The Musician: When a pair of high-school dropouts calling themselves Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope began putting on clown makeup and performing horrorcore in the early ’90s, few pegged the Detroit duo for longevity. Over the past two decades, however, Insane Clown Posse has released 11 studio albums (the latest being 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!), sold more than 6 million albums, branched out into running its own wrestling league, and will soon throw its 12th annual Gathering Of The Juggalos fan festival, which runs August 11-14 at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois.
“Down With The Clown” (from 1997’s The Great Milenko)
Violent J: When “Down With The Clown” came out, that was the fourth Joker’s Card. That was The Great Milenko. That was our fourth album, so we were feeling like we had been around. We believe the whole Juggalo movement, and the question of “Are you down with the clown?” and “How long will you be down?” and all that really started to take solid form after the release of Ringmaster and right around The Riddle Box, our third album. That’s when the whole thing really whipped into form. So by the time we did the fourth Joker’s Card, The Great Milenko, it was evident that something was going on.
Juggalos were born. That’s why on that album we have the song “What Is A Juggalo?” and “Down With The Clown,” because after Riddle Box came out, our third Joker’s Card, then it was really apparent what was happening. Even the name “Juggalo” wasn’t solid until sometime between Ringmaster and Riddle Box. It was still up in the air on the release of Riddle Box, but after Riddle Box came out, it was here, it was official, it was very real. So then the question came, “How long will you be down?” So that was sort of like an anthem. “Down With The Clown” is an almost, I don’t know if “patriotic” is the right word, because we’re not taking about America, but a patriotic Juggalo song. [Singing.] “I’ma be down / I’ma be down / down with the clown / ’til I’m dead in the ground.” It was saying, “It’s here, it’s alive, this is official, and I’ma be down forever. This is going to last forever.” That’s what that song was saying. That was the purpose of it. That was the meaning of it.
Everything was taking shape prior to that, but really after Riddle Box came out, not during the making of Riddle Box, but after Riddle Box came out, everything took form. It was heading that way after Ringmaster, and it was looking that way during Riddle Box, but after Riddle Box, and during the making of The Great Milenko, it was here, it was here. There was a Juggalo world. I remember touring off Riddle Box before we did The Great Milenko, I remember getting in a camper, we got into a RV and we painted it black. We put the giant Riddle Box stickers on the side of it. We went to Madison, Wisconsin, and there was about 60 Juggalos there. We had never even heard of Madison, Wisconsin, but there was 60 Juggalos there. We knew Juggalos were out there. This is when Riddle Box was out, this was when they had something called The Box, and we had our video “Chicken Huntin’” playing on The Box, and there were 60 Juggalos. Then we went to St. Louis, we played a place called Hi-Pointe, and there was the same thing. Almost 100 Juggalos in St. Louis. I remember the TV in the RV could get a static-y version of The Box, and we were sitting in our RV using it as a dressing room, and we could see “Chicken Huntin’” being played on The Box in St. Louis. And we were like, “We’re here. These are Juggalos.” It was all making sense, and we actually had fans outside of Michigan. And they were small, but they were there, and it was a Juggalo nation. So when we hit the studio to do The Great Milenko, and especially when we were signed to Disney at that point, Hollywood Records, we knew a Juggalo nation had been born. It was small, but it wasn’t a question anymore. It was real. So the next question was, “How long will it last? And what is this?” And that was the making of “Down With The Clown.”
AVC: Why do you think it took off in the Midwest in particular? Places like Ohio are full of Juggalos.
VJ: I think it’s a Midwestern-flavored record. It doesn’t use a whole lot of California-style slang to it, West Coast-style words or slang, even when we’re telling a story or something. I think about this a lot. Even when we’re telling a story talking about we’re jumping a car, or crossing the front lawn, those things matter, because if you live in New York you don’t have a front lawn. So if you’re telling your stories in your rap like, “I ran across the front lawn,” or, “I kicked his ass on the front lawn,” little things like that, “I pulled up in a driveway,” just words you use and shit, it just is Midwest. This Dark Carnival movement, this was born in the Midwest. This was born in Midwestern suburban neighborhoods. I see that now and I know that now. It was the lingo. I think the kids that could relate most to it were also kids who lived in that same area first. Even though now we’re doing great in New York City, but I think it’s more-or-less Long Island where everyone’s coming from, where they have front lawns.
AVC: Faygo is another very regional thing. If you’re in a region that doesn’t have Faygo, the reference is not going to mean anything to you.
