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Interview:
Insane Clown Posse releases new album, fights back against FBI
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

TRENTON -- It's a sunny and warm June day outside, but dark and dank in the rubble that used to be McLouth Steel headquarters.

The Insane Clown Posse's Shaggy 2 Dope is in a makeshift wrestling ring, bouncing around while black-clad dancers twirl fiery rope torches on the floor in front of him. A corps of Ninjas watches from one side of the proceedings, while a cadre of Juggalos, as the Detroit rap duo's fans are known, eyeball things from the opposite direction.

And Violent J, Shaggy's 23-year partner in rhyme, sits in a nearby golf cart, sweating after his turn in the ring and clearly stoked at how things are going.

It's the video shoot for "Chris Benoit," the first single from ICP's anxiously awaited 12th studio album "The Mighty Death Pop!" -- which was unveiled at the 13th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos that wraps up Sunday, Aug. 12, at Cave-In-Rock, Ill., and goes on sale to the general public Tuesday, Aug. 14. The set is available in three packages, each with a different bonus disc, and arrives with next-level expectations after 2009's "Bang! Pow! Boom!" debuted at a career-high No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums chart.

"This feels like our most anticipated album ever," says Violent J (ne Joe Bruce), 40. "I feel like more people are paying attention to what we do now. People are giving us a serious look, probably because we've been around so long." In fact, he and Shaggy (ne Joe Utsler) feel that after defiantly standing up to plenty of criticism and dismissal during most of ICP's career, the world at large is "starting to give us a second chance.

"It feels good to have stories written about us that are positive and people giving us credit for (stuff). Of course that feels good after being the most hated band in the world for so long."

Shaggy, 37, shares his partner's perspective. "Every record we come out with is like a brand new, fresh breath of air, but this one seems like it's even more than that," he explains after emerging unsinged from his turn in the video. "I think we're getting a lot more respect now. A lot more people that used to be Juggalos when they were younger are older and have positions of power in the (media) and the (music) industry now. So it feels good to be more accepted and taken more seriously."

NO CLOWNING AROUND

Violent J and Shaggy were indeed the clown princes of rap for many years after emerging in 1989, famously feuding with Eminem and cutting loose with profane, sexual and violent rhymes so explicit that it led to a premature end to the duo's mid-90s deal with Walt Disney-owned Hollywood Records -- which in turn motivated ICP to turn its Farmington Hills-based Psycopathic Records label into a bona fide multi-media empire.

But along the way, and in addition to the Juggalos infiltrating corporate society, the group changed a bit. The production, primarily by sonic visionary Mike E. Clark, became more sophisticated and musically diverse. And ICP's Joker's Card series of albums revealed themselves to be thoughtful and even spiritual social commentaries without losing the ribald sensibility and cheeky, leering humor that appealed to the Juggalos in the first place.

But while "Bang! Pow! Boom!'s" success positioned ICP even deeper into the pop culture mainstream, Violent J claims it had little impact on the long gestation of "The Mighty Death Pop!"

"Anything we make, we give it 100 percent," he explains, adding that the album was culled from "15 years worth of beats and ideas" compiled by ICP and Clark. "I know every band says that, but we look at the albums we come out wtih as chapters of our life. Every album is an era, a whole time period of our life. We don't release an album every year like other bands, so it's a big deal for us to be up to bat and we take our time making these albums and put everything we've got into them.

"We don't just throw (stuff) together and call it an album."

And this time out, Shaggy adds, "We didn't have any deadline whatsoever, so we got to tweak everything to the fullest. We got to mix everything, remix it, go back and listen to everything and fine-tune it perfectly. It felt great to have the opportunity to do that, not like, 'Oh, you gotta have it turned in in two weeks' or (anything) like that."

CAUTIONARY TALES

As the title indicates, mortality is on ICP's mind on "The Mighty Death Pop!" Across its 17 tracks, including guest appearances by Tech N9ne and Hopsin on "SKREEEM!," the duo raps about random and unexpected death, warning that "you'll be shocked when your clock stops and your mighty death pops" and urging listeners to celebrate and respect their lives -- even delivering cautionary tales about risky and reckless behaviors.

"It's, 'How are you living your life?' " Shaggy explains. "If you just want to wild-out, go out of control, you don't know when your life could end. We're basically just saying live life to its fullest every day, 'cause you never know when it's gonna pop. There's nothing wrong with being thrill seekers or anything like that, but appreciate what you've got."

But as he and Shaggy have "come out of that wild side" on their own and become "family men," Violent J thinks there actually MAY be something wrong with thrill-seeking behavior.

"Y'know, we seem to reward people who take risks and do crazy stunts. The world pats you on the back and tells you you're a crazy, wild man, like that's a good thing," he says. "But it's not fresh when you die, y'know? The same thing with drug addicts, anybody who's just pushing it, pushing it, pushing it, taking it to the limit every night. If you play with death, it's gonna catch up to you.

"So that's what this album's about. Slow your roll, man. Respect the life you've been given."

