The Origins of the Dark Carnival

Facing a future dominated by poverty and a difficult home situation, Joseph Bruce (Violent J) sought acceptance and security by forming a gang called Inner City Posse on the decaying streets of north Detroit’s Oak Park suburb in 1989. Soon after Bruce met Joseph Utsler (Shaggy 2 Dope), the duo joined Utsler’s brother, John “Kickjazz” Utsler onstage at local clubs, performing hip-hop under the name of their gang. As momentum built, the group recognized the need for management and guidance. Prompted by a recommendation from Bruce’s brother, Robert, the aspiring artists contacted friend and record store owner Alex Abiss and released a self-produced EP titled “Dog Beats,” which quickly generated local popularity. Two years later, Abiss founded Psychopathic Records.

Sensing an opportunity to fill a niche in the Detroit music scene and perhaps beyond, the group began to experiment with its music style and identity. Having agreed on the initials “ICP,” presumably reflecting the name of their gang, the group searched for a recognizable tag, a trademark for their music. Finally, inspired by Bruce’s cryptic dream featuring a clown running in Delray, the group settled on the unmistakable title “Insane Clown Posse” and played up their theme by donning face paint in response to the popularity garnered by their former clown-painted hype man.

Bruce’s dreams continued. Haunted by visions of a traveling carnival, Bruce and his partners formed the basis for the Dark Carnival mythology detailed in the group’s Joker’s Cards album series.

Carnival of Carnage and Ringmaster, 1992-1994
ICP recorded three songs on their debut album, “Carnival of Carnage” with producer Chuck Miller, but finished the record with producer Mike E. Clark, who stuck with ICP throughout its career. John Utsler left the group prior to the album’s release, leaving ICP as a duo. “Carnival of Carnage” was released in October 1992 with a 120-mile distribution in Detroit and was the first of six “Joker Card” albums. The record featured guest appearances by Detroit rap legend Esham and a then-unknown Kid Rock. Standout tracks included “Night of the Axe,” “Blackin’ Your Eyes” and the cover track “First Day Out.” During a live performance of the song “The Juggla,” Bruce addressed the audience as “Juggalos,” and a tag for the duo’s growing fan base was born.

ICP’s second album, “Ringmaster,” dropped in March 1994, featuring Juggalo favorites like “Mr. Johnson’s Head” and “Chicken Huntin’.” The album gained enough popularity to allow ICP to sell out larger clubs across Detroit, and a subsequent national tour boosted sales of the album even more, earning the record a gold certification. Having made reference to the Detroit-produced soft drink Faygo in their songs, Bruce and Utsler began bringing the product onstage with them. During an early show, Bruce tossed an open bottle of Faygo into the audience, and the response was huge. ICP concertgoers have been sprayed with Faygo ever since.

Riddle Box and Tunnel of Love, 1995
ICP signed with the short-lived Jive Records sub-label Battery Records in 1995, which released the duo’s third studio album, “Riddle Box,” in the same year. After Battery/Jive Records failed to promote the album, ICP funded the promotion independently. Distribution widened, even in Dallas, Texas, where several music retails stores stocked the album and averaged 1,500 sales per week. Despite a lack of promotion from Jive, “Riddle Box” pushed ICP toward the national stage with tracks like “Cemetery Girl,” “Dead Body Man” and “Toy Box.”

“Tunnel of Love” was also released in the Riddle Box era and featured two covers. The ultra-rare X-rated cover came with a bonus track, “Mental Warp.” Rumored to reveal the romantic side of ICP, the album boasted classics like “Cotton Candy” and “Super Balls.” The song “Ninja” spawned the phrase “What’s up, Ninja,” which found its way into the Juggalo vernacular and onto unauthorized t-shirts at Hot Topic.

The Great Milenko, 1996
ICP manager Alex Abbiss negotiated a contract with the Walt Disney Company label Hollywood Records to purchase the ICP contract from Battery/Jive Records. After the contract transferred, ICP began recording its fourth studio album, “The Great Milenko,” in 1996. During the recording process, Disney requested lyrical changes to several tracks and the removal of tracks “The Neden Game,” “Under the Moon” and “Boogie Woogie Wu.” Faced with the threat that Disney would not release the record otherwise, ICP complied. The record was completed and a national tour was booked.

During an autograph signing, ICP was notified that Hollywood Records had recalled the album within hours of its release, despite having sold 18,000 copies and reaching No. 63 on the Billboard 200. Hollywood canceled the in-store signings and nationwide tour and pulled television commercials for both “The Great Milenko” and “Halls of Illusions,” the top-rated video on “The Box” request channel featuring Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses. Hollywood dropped ICP from their label based on claims from Disney that the “inappropriate” lyrics were an oversight by the review board and the release of the album “didn’t fit the Disney image.”

ICP rebounded quickly, signing with Island/PolyGram Records, which agreed to release the album as intended, featuring concert favorites like “How Many Times” and “Piggy Pie.” “The Great Milenko” sold more than 1.7 million copies, earning platinum certification. One of ICP’s first projects with Island Records was the documentary titled “Shokumentary,” which aired on MTV (despite the station’s initial refusal) and increased album sales to 50,000 copies per week.

The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, 1999
In 1998, ICP went back to the studio with Mike E. Clark and Rich “Legs Diamond” Murrell to record its fifth album, “The Amazing Jeckel Brothers,” which featured Snoop Dogg and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The album was released in May 1999 and climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard album charts. It has since been certified platinum and features some of ICP’s heaviest tracks, including “I Want My Shit,” “Everybody Rize” and “Assassins.”

ICP hired Nasty Little Man’s publicity team to aid their public relations efforts. The team set up a photo shoot for ICP to appear on the cover of Alternative Press. When a member of the publicity team suggested to Bruce that he change the lyrics to the song “Fuck the World,” Bruce was insulted, exclaimed that he would never let his music be censored again and fired the company. Despite heavy editing, this track did receive radio play.

