ridiculous by most other people. I don't know that I'll ever see ICP live again, and I can't say for sure if I'll ever paint my face like a clown again, but I do feel that deep down after all this time I'm still a juggalo and that may not ever change.
One last thing. I'd like to thank Shaun for helping me remember some of the finer details and helping me fact check this post a bit. I'd also like to thank our parents for not freaking out when we wanted to listen to songs about blood and death and paint our faces like clowns to go to concerts. A lot of parents would have forbidden it, but ours knew we were smart enough to make our own choices and didn't make it more appealing by telling us no.
I know this post is probably already way too long, but I thought I'd take a second to answer some quick questions and misconceptions that come up a lot. If you have any questions post them in the comments and I'll answer them to the best of my ability.
About a year or two ago some news story broke about ICP being Christian and evangelical and their music is christian music or something and everyone was all over it. This was a shock to everyone except their fans. Then, 6 months later the story somehow broke again and everyone was all over it. Again. I remember hearing a local morning radio show here cover it twice somehow without realizing it. Well, let me set things straight. Those statements aren't entirely true. As far as I can tell they never claimed to be Christian or evangelical about any religion. Some article once phrased it that way and everyone took the story and ran with it becaues it's the most shocking thing you could say about ICP. ICP has said they believe in God, and this isn't really news to anyone who's ever been a fan. Their more serious songs and the over-arching mythology of their music is a bunch of parables and morality tales in which, essentially, good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. That's it.
What is the appeal of ICP? Well, like I said, at first for me it was just the entertainment value in the novelty of it. They're clowns and they talk about murder and blood and guts and gore. I used to tell people it's the musical equivalent of watching a B-horror film. Beyond that, though, is the sense of community ICP built around their music. It attracts people who feel like they don't fit in anywhere else. If you're going to be an outsider you might as well do it on your terms with other people like you. One of the cool things about being a juggalo is you have instant friends wherever you go and I don't feel like other communities are that way necessarily. I had a small silver hatchet man charm on a chain that I bought at the Gathering. I wore it every day and one day while my wife and I were still dating long distance I gave it to her (sort of a juggalo promise ring). She told me that people would randomly start talking to her and being friendly when she wore it and she never knew why until she noticed they were wearing an ICP shirt or something similar.
What is the mythology surrounding ICP and the Dark Carnival/Joker's Cards? You might have heard the term Dark Carnival or Joker's Cards mentioned in relation to ICP before. The basis of the story that they created and have been fleshing out through their music is pretty simple. The Dark Carnival is sort of a precursor to the apocalypse, similar to the four horseman, and it is manifested through the forms of the six Joker's Cards: The Carnival of Carnage, The Ringmaster, Riddle Box, The Great Milenko, The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (Jack & Jake Jeckel) and The Wraith (Shangri-la & Hell's Pit). Each of these Joker's Cards are meant to pass judgement on souls and have their own way of doing so. For example The Amazing Jeckel Brothers are a juggling duo. For every sin you commit Jack Jeckel adds a ball to the routine, and for every good act Jake drops one. If too many balls get added and they can't keep up the act then you are condemned. ICP themselves act as heralds to the coming of the Dark Carnival. Each Joker's Card had an ICP album associated with it (except The Wraith which had two). Originally the story was that once the 6th card dropped the Dark Carnival would sweep the land. Obviously that didn't happen and I've read that ICP has since started a new "deck" with Bang! Pow! Boom! and the forthcoming The Mighty Death Pop! but I stopped listening to them before the Wraith was released.