If Nickelback is the low-hanging fruit of online mockery, then Insane Clown Posse is the long-forgotten peach that fell from the tree and has been rotting for so long that not even the newly produced mold spores want anything to do with it.
What is it about ICP and their fans that attracts so much ridicule, anyhow? If Shaggy 2 Dope never wore clown makeup or decided to craft such a specific brand, some would be comparing his music with that of many West Coast rappers. Ice Cube, Cypress Hill and The Pharcyde have played ICP’s Gathering of the Juggalos festival, as have other artists with street cred, such as George Clinton, Danny Brown, Chuck D and Method Man. Despite that, people still gawk at Juggalos with the musical hubris of someone who studied under Arnold Schoenberg.
Admittedly, my exasperation of this mockery helped motivate me into venturing out to 2513 Deep Ellum (what used to be The Door and the Gypsy Ballroom) on Wednesday night to see the ICP co-founder. As a music journalist, it is also a duty of mine to delve into the cultural underbellies, the nuances of which others have no clue, and to raise awareness of them so that you, the reader, can become more well-rounded in the arts. So I also came about this with the intention of being “an outsider looking in.”
And an outsider, I truly was. But I made no attempts at being covert – in Juggalo culture, a person’s first time around what they call “The Family” is a special initiation process, and they treated my experience last night as such. As I waited in line at the intersection of Main and Good Latimer, I made the acquaintance of about a dozen Juggalos, who were all too eager to introduce me to their subculture.
As doors opened, the inhibitions that compel human beings to cling for dear life to their place in a single-file line seemed to have less presence than usual. Complete strangers talked to one another as if they were friends since childhood, and during their conversations, their places in line began to morph.
But nobody cared. After all, Juggalos place a special emphasis on a sense of community, and for a beautiful moment in time, they treated me as one of their own.
Six people huddled over a grocery sack that contained three 20-ounce bottles of Faygo. With the security personnel just mere yards away, they treated the beverages like smuggled contraband. As their way of bidding me a warm welcome into their subculture, they offered me drinks from each bottle, which I obviously accepted. To my surprise, and despite Faygo’s reputation as a dirt-cheap beverage, they were actually rather tasty.
As I got in, I caught some of the local acts that were opening the show, then began to make the rounds and converse with attendees. The atmosphere in the room was a potent social lubricant even for the most socially anxious introverts, so suffice to say, approaching members of the crowd and initiating conversation was a simple task.
I went into the hallway that links 2513 Deep Ellum with the Prophet Bar, where about 20 VIP laminate-clad Juggalos waited patiently to meet Shaggy. A fan from Lubbock asked me how long I'd listened to ICP, at which point, I admitted that I am not familiar with their catalog.
“What ICP songs do you know?” she asked.
“Uh, I know ‘Homies,’ but that’s it,” I replied.
People within earshot began to rib me for being familiar with only one hit that made the rounds on MTV years ago, but it was all in good fun. We then had a conversation about hip-hop artists, such as Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, N.W.A. and Nas, as well as classic-rock artists, such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It is rather amazing what musical common ground you can find with people when you don’t view their fandom of one artist as a laughingstock (pretentious Facebook commenters, take note).
As Psychopathic Records hip-hop artist Ouija Macc took the stage, fans dispersed from the hallway in a hurry, determined not to miss another second of an artist nobody outside of their niche (myself included) has ever heard of.
What’s striking about most artists in the Juggalo music scene is the stylistic similarities they have with Eminem. Maybe it’s a Detroit thing, but were it not for Macc’s appearance, you could successfully convince someone that he’s one of those “socially conscious” rappers who looks up to Aesop Rock.
The audience shouted song requests and knew many cuts word-for-word. The expected mosh pits commenced, but there was an unusual sense of order when it came to them. The mosh pits weren’t exactly tame, but they were somehow contained in that they didn’t interfere with the experience of anyone who wanted to enjoy the show without participating in all the ruckus.
About 15 minutes after Macc left the stage, DJ Carlito (Shaggy’s DJ) started hyping the crowd, whose enthusiasm was manifested in many a “Whoop, whoop.”
The lights shuttered all at once, and a remixed version of “The Imperial March” by John Williams (aka “Darth Vader’s Theme”) blared as the ICP member walked downstairs from the green room located stage right. The crowd of about 250 people got rowdy as one of their heroes made his grand entry.
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Shaggy, in contrast to his tour mate Macc, had a more mellow flow that seemed to draw influence from, as previously mentioned, West Coast rappers. His demeanor was also more calm than the acts that preceded him. He wasn’t exactly jaded, but there comes a time in your career as an entertainer when playing to a crowd of adoring fans becomes as routine as clocking in for work every morning, and it seemed like he reached that point years ago.
Still, a chore for him, it was not. This is the same person who marched with his fans in Washington, D.C., to protest the FBI’s classifying Juggalos as a gang, so he clearly has no problem engaging with the hoi polloi.
As I was watching, some fans were checking with me to make sure I was having a good time. When I told people earlier that this was my first show around Juggalos, their excitement at making me feel included was nothing short of endearing. The etiquette for most shows I attend includes staring blankly at the stage with your arms crossed and keeping to yourself or the two friends you brought along with you. If this sort of camaraderie was present in other musical niches, it would make the experience of seeing an artist more entertaining and fulfilling, and Juggalos seem to understand that better than most people.
So carry on, Juggalos.