Woodstock, 1999
ICP received a sizable offer to perform at Woodstock ‘99, indicating the duo’s impact on the music industry. While some perceived ICP’s participation as a sell-out, Bruce and Utsler disagreed. Bruce responded, “[Woodstock] sold out the mainstream style for us. Woodstock never came to us and asked us to change one fuckin’ thing about us or the show. They wanted ICP just as ICP is, and nothing else.”

Big Money Hustlas, 2000
After ICP’s House of Horrors Tour, Bruce and Utsler decided to create their own movie, “Big Money Hustlas.” Island Records contributed $250,000 to the project and work on the film commenced. John Cafiero, a fan of ICP, contacted Bruce and Utsler and asked to direct the film. ICP secured Mick Foley to play “Cactus Sac” and rounded out the cast with the Misfits, Fred Berry and Harland Williams. Bruce wrote the script, and the film was produced in New York City.

Wrestling Career, 1983-Present
Bruce and Utsler began wrestling as single competitors in 1983 in a backyard wrestling promotion named Tag Team Wrestling and later renamed National All-Star Wrestling. The two competed in various independent promotions in Michigan through 1997 before appearing together in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) as Insane Clown Posse. In 1998, the duo had a three-month stint with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and competed in World Champoinship Wrestling (WCW). In December 1999, Bruce and Utsler created their own wrestling promotion, Juggalo Champointshit Wrestling. The duo continues to perform in the league and has earned the distinction of two-time JCW tag-team champions. Additionally, Bruce is a JCW tag-team champion with 2 Tuff Tony, and Utsler is a JCW Heavyweight champion. Bruce and Utsler are also founding members of the Juggalo World Order.

First Gathering of the Juggalos, 2000
In July 2000, Bruce and Utsler organized the first annual Gathering of the Juggalos at the Novi Expo Center in Novi, Mich. Described by Bruce as a “Juggalo Woodstock,” this three-day music festival featured games, seminars, contests, sideshows and performances by Psychopathic Records artists.

Bizzar and Bizaar, 2000
ICP then set out to complete its sixth and seventh studio albums, “Bizzar” and “Bizaar,” as a double album. While recording the albums, the duo had a fall-out with long-time producer Mike E. Clark. These were the last albums Clark would produce with ICP until his return in 2007. The albums dropped in October 2000 and peaked at No. 20 and No. 21 on the Billboard 200. In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Ben Sisario wrote that the albums “qualify as ICP’s masterworks of both merchandising and music.” “Bizaar” featured the standout tracks “My Axe,” “Juggalo Paradise,” “Let’s Go All the Way,” “We Gives No Fuck” and “Tilt-a-Whirl.”

Two music videos were released from the albums: “Tilt-a-Whirl” and “Let’s Go All the Way.” MTV agreed to air “Let’s Go All the Way” once, late in the evening. Bruce and Utsler decided to organize a bombardment of requests for the video on Total Request Live (TRL). ICP announced that December 8 was “The Mighty Day of Lienda,” meaning “The Mighty Day of All or Nothing.” Nearly 400 ICP fans gathered outside the TRL studio windows that day with signs supporting the act. Thirty minutes prior to the show, Viacom security guards and NYC police officers were dispatched and removed the fans from the sidewalk. All phone call requests during the show were ignored and ICP was never mentioned.

The Wraith: Shangri-La, 2002
ICP left Island Records in 2001 and signed a contract with D3 Entertainment that would distribute every future release on Psychopathic Records. Each release would be independently funded, produced and recorded, so Psychopathic built a studio called “The Lotus Pod.”

“The Wraith: Shangri-La” was released in September 2003 and debuted at No. 15 on Billboard’s Top Independent Records. The album was ICP’s most anticipated, as it was the sixth and final Joker Card and included collaborations with every Psychopathic Records artist. ICP supported the release with a 75-date world tour, which led to a new contract with Song BMG’s RED Distribution and launched the Psychopathic Europe record label.

Hell’s Pit, 2004
“Hell’s Pit” was released in August 2004. Two versions of the album were released, each containing a different DVD. One release featured a live concert and a 12-minute music video for the song “Real Underground Baby.” The other release featured a short film for the song “Bowling Balls,” which earned ICP a world record as the first video combining high definition video and 3D technology.

The Tempest, 2007
“The Tempest” was released in March 2007 and debuted at No. 20 on the Billboard 200. The record sold nearly 33,000 copies in its first week. This album featured the return of Mike E. Clark and brought a brand new vision of a saga expected to surpass the Joker Cards. Memorable tracks include “Haunted Bumps,” “I Do This” and “The Party.”

Bang! Pow! Boom!, 2009
In September 2009, “Bang! Pow! Boom!” was released and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200. The Detroit News music critic Adam Graham described the record as “the best material the Clowns have touched since 1999′s ‘The Amazing Jeckel Brothers.’” A nationwide tour followed.

Big Money Rustlas, 2010
ICP’s second feature film, “Big Money Rustlas” was released in January 2010. This prequel to their 2000 release, “Big Money Hustlas,” features roles starring Jason Mewes (of “Clerks” fame), Ron Jeremy, Brigitte Nielsen, Dustin Diamond and Vanilla Ice.

The Mighty Death Pop!
At their 2010 Hallowicked concert, the Insane Clown Posse announced that the second new Joker’s Card would be The Mighty Death Pop! They have stated that the album will be “the bombest, most devastating thing we’ve put out yet,” and that it will be a release for the anger that they feel from recent criticisms of themselves and their fans. The album will have two faces, the first of which was revealed at the Hallowicked concert. A release date for the album has yet to be given.