Last weekend, the Insane Clown Posse threw the 16th Gathering of the Juggalos, their annual festival of explosive rap and rock performances, wrestling and general mayhem. Rolling Stone was on site in Thornville, Ohio, to capture the carnage.
Few artists have as devoted a fan base ("Juggalos" as they call themselves) and are as roundly dismissed by critics as Insane Clown Posse, the Wayne, Michigan, rap-metal duo of Violent J (a.k.a. Joe Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (a.k.a. Joey Utsler). Still, ICP's longevity and marketing acumen have brought a success even their detractors must acknowledge.
Originally, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope were part of a rap quartet called Inner City Posse, which formed in 1988; when the group broke apart, Insance Clown Posse took its place in the local firmament. Their debut, 1992's Carnival of Carnage, introduced the group's new sound, which mixed harder rock elements among the beats and rhymes and its essential pose (clowns in full make-up anticipating the apocalypse, basically). But despite a steady stream of albums that sell well to the group's surprisingly large core, ICP's main draw is its live show featuring all manner of sideshow shenanigans, including pyrotechnics and the liberal tossing of Faygo soda onto a willing audience.
With a growing fan-base, 1994's The Ringmaster sold well, eventually going gold, and led to the band signing with Jive records for 1995's The Riddle Box. The band jumped to Hollywood Records for 1997's The Great Milenko (Number 63) which helped propel ICP into the national spotlight; Hollywood's pulling the album off shelves due to questionable lyrical content gave the album an even further push as the burgeoning nü-metal audience couldn't wait to hear what all the fuss was about. Island eventually issued the disc. The band began making headlines but not so much for their music but thanks to a road accident (Violent J suffered a concussion), fights with their own audiences and at an Indiana Waffle House, and a panic attack onstage in Minneapolis (J's).
By 1999, when the group issued The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, it had enough clout to debut at Number Four on the Top 200, and like Kiss before them, they began merchandising like crazy: multiple CD covers, a movie (Big Money Hustlas, which bypassed theaters for video), comic books, even part-time careers as professional wrestlers for both members, as well as appearances in a pair of wrestling video games. The group closed out the initial run of its 'Dark Carnival' series of albums with Shangri-La and Hell's Pit, with the former album proclaiming that they had been leading their fans to God the whole time. ICP's profile has shrunk in recent years (they've gone back to indie labels and tour in less high-profile a fashion), but their fan base remains as loyal as their 2007 release the The Tempest, which debuted at Number 20 on the Top 200, proved.
are just better