Every Halloween, ICP (what Insane Clown Posse is more commonally known as) has a huge party/concert, called Hallowicked, where they play tons of songs and basicly go f'ing crazy. If any Juggalos go to this concert with their faces painted like ICP (they use black and white clown makeup), they get a free EP of songs. Usely they are centered on Halloween, but sometimes it's just scary or spooky stuff. Namely, their albums are known as "Jokers Cards", which are inspired by The Dark Carnival, and are released about every 2 years. Any albums released between Jokers Cards, or are basicly bootlegs, are simply called EP's.

To clarify just when Inner City Posse was around... they first formed as a gang back in 1989, and made a short EP of tracks called "Inteligence & Violence". Then, it was Violent J's brother Jump Steady and Violent J. This EP is better known as "Basement Cuts" because it was made on a karoke machine in one of Jump Steady's friend's basement. Later, they made "Dog Beats" in 1990, which then included Shaggy 2 Dope, then called 2 Dope. There were 3 rappers, and about 10 other people who were just along for the gang part. Some of the other 10 made some "beef" with another gang, and that gang put out a kill hit on the whole gang. Also, Jump Steady couldn't cough up the dough to pay for the EP's, so they broke up as a gang and Violent J and Shaggy made Psychopathic Records, hiring most of the old gang, and the group Insane Clown Posse. They released a version of "Carnival of Carnage" in 1992, and another in 1993. They released other albums along the way...

A (somewhat) current list of ICP albums includes (in order of release) :

There have also been such things as promo releases, rare relatively short EP's, and an album called The Pendulum which is released song by song with each of their comic books, which are distributed by Chaos! Comics.

Summer 2000. Cincinnati. I'm sitting at Buzz coffeeshop and CD o'rama on Short Vine Street. It's one in the morning. The ICP show let out two hours ago, and the painted freaks are still running amok in the streets. I need to go home, but my car's two blocks away. I don't feel like parting the painted crowd. So I sit and talk to Tori, an acquaintance of two hours who is by all appearances a seasoned lush. She's only had three 40s since 5 o'clock, and I'm impressed by her fuzzy coherence. She agrees to walk me to my car, and we hightail it out of the coffeeshop.

One block up, we pass Skincraft, Cincinnati's finest body mutilation parlor. As we reach the corner, a huge man pops his potato-shaped head out of Skincraft's door and asks us inside. Tori and I look at each other. Skincraft should have closed hours ago. Tipsy Tori asks him what the hell he's doing in there. His chest puffs. He gains six inches in height.

"I'm Violent J. They stayed open for us. Get in here, girls."
Me: "Violent J?"
Potato man: "ICP, woman. Damn."
Tori: "OoooOOOoooh! ICP! You're famous people!"

Quicker than I can say "stupid bitch," she's inside. I don't like this one bit. But the place is well-lit, there's quite a few people inside, and I recognize the guy doing the tattoo work. I feel safe. I don't think it's safe to let fuzzy-brained Tori go in there alone. And I follow.

I stand there, blinking under the flourescent overheads. Tori is bouncing from stranger to stranger giggling at trite drivel and picking imaginary lint off of collars. This looks bad. I introduce myself and attempt to engage in an intelligent conversation with the man who insists on being called Violent J. He glowers at me, picking his teeth between drags off his cigarette. When he asks, I tell him with complete honesty that I'm not familiar with his music. His facial expression tells me that I was supposed to lie. He grunts and walks away.

I move to the lobby, feeling like a chaperone at a high school dance. I talk to a member of the group's entourage about David Bowie and Iggy Pop. He offers me a Black and Mild, which I accept happily. Violent J walks into the lobby asking everyone for $1 bills. "I want a Coke and all I have's a damn $20!" He points at me. "You. I'll give you $20 for a single." I make the trade and sit there with one eye on Tori and one eye on the door. There is just too much testosterone in the room.

Violent J pulls a chair in front of me and straddles it backwards. He thrusts a fat finger into my face. "I want you to leave."
My eyes meet his and don't flinch. "Why?"
"Because you're a stupid bitch."
A half-smile plays at my lips. "OK. Would you like to elaborate?"
His face darkens. "Since you walked in here, you've insulted me exactly six times, and you didn't even realize it."
"Enlighten me."
"WHEN did I insult you? I want all six incidences."

