- - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Their horrorcore hip-hop — pervaded by profanity and violent imagery — has been called degenerate, depraved and disgusting. Their fans, the Juggalos, are derided as a dangerous, clown-makeup-wearing cult. Blender magazine once even voted them the Worst Band in Music History.

What could anyone possibly say about Insane Clown Posse that’s any worse?

How about calling them Christians — evangelical Christians, at that.

That’s the unfamiliar position in which Detroit rappers Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler) find themselves, following one of the strangest years of their long, strange, 20-year trip through the music industry.

Not that they are, actually, evangelical Christians. Far from it. Neither attends church or claims any biblical knowledge. In fact, neither man can even pronounce “evangelical.”

Fans of Insane Clown Posse have been labeled a dangerous, clown-makeup-wearing cult. But "there's so much love around us from Juggalos," said band member Violent J (Joseph Bruce), one-half of the Detroit rap duo. Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler) is his partner. Both reject the assertion that they are evangelical Christians. (Associated Press)
Fans of Insane Clown Posse have been labeled a dangerous, clown-makeup-wearing cult. ... more >

“We’re not envelichiculous … I can’t even say it!” sputters Shaggy 2 Dope, laughing. “That’s how you know we’re not that!”

Of course, casual followers of the group’s frequent headline-making outrages would never have mistaken Insane Clown Posse for pious Christians. After all, this is a group which has always chosen to illustrate the dark side of human nature in the most graphic terms possible.

From ICP’s early days, when the group aroused the wrath of the Disney company through tracks like “The Neden Game” (a super X-rated “Dating Game” parody) and “Boogie Woogie Wu” (which imagined the boogie man in particularly horrific form), Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope have courted controversy on a consistent basis.

It’s not easy to claim they’ve mellowed, either: The duo’s last album — 2009’s “Bang! Pow! Boom!” — included “To Catch A Predator,” which vividly imagined entrapping and torturing a sex offender. And thanks to the occasionally violent behavior of ICP fans — a few of whom, like cop-killing Massachusetts teen Jacob Robida, have been charged with murder (in a 2006 incident ICP publicly denounced) — the group has managed to stay infamous throughout its time in the spotlight.

However, the sweeping vision of ICP also includes a stern moral code (at least for lawbreakers); a pro-American outlook; and belief in God, even if not of the Christian variety.

It’s that last view that has put ICP back in the critics’ crosshairs, following the release of a song, “Miracles,” that dares to suggest science might not have all the answers.

“Number one, I don’t know what an inveligecal (sic) Christian is. I don’t even know what an inveligecal is,” declares Violent J, during a break in recording sessions for ICP’s next album. “But number two, I think it’s sad that in today’s world, all you gotta do is say you believe in God, and people freak out on that. Well, I’m proud to say I believe in God, y’know?

“At the end of the day,” he explains, “I was always taught by my mom, that the good people go to heaven, and the bad people go to hell.”

That heaven-or-hell choice has run through ICP’s mythology for years, via its Dark Carnival and Joker’s Cards, which offer the band’s own conception of the afterlife. “There’s an all-around message to the Dark Carnival (and) the Joker’s Cards,” says Violent J. “And that’s what it is: that we wanna see all the Juggalos in Heaven.”

The relationship between Insane Clown Posse and their Juggalo (and Juggalette) fans is one of the most remarkable in music. It began when the group emerged from Detroit in the early ‘90s, donning clown makeup, mimicking the excesses of pro wrestling, and making no lyrical subject taboo. Although they were dumped by the Disney company, they went on to mainstream success. And even after leaving Island/Polygram, which released hit albums like 1999’s “The Amazing Jeckel Brothers,” the band continued to serve its loyal, Faygo pop-swigging fan base into the new millennium through a series of independent releases, as well as the annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” festival.

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