Shaggy, however, notes that, "We don't really push our values and stuff directly down people's throats. I mean, most people think we're just about...cursing. But if you're looking for something more, and a lot of people do, there's definitely something there."

END OF AN ERA?

Surprisingly, ICP considers "The Mighty Death Pop!" as its "last ode to the physical CD, according to Violent J. "The way we look at it, this is the last of the CD. It's almost gone now, and the next time we put an album out it may be non-existent," he says. That's why ICP is issuing it in three versions: "Red Pop," whose second CD, "Covered, Smothered & Chunked," features covers of songs by Christina Aguilera, Tears For Fears, House of Pain, and others; "Black Pop," whose bonus disc sports a single 67-minute song called "Freaky Tales," "a non-stop rap with no chorus, a total non-stop flow;" and "White Pop," whose "Mike E. Clark's Extra Pop Emporium" houses a reprise of "The Mighty Death Pop!" with more guests -- including all three members of the Geto Boys together for the first time on another group's song.

"Some people will think it's some marketing, snake oil tactic, but it's really not in the least bit," says Shaggy. "These are three full-length records, not just one or two bonus tracks." Violent J adds that, "

"If the CDs are going away, this is the last our the collectible, 'I gotta find all three!' thing that we'll do before our concentration switches to how to make digital CDs more awesome. So it's almost like a wave goodbye to the art of the fresh-popped cellophane and huffing that smell of a new CD."

In supporting "The Mighty Death Pop!" ICP also plans to bid farewell to its previous concept of touring -- at least for a minute. Instead the duo plans to concentrate on Internet pay-per-view webcasts of major events such as the Gathering of the Juggalos and its annual Hallowicked concert on Halloween in Detroit.

"We're trying to graduate to that next level where instead of knowing they're going to see us twice a year, every year, we'll hold out for a minute and see if we can't create more excitement when we do get back," Violent J says. "Let's say we don't tour for two or three years, by the time we tour again it'll be a bigger deal...and in the meantime we'll get this pay-per-view idea off the ground."

That, of course, will only add to Psychopathic's arsenal of offerings that includes the label's other bands and adjunct activities such as video production and Juggalo Championship Wrestling. "Being 20-some years doing this on a constant basis and still being relevant is a trip," says Shaggy. "Right now it seems like we're at an even larger pinnacle of what we're doing. We may not be touring, but it's not like we're disappearing off the face of the map. You'll be hearing from us -- plenty."

*********************************************************



Speaking to their fans and media on the site of their 13th annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” music festival, the Insane Clown Posse expressed concern for the well-being of their fan base, which was labeled a “gang” by The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Gang Intelligence Center’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. To that end, the duo of Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler) announced that they, along with Psychopathic Records, have retained legal counsel to investigate and pursue legal action including monetary compensation and/or other injunctive relief on behalf of their fan base, the Juggalos.

The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment lists Insane Clown Posse’s fans, known as Juggalos, under "non-traditional gangs." The report places Juggalos among such notorious entities as the Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods, Crips and the Latin Kings and states, “…many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence. Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo sub-sets….”

Shaggy 2 Dope stated, “It’s been almost a year since Juggalos were put on the National Gang Threat Assessment and we are hearing too many stories from our fans about the trouble it’s causing them. Just because you like a music group, doesn’t make you a criminal.”

Violent J said, “We’re not attacking the FBI, but they got this wrong. The Juggalos are not a gang, and that needs to be fixed.”

Video of the Insane Clown Posse’s making their official statement at the “Gathering of the Juggalos” today can be viewed shortly at www.juggalosfightback.com.

Insane Clown Posse and Psychopathic Records’ legal counsel, Howard Hertz of Bloomfield Hills-based Hertz Schram PC, has released the following statement:

“We are seeking individual Juggalos whose rights have been violated as a result of the mistaken belief that they are a ‘gang member.’ If you or someone you know has suffered any negative consequence with an employer, governmental representative, including law enforcement, border patrol, airline security, or other local, state or federal governmental agency or employee as a result of your status as a Juggalo, we want to know about it.

We are seeking individuals who have experienced any of the following based on a government employee or other’s knowledge of the Juggalo ‘gang’ status as stated in the 2011 National Gang Assessment:

1. Stopped by Border Patrol (U.S., Canadian or otherwise)

2. Stopped or denied ability to fly on an airline

3. Increased criminal sentencing or denial of parole

4. Transfer of a juvenile criminal offender from juvenile court to circuit (“adult”) court

5. Denial of job opportunity, loss of employment

6. Denial of permit to march, boycott, assemble

7. Denial of a vendor to sell Juggalo merchandise

8. An injunction preventing the Juggalos from congregating in any area, wearing Juggalo clothing, displaying tattoos

9. Pulled over or detained by law enforcement

10. Any other denial of a right, liberty, property”

The law firm of Hertz Schram urges Juggalos who meet the above criteria to share their experiences with their legal team at no charge. Juggalos are asked to fill out a short questionnaire that may be completed online at www.juggalosfightback.com.





Web Site: www.insaneclownposse.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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