VJ: Absolutely, just the way the stories are told, and the way our lingo goes, and the things we were saying and the jokes we’re telling, it all related to people who were living similar lives. They could relate to it. For example, California West Coast rap, when they’re talking about 6-4s, if 6-4 Impalas aren’t in style in your neighborhood, maybe it took a little while for that to catch on elsewhere. I’m sure it caught on in California first.
“Bitches” (from 2001’s Big Money Hustlas)
VJ: “Bitches?” Okay. This one is pretty interesting. [Laughs.] I’m glad you asked me about this one. O.D.B., God rest his soul. We had this song with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and we laid our raps, and I don’t remember what it was called, it wasn’t called “Bitches.” It was a different song, and we sent it to Ol’ Dirty Bastard to get his lyrics on it. I had my verse on there and Shaggy had his verse on there, and there was no chorus. When Ol’ Dirty Bastard laid his rap, his rap was like he didn’t even listen to what we said at all. [Laughs.] It was like he went somewhere totally different. He was from a whole other page. He was just rapping about bitches. He was screaming, “Bitches!” all over it and everything. [Laughs.] When we got the tape back and heard what he did, we went back and rewrote our lyrics to match what he had put down. [Laughs.] And we started yelling “Bitches!” all over it. That’s how it was formed, because I don’t even know if Ol’ Dirty Bastard even listened to our verse. I think they just cued his verse up, and he went in there, and he fucking freestyled it, to the best of my knowledge, because he was on a whole other page that we were on.
We had to take Pro Tools, and we had to cleverly hook it up so you couldn’t tell. I’m telling you, he was off-beat. It was so wild. What he did was so wild. He performed on like, 40 percent of the song, from the top of the song to the end of his verse, and then he didn’t say anything else. So we had to take all his ad-libs and place them throughout the song. Because he just went from the start, [Screaming.] “BITCHEEEES!! BITCHES!! BITCHES!” It was from the beginning of the song all the way to the end of his verse, and then there was no more Ol’ Dirty Bastard for the rest of the song. So we had to take pieces that he put at the beginning and paste them over to the end, and spread them throughout the whole song. And then we had to redo the whole hook so that it matched “Bitches,” cause that’s really what the song was about. He was going, “You too Passion. You too Belinda. Bitch!!” he was just naming women bitches, and so we went with “Bitches,” we were like, “This song is called ‘Bitches’ now.” [Laughs.]
“The Shaggy Show” (from 1999’s The Amazing Jeckel Brothers)
VJ: Oh yeah. Hell yeah, Snoop Dogg. Man, that’s awesome. I like that song to this day. We knew Snoop Dogg’s touring agent, and we contacted them, and we asked them, “Could we get Snoop Dogg?” and I believe he was on No Limit Records at that point, and he didn’t want to go through the label at the time. He didn’t want to go through any record-label business, but he said if we gave him $40,000 in a briefcase, he would spit the verse. [Laughs.] In a briefcase. So we went out there and delivered it in a briefcase. It was a kind of deal like, “Go ahead, keep the briefcase.” [Laughs.] He opened it, shut it, and then he went downstairs and did his rap. He played along that whole song. It’s different. The theme is, it’s a late-night talk show. We have a ska band called Gangsta Fun. We had this band that our producer Mike Clark knew, the ska band, they played the go-to-commercial and come-back-from-commercial music. Just like every show has a sit-in band, it plays the music when you go to commercial break. This band called Gangsta Fun, in our song, they played the music as we go into commercial break, and then we had a skit for the commercial, and then we come out of commercial break, and we’d drop the beat again, and we’d rap. Snoop Dogg got it. He took forever to do it, and I called him, I was like, “When are you, uh, are you still down to do it?” and he said, “Yeah” and he thanked me for saying his name in my rap, and I was like, “Shit, thank you.” When he did his verse, he said my name in his rap. I thought that was really cool. And he also gave a shout-out to Gangsta Fun, he mentioned their name as well, and he was just a real team player. He was awesome.
“Another Love Song” (from 1999’s The Amazing Jeckel Brothers)
VJ: That was a take-off of a Beck song [“Jack-Ass”]. It was actually a take-off of a Bob Dylan song [“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”]. Beck lifted a riff from Bob Dylan, and we lifted the riff from Beck. And that’s where that song came from. It was a certain way he was singing it, and a certain way the guitar was playing, and I loved that Beck song. I wanted to remake it and rewrite it Wicked Clown style, so that’s what we did. We felt like, “Oh man, we have to clear it with Beck,” and it turned out he had to clear it himself. [Laughs.]