He sputters and curses and calls me a slut. He never does come up with a single concrete insult I've dealt him. I am disgusted. Tori seems to have found a comfortable lap, though, and I am sick of babysitting this stranger. I thank the flashily dressed man to my left for the cigar and walk to my car alone.

Celebrity is not deity. I wish I'd told Violent J that.

February 10th, 2001. Dallas, Texas. Joe, my good friend and fellow juggalo, and I had driven up, from San Antonio and Austin respectively, to see the Insane Clown Posse play a show at Deep Ellum Live. When we pulled into the parking lot of the downtown Ramada where we were staying, the first thing we saw was the huge ICP Bizaar, Bizzar tourbus parked alongside the hotel. We could not help but feel that this was a good omen, and we were totally correct.

We also came to find out that the hotel was also hosting a large get together for the Velvet Curtain Club, a local wife-swapping and swingers organization, but that is not really relevant to the story.

After a day of frantically driving around Dallas for several hours searching for a place to buy face paint, we were chilling in the hotel lobby waiting to catch a bus over to the club. As we are sitting, A very large individual comes in the front doors with a cute blonde girl on his arm, and we realize it is Violent J. The large guy that is, not the girl. By the time we realized who he was, (he was sans clown makeup) he was almost out of sight, so we just waved to him, and he nodded towards us and got on an elevator. We both thought that was pretty cool, and headed on over to the club.

Details of mind-blowingly good concert, and our struggles to get back to our hotel afterwards omitted for brevity

So, we finally make it back to the Ramada, and are just chilling in the lobby again, talking to the security guard on duty. We are both drenched in Faygo, half drunk, with the remnant of our once beautiful paint jobs running down our faces. The elevator comes down, and lo and behold, here comes J again, with the same blonde. We decide not to accost him, instead simply calling out "J, that was an awesome show!". Much to our surprise he tells his woman to go on out to the bus, and he walks over and says "Oh yeah? Did you guys have a good time?"

He actually just stood around with us and shot the breeze for about 15 minutes, as the conversation wandered from the topic of the concert, to local wrestling federations and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was extremely polite, and well spoken, and we both thought it was amazing that even though he was tired as hell, and probably just wanted to go chill out with his woman, he took time to stay and talk to scrubby-ass juggalos like ourselves.

Finally we shook hands, and after asking us both to "keep up with the clown love", he departed for parts unknown, and we headed back up to our room for more Rum and Coke.

P.S. Later that night we saw a female member of the wife swappers mentioned above wandering the hotel halls wearing ass-less leather pants. That pretty much says it all.

Sadly, a true story....

The bus was soon to be choked with kids from the "alternative" school. The school where kids go when the state demands that they be educated, but for disciplinary reasons above and beyond what the school board can handle, they're farmed off to squat, temporary metal buildings somewhere in the vicinity of the moribund K-Mart at which I caught this godforsaken mode of transit. Once again I cursed the snapped cable that kept me from being knees in the wind and away from all of this. The racking cough of the elderly woman in pyjama-like track pants was as constant as the droning of the engine. The miasma of stale cigarette smoke hung from a dock worker like an obnoxious fart. A single mother with two small kids in tow counted her change over and over again but the numbers wouldn't add up right. A kindly elderly black man gave her the required quarter.

Then the bus stopped in front of a boisterous crowd. Two worlds intersected. The bus had contained one world: the usual elderly, homeless and young poor folks who often pay the fare in pennies and mark their lives with intersecting timetables, and the rabble who poured onto the bus, state-issued free bus passes in hand, with designer labels on their backs.

"Yeah! She allergic to like perfume and shit."

Some fifteen year old, full of age-appropriate braggadocio, all baggy clothes and macho pose, a gangly black kid with a smart mouth, splayed out to take up as much room as he possibly could in a tangle of bony angles and urban designer labels.

"Yeah, she like, "Don't wear no cologne in my class." Fuck that bitch."

"Yeah, but she like, sick an' shit. She got cancer."

Young, cute girl. Smooth, flawless toffee coloured skin, nice teeth with a beaming smile. White puffy coat that made her look like the Michelin Man. It almost hid her pregnancy. Almost. At this point the baby was just something that was going to happen in the future. It had not taken the girl out of this to-be woman yet.

