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Confessions of an Ex-Juggalo

In the suburbs outside Detroit during 1994 and 1995 — the years I followed horror-rap duo Insane Clown Posse's rise to local infamy — there was, I now realize, nothing more uncool than an ICP fan. In any parking lot, in any neighborhood that wasn't actually in Detroit, you could find at least a few cars that sported loud, giant stickers of cackling, murderous clowns in their rear windows. ICP was an inexplicable phenomenon, it seemed, and its fans — "juggalos" — quickly became legion.

My friend Chad introduced me to Violent J and 2 Dope while we cruised Gratiot Avenue in the summer of '94. This miles-long stretch of road cuts through what was once East Detroit but is now called Eastpointe. The teenagers who cruised it during this period were made up of that wanna-be urban type that sported baggy pants and spent whatever money they made working at Kmart on booming speakers for their lamely pimped-out Geo Metros. Oh, and listening to ICP.

It's important to understand the urban-obsessed, white suburban world of lower-middle-class kids that reacted the way I did to the same shimmering blue cassette that Chad slipped into his car's tape player out on Gratiot that night. ICP's debut, Carnival of Carnage, was rap, which made it cool, we thought. But it was also: A) by two white dudes who B) talked about such absurd, horror-obsessed subject matter that nobody felt like poseurs for listening to the music (which is, I imagine, how every suburban white kid felt listening to NWA). The fact that there were maybe two black ICP fans in all of metro Detroit should have shouted just how uncool ICP was, but we were too distracted by the herd mentality ICP promotes to notice.

That's the wonder of being a juggalo, I suppose. You belong to something bigger than yourself, a mythology that has spent almost two decades being developed around the imaginations of two ugly, overtly misogynistic, wrasslin'-loving nobodies barely from Detroit. Fans — many of them delusional — cover themselves in tattoos, name their kids after these guys, and even commit violent crimes in their name. Although I have not spoken to Chad in almost a decade, I would not be surprised to hear he has a ringmaster tattoo on his tricep, has a kid named Milenko, and is currently serving time for hacking up his wife with a hatchet (one of ICP's favorite weapons).

I, on the other, moved on after the summer of '95. Some call the juggalo lifestyle a culture, or maybe even a community, but I think it shares more similarities with cults — though I don't think Violent J or 2 Dope imagine themselves as messiahs of any kind. They've just enjoyed getting rich off the emotionally misdirected. For awhile there, I let them take advantage of me too. Then I grew up, and that's something ICP and many of their fans have never had to do.

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Cole Haddon