AVC: So he had it clear it with Bob Dylan then?
VJ: Exactly, that’s exactly right. And then we were like, “Well fuck Beck.” [Laughs.] We didn’t feel so bad about taking it from him then. [Laughs.]
AVC: So the publishing on that song is “Violent J and Bob Dylan?”
VJ: Right, and Shaggy, yeah.
“Juggalo Homies” (from 2002’s The Wraith: Shangri-La)
VJ: That was on the Shangri-La record. We had a new producer for that record. His name was Mike Puwal. He brought a new sound, and when we first heard the track for that song, it was devastating. We loved it. It was kind of poppy, but we figured if we put some cool lyrics to it, it would take that edge away. We’ve never been afraid of pop. I like to consider our shit Wicked Pop. I actually like pop music. Juggalos, when they hear that, they can’t believe it, but I like Beyoncé and shit. I like that shit a lot. It’s evident by a lot of our music, because a lot of our music can only be described as pop, besides the cussing and the crazy lyrics and the crazy topics. But the sound is definitely pop-inspired.
That was another case of a song talking about how important homies are. At the time we were talking about, just because they’re not blood doesn’t mean they’re not important. Because a lot of family members for a lot of people are there because they have to be, because they’re your blood. But homies are there because they want to be. They’re there because they genuinely like the person you are. I think about the holidays when I see relatives that I haven’t seen since last Christmas, I haven’t talked to them since last Christmas. Then you take such a special day like Christmas, and you’re spending it with these people that you haven’t seen since last Christmas. You both know each other’s numbers. Why didn’t you ever call them? It’s almost like you’re going through the motions because you have to, because they’re family, because they’re blood. But you look at friends, those are the people you choose to be around every day. I think that says something. We wanted to say in the song because Juggalos are our family, and Juggalo homies are there for you. Especially when you’re younger, going through shit, you’ve gotta lie to your family, and you don’t have to lie to your friends.
AVC: You can be more real with them.
VJ: Right, you go fuck a hooker, you can’t tell your mom or your family about that, but you go right to your boys, and be like, “Man, I fucked a hooker last night!” [Laughs.]
AVC: They’re not going to judge you.
VJ: Exactly, they’re going to be like, “Wow!” You can be your honest self, and I think that that says something. Not that they should be more important than family. I definitely understand what family is about, but that’s what the song meant. That homies are important too, you know what I mean? Homies are definitely there because they like you, and they want to be there for you, and that’s all they’re getting out of it. Everybody’s got an aunt or an uncle that they don’t really care for, but they have to see every Christmas or Thanksgiving, and a lot of the time they don’t do nothing but nag, and say, “I wish we were younger,” or, “When you gonna get a job?” or, “When you gonna do this or that?” It just says that homies are important in your life too, and that’s what the song’s about, Juggalo homies.
AVC: For your fans as well. A lot of them come from broken homes.
VJ: Oh, absolutely.
AVC: The sense of family, and the sense of friendship means more to them than it would necessarily to someone who comes from a conventional, nuclear family.
VJ: If you listen to the song it talks about when you got your first “neden,” which means when you had sex the first time, the chances are your friends were in the other room. Chances are you were at a party, or you and your boys were with a bunch of girls, and you took her upstairs, and you got laid for the first time. Your homies are in the other room, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs.] When really big things are happening in your life, your homies are right there. When you got that tattoo, or all that stuff. Big things. You accidentally threw up in your boy’s car because you’re all out drinking, and you feel worse about it than he does. Those are the kind of lyrics that we talked about. Those are important things in your life, time spent with homies.
“Boing Boing” (from 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!)
VJ: That song, some people thought we were actually saying—okay, well, me and Shaggy, we don’t find ourselves attractive. We don’t get girls like that, and that’s a song where we’re being funny talking about all the women we get, and it’s because it’s not true. We don’t get women like that. It was us bragging about all the women we get, and “Boing Boing” means every girl we meet is sprung, and it’s definitely not true. [Laughs.]