"Well fuck that, she shouldn't be teachin then! Ain't my problem stupid bitch can't smell no perfume."

"Hey, didn't you slap her?" A large kid, rotund but not jolly, his gigantic pants threatening to ride below his mid-thigh.

"Hell yeah I slap her. Ain't no bitch gonna raise no hand to me."

"Yeah, she got cancer though." The girl again. She didn't really care, it was academic.

"I don't give a fuck. No bitch raise no hand to me. She push me, yo. Like git outta my class, you're wearing cologne", eliciting laughter from the others with his impersonation of her voice "and she push me. So I cuffed the bitch. Imma sue her, get me some money, stank ass ol' white bitch."

The large kid was laughing. The whole thing seemed amusing to him. "But you got thrown out, yo."

At this point, seeing some of the bus riders furtively glaring at him, the tone of his voice got louder.

"I don't give a fuck. I'se a TRUE NIGGA. Put the handcuffs on me, put me in jail, I don't care! I DON'T CARE. I don't give a fuck. I ain't no punk, havin no white stank ass cripple bitch touch me. I'se a TRUE NIGGA."

The bus driver completely ignored the outburst, and most looked away. A twentysomething hesher with a cheap CD player, whose earphones played more to the rest of the bus than into his ear, looked at the bus driver's head and chuckled sarcastically to himself. The driver had been VERY aggressive in insisting that he turn down his barely audible Led Zeppelin. Got out of his hydraulic shocked seat and walked up to him, waggling finger in his face, threatening him with being thrown off.

The bus drove on, the driver oblivious.

The girl in the white coat made a shushing motion with her hand, laughing at the same time. The boy, spurred on by her response, made one last declaration. "FUCK all a y'all, I'se a TRUE NIGGA."

A quiet voice to the left of me said, sotto voce, "Yeah, you're a nigger all right." I was the only one that heard. I did NOT dignify it with a response.

Then the shouter noticed a silent figure standing by the back door, minding his own business. He'd been on the bus before it picked up this crew, and he'd been even quieter and more invisible after. About sixteen, chubby, late to lose his baby fat, staring at the floor. Also baggy panted, but not the FUBU jeans from the B&I - these were Hot Topic pants with D-Rings. And his beanie cap bore the letters ICP.

"Yo, ICP."

The kid pretended he didn't hear, wishing his stop were a lot lot sooner.

The big kid joined in. This was going to be a feeding frenzy. I'd seen enough fights go on in the 'hood to know that a lot of African Americans of the lower social classes wait for a sign of weakness, and attack en masse. Once one man goes down, people will race over from half a block away to get in a free kick on the back of someone's defenceless head, and then skip down the road, whooping in triumph. I reached surreptitously in my pocket and felt my keys slide through the fingers of my fist, my hand now a mass of bone and metal shards. Fuck this shit. This kid was minding his own business.

"Hey, yo, ICP."

The bus tensed. Something was going to go down.

"What's the chain for, ICP."

I then noticed that around the kid's waist was a length of hardware store chain, accessorized as some kind of belt. Well spotted, I thought. I'd have not noticed it, riding low on the kid's hips, almost obscured by his belly.

"ICP"'s voice was so low as to be almost inaudible. He wouldn't make eye contact. Already beaten. Even one-on-one, he didn't have what it took to take on even one of them.

"Nothin. It's just somethin' to wear."

"Is that right, ICP?"

"Yeah." The white kid reached for the bell, and pulled it. All of us knew this was nowhere near his stop.

"That's good, ICP." The kid glared, never blinking, mad dogging someone who was clearly wanting no trouble.

The juggalo kid ducked off the bus, looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't about to be followed and jumped. But his tormentors were too lazy to follow, or too uninterested in doing anything but proving something to someone they considered inferior.

My fingers unsnaked from around the keys, and I left the little punks to their braggadocio. But I saw, as the bus wended its way from the concerned and round-shouldered ICP fan, the palpable relief in his face at having escaped the situation.

I then understood the allure of the band to kids like that. Cartoon figures with hatchets, unstoppable axe-wielding ninjas with occult forces at work - their violence courageous, outrageous and relentless, but outside the realm of reality. A comforting, powerful and "don't tread on me" tough pose, but one that didn't have any resemblance to the reality of sidewalk beatdowns and back-alley gunfire. A fantasy world of might and power, but not one that could ever resemble the very tangible and grim reality of violence. It spoke to something deep down and very male in me.

