Insane Clown Posse
A metal/rap band with a live show that features open fires, chain saws, liters of soda dousing the audience (Faygo being the group's favorite brand), and more emphasis on performance art than the performance of music. In the world of the late '90s, that was more than enough to get them a recording contract with a major label, though the release of their 1997 album The Great Milenko came with a bit of controversy. Now just a duo, ICP were originally formed in 1989 as a hardcore Detroit rap group called Inner City Posse.
Before the first Joker's Card album, Insane Clown Posse (Joseph Bruce, AKA Violent J, and Joseph Utsler, AKA Shaggy 2 Dope) were two thirds of an up and coming southwest Detroit hard core gangster rap trio called Inner City Posse (ICP). Their 1991 self-produced release, Dog Beats, quickly gained recognition in the world of Detroit underground music, with its funk influence and raw lyrics.
According to band front man, Joseph Bruce, he had a surreal dream about the "Dark Carnival" and six unique messages in the form of albums. Inspired upon waking, Joe gave Insane Clown Posse its name, and a new and purposeful direction. Band members totally latched onto this, quickly developing their wicked clown alter egos. They began painting their faces like clowns, in a trademark style that would remain unchanged until 2002, with the release of the sixth and final Joker's Card album. Insane Clown Posse then immediately started work on their first full-length album and Joker's Card, Carnival of Carnage.
After combusting in 1991, the only members left, Violent J (born Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (born Joseph Utsler), slightly altered the name to reflect the fact that they had been visited by the Carnival Spirit, which ordered them to carry word of the impending apocalypse by touring the nation and releasing six "joker cards" (popularly known as LPs) with successive revelations of the final judgment.
The first, Carnival of Carnage, appeared in 1992 on their own Psychopathic Records label. The group became notorious in Detroit's underground scene, but several tours around the region failed to ignite much more than the rage of area leaders.
After the release of 1994's The Ringmaster, ICP began to get a bit of attention as a possible follower of cartoon metal bands like GWAR and Green Jelly. Jive Records signed the group and released The Riddle Box in 1995, but the record bombed and ICP returned to the ranks of the indies. Just one year later, Hollywood Records gambled on the band and spent more than a million dollars while ICP recorded their new album, The Great Milenko. On the day of release in 1997, however, Hollywood pulled the record, citing obscene lyrics and gruesome content -- possibly a move by its owner, Disney, to deflect criticism of its practices by the Southern Baptist Federation.
In a bizarre twist, yet another major label, Island Records, stepped in to release the album and capitalize on the notoriety ICP had garnered. That notoriety only increased thanks to several incidents that kept them in the headlines: J was arrested after clubbing an audience member with his microphone in late 1997, and shortly thereafter, the group's tour bus ran off the road, leaving J with a concussion. Next, the group and its entourage were involved in a brawl at a Waffle House in Indiana, and both members eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges.
All the chaos took its toll, as J suffered a panic attack in April 1998 while on-stage in Minnesota. However, all of the publicity helped expand the group's cult following to the point where its next album, the 1999 concept record The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, debuted in the Top Five. As evidenced by the numerous different collectible covers for The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, ICP had become a virtual merchandising machine, complete with comic books to flesh out their elaborate "Dark Carnival" mythology; they also wrote and starred in their own straight-to-video movie, Big Money Hustlas, and made guest appearances at wrestling events.
The group spent the summer of 1999 bickering with various tourmates (Coal Chamber in particular) and played at the ill-fated Woodstock '99. Early in 2000, Shaggy collapsed on-stage, but the cause was deemed to be nothing more than a combination of the flu and low blood sugar; however, while staging a wrestling event several months later, Shaggy fell off a steel cage, breaking his nose and cheekbone. Still, ICP managed to make it into the studio to record a follow-up album, and Big Money Hustlas was finally released.
Perhaps one of the boldest and most successful moves made by Insane Clown Posse was the creation in 2000 of what has now become an annual tradition: The Gathering of the Juggalos. This three-day convention, drawing over 10,000 attendees from the 50 states and overseas, is a mix of concerts, games, contests, auctions, seminars, autograph signings, and everything and anything related to Insane Clown Posse and Psychopathic Records. The Gathering has made a huge impact in every city it has come to, bringing in several million dollars in revenue to the cities it visits. This move is unique in the music industry, and is a shining example of Psychopathic Records' ability to both pioneer and succeed through direct, focused effort.
On Halloween 2000, the group issued its sixth album, which apparently did not count (as all the other albums had) as a "joker card" (in the ICP fantasy world, the sixth joker card was supposed to signal the apocalypse). Similar to Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion, the album was released in two completely different, separate versions, titled Bizzar and Bizaar. Finally needing to live up to the years of hype, 2002's The Wraith: Shangri-La revealed that the hidden message of their music was always to follow God and make it to Heaven. Considering the murder fantasies of "Beverly Kills 50187" and the necrophilic overtones of "Cemetery Girl," this may have been a shock to longtime fans. In August 2004 the band released the sixth and final joker card, Hell's Pit, in two separate editions. Both had the same CD but were packed with different DVDs. Yet the Dark Carnival wasn't fully shuttered. Spring 2005 found ICP hyping a new direction for the mythology, to be revealed with the May release of Calm. The EP also prepped Insane Clown Posse's devoted fan base for the sixth annual Gathering of the Juggalos that July. Their 2007 effort, The Tempest, found the duo reuniting with producer Mike Clark, the man behind the first four joker card albums. Clark stuck around for their 2009 album, Bang! Pow! Boom!
Insane Clown Posse is without a doubt one of the most successful "behind-the- scenes" bands of all time. Their fame was won without massive radio play, so it is all too easy to discount the band; however their seven certifications (two platinum, five gold) speak for themselves. Their immense popularity lays just beneath the mainstream, yet more substantial and long lasting.