“At first, I laughed! Just like everybody else,” Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J admits, seated on his tour bus. “Now I just realize how fucked up it is.” It’s this past Friday afternoon at the Gathering of the Juggalos and the Detroit horrorcore emcee is recalling his initial reaction to the news that the federal government officially considers his band’s fans a national security threat. Less than 30 minutes ago, Violent J and his partner-in-rhyme Shaggy 2 Dope announced their plans to sue the FBI at their annual seminar and they’re both still visibly reeling from the audience’s joyously moving reaction. (Shaggy got goosebumps. Violent J’s hand visibly shook.)
Spend an hour wandering around the Gathering and you’ll hear story after story after story about cops, schools, and bureaucracies discriminating against Juggalos for wearing Insane Clown Posse gear and their label’s Hatchetman logo. There’s the guy who lost his kids to a foster home because of his tattoo. There’s the Juggalo who was discharged from the United States military for having a Psychopathic Records CD. There’s the Wisconsin kid who was forbidden from wearing Insane Clown Posse shirts to school, but didn’t have money for new clothes, so he kept getting suspended.
“I know it’s just Juggalos and to a lot of people out there, that’s the lowest life form,” acknowledges Violent J. “But they’re being fucked with heavily. And this is some extraordinary shit that’s happening to us.”
The FBI’s distinction also has personal and professional implications for the two entertainers: If their fanbase is a gang, that effectively makes them kingpins. For two fathers and ruthlessly independent company owners with real families and real names (Joe Bruce is Violent J, Joey Utsler is Shaggy), the ‘gang’ stigma could have seriously crippling consequences.
“You’re trying to grow love in your country and shit,” says Shaggy 2 Dope. “Then the head of your country–the FBI–just turns around and fucking kicks you in the nuts. How are you supposed to respond to that?” He and J could only identify one option. “We’re doing the American thing–we’re suing.”
An edited excerpt of our conversation follows.
Why did you guys decide to do this?
Violent J: All the horror stories. The more that happens, the more time goes by, the more I’m thinking about it at home, watching TV, in my car. The more I’m realizing the scope of it.
Shaggy: If we don’t do something about it now? A few years down the line, they will slowly be crushing [our] shit. Nip it in the fucking bud.
Violent J: It’s scary. I’m not going to front. It’s fucking scary. The more I think about it, the scarier it is.
When did you decide to sue?
Shaggy: It wasn’t too long ago, but it wasn’t too short ago. We were sitting on this for a minute.
Violent J: We had to find the right attorneys. We didn’t want someone who was like, [doubtful patronizing voice] “I don’t know about that.”
What do you hope to get out of this lawsuit?
Violent J: In a perfect world, I hope that organizations will stand up and say, “I hate ICP, I don’t give a fuck about them or the Juggalos, but this is fucked up.” I hope that enough pressure goes on the FBI and enough bigwigs take our side in this and actually say, “Look, [it doesn’t matter] who they are, it’s still fucked up what’s happening to them.” And then we actually get taken off the list.
Even if we lose, at least we said, “Hey man, fuck you.” We can’t say that we’re just going to beat the FBI, but at least we’re trying–and we’re trying sincerely. We will spend everything we got.
I don’t want our legacy to be that five years from now, everybody accepts the word “gang” [as a classification of Juggalos]. That’s where it’s headed and it hasn’t even been 12 months. If we don’t do shit about it, five years from now, Juggalos will not be known as this family of love who stands against fashion and culture and does its own thing–it will be known as a fucking gang! And all of our accomplishments will be shit.
All of our company, and all of those [Psychopathic Records’ employees] who put 20 years for us, helping us with our dream, and it became their dream? All of it is for shit. All of it is for shit in the end. [Pause] Just a gang. [Pause] Just a no-good street gang.
You’ve told me before that you used to like this country.
Violent J: When people ask, “How come your shit isn’t as mad as it used to be?” [I explain that] when we started rapping, when we were kids–we come from broken-ass homes–but then we applied ourselves to this dream and we succeeded. We’re not as mad anymore at the world. We’re not as bitter about things because I realized if you want something, all you gotta do is bust ass and you can have it. Even if it’s something twisted and weird like this. If we can get away with what we’re doing and be this successful, we’re not complaining no more about how this country’s set up.
How has this FBI situation changed your opinion of the country?
Shaggy: You’re trying to grow love in your country and shit. Then the head of your country–the FBI–just turns around and fucking kicks you in the nuts. How are you supposed to respond to that?
Violent J: It’s like, “Maybe I was wrong–you can’t have whatever you want.” Maybe we were wrong–you can’t do something without corporate sponsorship. They will shut you down eventually.
Was there ever a point when you’re talking about this and you were like, maybe we shouldn’t do this?
Violent J: It’s the opposite of that. Right now, we’re here at the Gathering. And it’s like ‘Get em!’ Then I get home and I’m looking at my family and I start to get scared.
The more I think about it, the bigger the rock in my stomach gets, and the more worried I get, and the more fucking passionate about fucking doing something about it I get. It really is everything. It really can kill us. It really can. It’s fucking terrifying.
Have you thought about how this gang classification would affect your kids?
Shaggy: Of course. We’ve been [hanging out] with people and like, “What if this motherfucker is bugged right now?” You know what I’m saying? What if they have cameras on my kids going to school? How does that look? What if my kids get taken out of their class because of what I do?
Violent J: I want to raise my son as a Juggalo. Even if he himself doesn’t want to be a Juggalo, I want him to love and respect Juggalos. If he’s going to college one day, somebody’s like “Fuck Juggalos” I want my son to be like, “Fuck you.” Even if he’s something else, I want him to be like, “Fuck you, I was raised by Juggalos.” But now, all of that is in jeopardy. I don’t want my son to be proud to be in a street gang when he’s in college.
And what if they fight back now and really apply the pressure? There’s no telling how they’re going to combat this because it’s never fucking happened.
I think even people who hate your music are going to impressed–this is a bold response. As long as you file the paperwork, as long as it doesn’t fade away, as long as you do this, I think people will respect you for this.
Violent J: To us though? It’s way beyond not seeing it through possibly. This could destroy us. Could destroy everything we’ve fucking done. And when you’ve done it for 20 years? That’s a motherfucker, man. This has the potential to destroy everything we’ve built and put a fucking taint on it.
Shaggy: And that will be our legacy in the end–gangbangers.
Violent J: There is no possibility of not seeing this through. We’re here to do this. We’re here to fucking survive. We’re here to fucking live and do another 20 years. Most importantly, to at least let the Juggalos know we care. That we said something about it.
Whether we can win or not? [pause] But not doing anything is sure suicide. It’s a sure way to take your beautiful painting and piss all over it. And it sucks.
Contact the author at email@example.com or @camilledodero
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