Some people thought we were actually bragging about the girls we get with. It’s not the case. I can’t believe they didn’t realize that we were being funny about it. We were pretending like we’re bragging. It’s like when I say in a certain lyric in the song “Juggalo Island”: “I’m in a pair of Speedos and your girlfriend’s staring,” [Laughs.] I mean, I’m not actually saying that I’m sexy in a pair of Speedos. It’s the fucking opposite, that’s why it’s so funny when I say, “Hey I’m in a pair of Speedos and your girlfriend’s staring at me.” And “Boing Boing” is an example of that, where we’re trying to say, “Yeah we got so many chicks. They love us. I don’t know if it’s [because] my pants are too tight or what, but these chicks can’t, won’t get off me,” and it’s supposed to be funny, saying it’s the opposite. It’s the fucking opposite. We don’t have girls come up like that. There’s not even a lot of girls at our shows even. We’re not sex symbols, especially not me. If there are girls, they’re there to see Shaggy. [Laughs.]
AVC: Why do you think people take your lyrics so seriously?
VJ: I can’t believe people wouldn’t get the joke this far along. We think it’d be hilarious to hear us talk like that, because it’s so not the case.
“Let A Killa” (from 2000’s Bizzar)
VJ: Oh yeah, same thing. We’re just not romantic. We’re not sex symbols. So it’s funny to hear us talk like that. We’re so lost in that realm. [Laughs.] We’re so gone in that realm. When it comes to girls, we’re just not there, brother. We’re just not there.
“Fuck The World” (from 1999’s The Amazing Jeckel Brothers)
VJ: That was, once again, after The Great Milenko came out, it went platinum. It was a huge deal for us, and this was the follow up. After the whole thing with Disney happened, we used to have a stack of papers, faxes of reviews that local newspapers all around the country, all around the world, reviewed the album after all the hype of, “Who are these guys that Disney dumped? Who are these guys who got thrown off Hollywood Records, and now there’s a bidding war, and now they’re going to sign for Island Records for over a million dollars?” And everybody reviewed the album, and we used to have a stack of papers a foot tall, a foot tall, on our manager’s desk, and every single review was just tearing us apart. Nobody got it. I’m talking, you wouldn’t believe, page after page after page after page after page. We couldn’t find even one positive review. They were just saying this was the horriblest, worst shit they ever heard, like, “How did Hollywood even think about signing them?” It was page after page after page, it was stunning. And that’s what inspired “Fuck The World,” you know what I’m saying? [Laughs.]
What comes to mind is, “Even if the critics like me / Fuck you / Even if you like me / Fuck you,” like, fuck everybody, fuck the world. Here we are doing what we do, like, fuck the outside world. Once again, it’s a lot like in “Miracles,” where Shaggy says, “Scientists / You’re getting me pissed,” or whatever he says, where he’s not really saying, “Fuck scientists,” right? It’s saying “Fuck scientists for always taking the thrill away,” but it’s not really saying “Fuck them!” as if we don’t want there to be scientists. The way Shaggy described it one interview, he said, “Let’s say you’re young, and you’re about to get some skin at a chick’s house, but her mom comes home. Fuck her mom!” You know, it’s not really, “Fuck her mom! Let’s go beat her up!” It’s like, “Fuck her for coming home when you’re about to get some pussy!”
AVC: That was a song when you were briefly affiliated with Nasty Little Man, was that the album?
VJ: They were going to be our publicists.
AVC: And then they objected to that song in particular, is that true?
VJ: Yeah, they represented The Beastie Boys, and they didn’t like where I said, “Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama,” and I was explaining to the guy, “They’re part of the world, they’re a part of what everybody’s talking about right now. I also say ‘Fuck my brother Jumpsteady and at the end of the song I sing, ‘Fuck Violent J,’ and I shoot myself!” [Laughs.] It’s fuck everybody relevant, fuck everything that they are talking about, it’s fuck everything. And they were like, “Can you change that lyric?” and we said, “No we’re not going to change that lyric,” and then they said, “Well we can’t represent you if you don’t change that lyric. If you don’t change that lyric it would upset the Beastie Boys,” and I wasn’t going to change a lyric for the fucking Beastie Boys. It wasn’t really saying “fuck them,” though. It also said, “Fuck The Rock.” It said fuck a lot of people, “Fuck Ted Nugent.” You know, anybody. It wasn’t really saying, “Fuck the world.” It was a piece of art. It was aggression.
AVC: It also sounded like you were just saying things that rhymed.
VJ: A lot of that too, brother. C’mon, let’s be honest, a lot of rhyming. It was just fucking aggression was the idea, though. Saying, “Fuck everything,” that’s why it was just shit that was rhyming with other shit. Aggression was the picture we were painting there.
AVC: I remember wondering around the time, “Why Nasty Little Man?”
