For over twenty years, the face-painting rap duo of Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler—better known as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, or Insane Clown Posse—have been creating as much controversy as they have music.
In a way that’s a fair assessment—they have been arrested several times, written some very raw lyrics and marketed all of it toward children. In other ways though, the ado surrounding ICP can also be described as a misunderstanding of the pair.
They belay their music with the overarching message that people need to worry about their actions; that there are consequences for doing wrong. And in the event there is a judgment day, they want their fans to be on the right side of that gate.
Still, ICP has been mostly an exercise in “do as I say, not as I do.” And in the last year that’s landed them in hot water with the F.B.I. with the agency classifying not only Bruce and Utsler as a gang, but also their fan base—known as ‘Juggalos’. Currently, the group is involved in a lawsuit with the government to get that designation reversed.
It’s a dark chapter in the career of a rap duo known for building their own merchandising empire, becoming wrestling champs and creating a prolific good-versus-evil concept for each and every one of their death rap hip hop albums.
But the spirits of ICP member Violent J are high and the Source caught up with him last week ahead of their Bend show scheduled for Sunday May 26 at the Midtown Ballroom.
SW: Forget the rap music for a minute; you guys have had a pretty awesome wrestling career too. Anyone you want to square up against in the ring that you haven’t yet?
I got to wrestle so many fresh wrestlers. Guys like Rey Mysterio Jr. and The Road Warriors; guys we idolized. Let me tell you this, Back in ‘95 I was flipping through a magazine and I saw this tiny little black and white ad and it said ‘Japanese Death Match Wrestling’. It was these Japanese wrestlers in rings with thumbtacks, broken glass and exploding rings. I was like, no way, this can’t be real! But I ordered these videos and it was everything they promised. What me and Shaggy did was we did the play by play commentary to it comedy style. We released it as a video called Stranglemania. There was a tag team on that DVD that me and shaggy named The Mushroom Boys. They were 500 pounds each. They were iconic to me and Shaggy, almost like cartoon characters to us. As the years went by and we made more connections in wrestling, we booked them and got to wrestle The Mushroom Boys from those original Japanese videos. It can’t get no better than that for us!
SW: On a serious note, this FBI thing is really dragging out. A trial for next March? Is that correct?
We knew this was gonna happen. We’re going up against the FBI; that’s not gonna wrap up in six months. We knew it was gonna be a long tiresome fucking battle, with them trying to make us go broke. They got the U.S. Government pockets and they’re deep. But if we did nothing and just accepted it than 10 years from now our legacy will be nothing. We’ll be just a gang and Juggalos are not a gang. We know it’s almost an impossible battle but we can’t have this. We’re not a gang; we’re so much more than that.
SW: I’m sure taking on the FBI doesn’t come cheap; do you guys feel that fans maybe now more than ever want to come to your shows and buy your music to support you because of the lawsuit?
I don’t think any more or less because of that. It’s just a case of we’ve been here 20 years so far. Doing it full time for 22 years actually. We look at our lifetime story and what’s come out of it and now that we got something, we don’t want it swept up into a garbage bag as a gang. It’s a living breathing jungle with a lot of life in it.
SW: As angry as all this makes you feel, do you have to be careful with the things you say about [the lawsuit] for fear they are looking to interpret anything as a threat?
The only thing our lawyers tell us is of course, don’t say anything about it. But it’s too late. We've said so many things already. It’s all out there. If they’re listening, we don’t have anything to hide. They could have this phone tapped and be listening to us right now for all I know. But they aren’t gonna hear anything. We aren't a gang shipping drugs or calling shots or whatever a gang does. I don’t even know what a gang does. As far as keeping our mouths shut before we get to court, we've blown that.
SW: For a long time, music writers and critics said some pretty harsh things about your music. That type of response can keep a group from getting places. How do you explain ICP’s ability to not only keep making music, but get bigger despite the critics?
Because there are a lot of people who like it! It’s plain and simple. A lot of so called important people or respected magazines have come out and said we sucked. But you know what? There are a lot of human beings out there that don’t think we suck. They are the Juggalos. They are creative people and it takes a little more than a Top 40 hook to capture them. They like some storytelling. Those very Juggalos, now that we’ve been around so long, have grown up and now they’re the writers and they say “hey those guys aren’t so bad!” So the last couple of years we’ve had a lot of positive stories come out about us.
SW: How much of your music is for the fans versus stuff that resonates with you on a personal level?
It’s a lot of talking to ourselves. It’s the only way we can relate to the people. We aren’t the overseers of life, we’re the overseers of our own life and we’re asking those questions of ourselves. The same questions that the joker cards are asking of people, we’re asking ourselves. We don’t feel like we’re saved and we’re going to Heaven, we feel like we still have a lot to straighten out.
SW: As you get older and the arrests haven’t happened like they used to, do you feel like you are watching the path you are on more closely?
That’s because of experience. Jail sucks. You know what I’m saying? When you’re 18 you ‘aint scared of shit you’re like, ‘I don’t care I’ll go to jail.’ But after you get older you don’t want to go to jail. We’re getting older. We’re fucking wiser now. We catch lawsuits now when we get in a fight.
SW: Ever see a time in the future where the makeup goes away?
I don’t think the makeup will ever go away. We will do different stuff. We are just starting our own television show on the Fuse Network. I’ve always figured that in our older life we would start to fuck with TV; just to explore new ways of entertaining the Juggalos. But very much keep it the way we are. There’re too many people who need us to keep our values the way we are.
SW: Anything you want to say to Sharon Osbourne? Is she ever going to pay up for losing the bet that your albums Bizaar and Bizzar wouldn’t sell 200,000 copies even though it sold over 400,000?
Hell no! She would never settle up that debt. And we break it every time we drop an album! We don’t even say you gotta pay us; give it to charity! But she won’t do it. You lost that bet you should face up to it. We’ve never been on MTV or the radio and we’re still here. She said we were a flash in the plan but she was wrong. She’s dead fucking wrong. She should pay that money.