But, I thought to myself, at some point this kid will be old enough to go to a convention. He will watch pro wrestling, watch the opening bands, and then his heroes, the Insane Clown Posse. He will wear clown makeup, drink Faygo and chant rhymes with legions of kids just like him. Kids who, for one day, will not be the runt of the litter, the butt of the joke, an "out" fan of a band Spin called the worst of all time.

He will be among his peers, not the only one. Safe, he will be happy, and he will be with his tribe. It may not be mine, but long may they prosper.

Insane Clown Posse is described by most music journalists and almost all CD store clerks as the worst band in existence, in fact to ever have existed.

In fact, the whole concept seems to have come about from the kind of bet rich old white men make in back rooms, the sort of Trading Places wager in which lives are ruined just for the prize of winning. "So I have these two guys from Detroit. Real white trash. And they dress up like clowns, and they rap." "I bet you you never make a dollar with it." "Bet you I will." It's rather repetitive and childish - but considering that the two primary members never got higher than a Grade 8 education, this is easily explained.

For those unclear on what ICP is, it consists of Joseph Bruce, who renamed himself Violent J, and Joseph Ulster, who renamed himself first "2 Dope" and then "Shaggy 2 Dope". Originally calling themselves "JJ and the Inner City Posse" - they basically re-backronym'd "ICP" to be "Insane Clown Posse" to fit with the horror- and supernatural themes they started taking on after realizing they weren't really cut out for the Detroit gang scene. The hype man of their earlier gangsta rap efforts was painted up like a clown, but the pieces fit into place when Violent J had two dreams - one about being a clown running around the town of Delray, and another about a travelling carnival. 

Sonically, they had become interested in the stylings of horror rapper Esham, but weren't really interested in copying Esham's Satanist angle. Instead they built up their own mythology, a sort of epic, prog-rock style multi-disc rock opera that drew from Alice Cooper, KISS, W.A.S.P and Motley Crue but without following the by-now tired formula of horror themes in rock. That being said, they WERE offering an escapist fantasy of sorts, which easily pulled in the same kind of demographic that had in years past taken out its adolescent frustrations in the decaptiation stage show of Alice, or the scowling corpse paint of Norwegian death metal. Testosterone is one hell of a drug, and for decades marketers have made a KILLING pandering to its effects on the suburban teenage boy.

Looking past the derivative "acid rap" tracks (seriously, listen to Esham a moment and you understand exactly where ICP gets its inspiration from) and tired lyrics about clowns with hatchets, and you'll see a story arc about a Dark Carnival, with albums being referred to as Joker's Cards, when the last of them have "dropped" (e.g. been released) there would be some kind of End Of World scenario. The Big Reveal at the end was that they were supposedly working for "God" all the time, etc. which ended up confusing their lstener base, considerably.

They ended up having a bit of a crisis of confidence - I mean, they were in the same spot that the Jehovah's Witnesses and Harold Camping were in after predicting the end of the world which turned out to be more whimper than bang. As a result, they ended up with a mythology that extended from the previous, referring to a "second set" of Joker's Cards.

Who knows. I mean, here's a band whose motto is literally "Fuck keepin' it real: we just keep it entertaining".

Keep in mind this is a band whose logo is a running stick figure carrying a meat cleaver that they refer to as a hatchet, not knowing the difference between a culinary implement and a primary tool in lumbering. Keep also in mind that this is a band who showed up to one of its first shows without microphones, playing a college gig where they showed up in clown paint and literally screamed out their lyrics over playing their backing tracks on cassette. Not only were they there at the wrong time, they were in the wrong building - explaining why the audience to that show did nothing more than stare at them in incredulity.

But I would argue that on many levels, they managed to produce a work of genius.

One MIGHT argue that coulrophobia is nothing new, and the idea of carnival clown as threatening figure - from the street-punk muscle of Batman villain The Joker in S&M bondage clown outfits to the horror film The House That October Built is a well-trodden trope. One of the reasons why clowns scare the ever loving shit out of children is that they haven't been trained yet to see artifice - what they see is an alcoholic ex-con glad to be paid in cash at the end of the day, and the fact that these two stick-and-poke tattoo covered ex-cons have painted up is just about par for the course. 

But that had never made its way into rock. Again, the path there was either the dented-toaster-oven Dungeons and Dragons pose or the horror movie "Satan, Satan, Satan" thing. The idea of something else, even if it was a confused jumble of chicken ninja hatchet wielding wizard Goosebumps-level ramblings about "darkness" was kind of novel. ICP have realized, fundamentally - that music is no longer about music - the money is in the merch, cross-promotion, being producers rather than artists, and that what people seek in terms of belonging to music is selecting an identity. It's why music snobbery and music clique-ism is a thing - you're not critiquing someone's taste when you say you just can't get into country, you obviously hate the troops and are some kind of "real America" hating egg sucking pinko. And when we're talking about selling artifice - sure there are kids in the inner city who can believe that through basketball skill, "hustle", small time drug dealing or "lyrical dominance" they'll end up paying for a Bentley with hard cash (for the record, there are quite a few small time rappers in the Atlanta area that have done exactly that). But the white kids in South Dakota stuck in trailer parks with rotting teeth and no education are under no delusions that they'll some day be farting through silk and living in a seven bedroom house.  So they had to be sold another fantasy - and either by design or by sheer luck, ICP have managed to find an all encompassing, alternate reality, pose and mask for them to wear where they can step outside themselves and their own miserable, beta-male and beta-female lives and belong to something bigger and pretend to be something cooler. Clown paint costs about $5 at Wal-Mart. $1 if you buy in on All Saint's Day.

And boy do those cash registers ring. Keep in mind that everything - from the T-shirt sales to hatchetman pendants to their direct to video movies, concerts, wrestling promotions, festivals, and so forth - are all property of their very own Psychopathic records label, which they OWN. Cross-marketing? They wrestle. They do video. They have movies (not very good ones, but no worse than the Adam Sandler Netflix stuff).

They also have ancillary bands. Twiztid, the Kottonmouth Kings, Boondox, and others are signed to their label and in a Wu Tang Clan collective kind of way are supported by and support the band, gaining fans and garnering fans. Remember cross-promotion? If you hadn't heard of the band, seeing them wrestle on the WWF might give you some exposure. And given it's the same target market, it works out for both sides.

Live shows? More than that. They hosted first Hallowicked, but then the grand festival of all Juggalo festivals - the Gathering of the Juggalos, an event so delightfully tacky that Reddit's /r/trashy subreddit says it's shooting fish in a barrel to pull content from. Somehow they turned a field in the middle of nowhere into the most incredible family gathering of all the flotsam and jetsam of the runts of the litter, losers in life, D-list celebrities, fat small breasted women, hefty tobacco-stained guys with rotting teeth and porcine faces, trailer park strippers with Daddy issues, and worse. All of whom dress like clowns and indulge every whim of their collective, horrifying ids. 

Whereas Burning Man is a bunch of good looking Californians being nudist in the desert and showing off their toned, six figure Bay Area salary creativities, you're likely to see sexual displays from... people who have every right to be as sexual, only not given permission by society to do it anywhere else. The place is an open air drug market, with "The Bridge" being a place where everything other than heroin is not only for sale but openly advertised by people holding placards. The Bridge is over a rapidly garbage-filled and aptly named "Hepatitis Lake". There's music. There's wrestling. There's wet T-shirt contests. Gallons upon gallons of the band's favorite drink, cut-rate soda Faygo. And tons of photos that are slightly rated above literal junkie porn in terms of masturbatory potential.

But every human being has the right and the human need to belong, to be family with someone. And the two band members have lived hard lives in poverty with absent parents, abandoned, locked up for stupid teenage decisions, and worse. And they've made an entire industry out of giving those everyone else kind of hates a place to hang and be loved and accepted. Just about everyone who's been to an ICP festival or show Editor's note: I have NOT will admit that it really is an accepting, wonderful environment. The kind of place where two guys will square off, and it will be defused by others gathering around them and simply chanting the word "Family".

The FBI proved their complete incompetence by labelling the whole affair a street gang, and wonder why people mock law enforcement. But seriously, there's no crime in any of this. Oh, they're terrible. They truly are. Their fans are god-tier trashy. But then again, what's the harm? It's a huge fantasy world, and they're playing at being clowns in the middle of a field, listening to their music and keeping to themselves.

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