VJ: That was the label, I didn’t know who the fuck they were.
AVC: That was more their idea than your idea?
VJ: I didn’t even know who they were. I’ve never even heard of them since then. I don’t know who they were. I don’t know, that was the record company, like, “Hey, we got a publicist. Nobody wants to be your publicist,” I remember that. When we were on Island, “Nobody wants to be your publicist. You guys are so hated nobody wants the job of trying to get you press.” One time Rolling Stone reviewed our album, and they tore it up, and I remember Prodigy was on the cover, and the bottom of the thing it said—you know how they list all the bands that are featured in the issue, of the cover?—it said, “Insane Clown Posse,” and then underneath it, it said, “No. Really.” [Laughs.] And it’s like, “Fuck you man,” you know what I’m saying? Like, “No. Really.” Like the minute people see that, they say, “What?! You’re writing about those idiots?” And so nobody wanted to take on the job of being our publicist.
So when Nasty Little Man, or whoever they were, the record company was really proud that they got Nasty Little Man to take us. And then they wanted us to fucking change our lyrics for a publicity company! Or a publicist, or whatever it is. And we were like, “Fuck that! That’s our picture we’re painting there. We’re not going to change it because they got the Beastie Boys on their label. Fuck that, that’s our art, man!”
“Let’s Go All The Way” (from 2000’s Bizzar)
VJ: I went and saw this girl who lived in Cleveland, and I had a cassette player in my car. I had just got the car, and I didn’t have a chance to convert it yet to a CD player, so I stop at the gas station, and they got one of those $1 cassette deals with a bunch of cassettes in a spinning rack. ’80s Hits was one of them, so I was like, “Yes!” so I grabbed that, was listening to that on my way back to Detroit, and “Let’s Go All The Way” came on, and I was like, “This is fucking awesome!” I started picturing it, and the rest is history.
“Juggalo Island” (from 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!)
VJ: That’s what the music told me, and I thought about exactly what it is man, how dope that would be. I don’t really know what would be going on at a Juggalo Island, and I think that’s obvious in the lyrics. [Laughs.] Some of it sounds good, some of it sounds bad. [Laughs.] But I don’t really know what would be happening at Juggalo Island, so we kind of turned half of it into a joke, but half of it is kind of real. And then the chorus, I guess the lyrics are kind of lame in the chorus, but it’s what I felt. [Singing.] “We can be one / We can have fun.” I mean, I guess I could have thought of wittier lyrics, but that’s what it was telling me, you know what I mean? That’s what I felt. We can all be one, we can have fucking fun, you know? I don’t what it means to have my dick in your hotdog bun, or any of that. [Laughs.] I don’t know where that’s going, but just, wow, climbing up a tree, eating coconuts, madness, funniness going on, bizarreness, weirdness: Juggalo Island.
AVC: Do you freestyle a lot of your rhymes?
VJ: I don’t freestyle anything, brother. I write that shit down, and I’m not even fast at it. It takes a long time. I write, and it takes forever. And then I gotta re-familiarize myself with the shit the next day, verse by verse, I’ll get the whole verse down, finally keep going over it ’til I get it all flowed up the way I want, and then now I’m on verse two. I gotta do the same thing, re-familiarize myself with it.
AVC: Gotta do everything the hard way.
VJ: I don’t have those kind of Jay-Z songs, man.
“Wizard Of The Hood” (from 1992’s Carnival Of Carnage)
VJ: Turning The Wizard Of Oz into a song, old-school style, you know? Back in the ’80s, rappers used to do that. I believe maybe Alice In Wonderland or something, nothing comes to mind.
AVC: Someone like Slick Rick would do it.
VJ: Yeah, yeah. Take an old fairy tale. Ice Cube did it. And we just did it, you know? “Wizard Of The Hood” replaced it with our characters and tell a story, sort of ’80s-style hip-hop.
“Zombie Slide” (from 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!)
VJ: Just like “Headless Boogie.” When I’m writing, sometimes I go to this place where the dead are partying it up. Where the dead are, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. The dead are there, and I guess there’s so much fear around being dead… I have a lot of fear of dying, you know? I think I get joy out of making music painting that picture where there is no fear of death, where it goes on after death. I got a lot of songs like that, songs about dying, and you’re still alive, but your body’s falling apart. Your limbs are falling off, and you’re still alive though. You could probably put a whole album together of songs that we made touching on this topic, on what happens when you die. “I Found A Body” and things like that. Songs that touch on death. Death is, fuck, man, how can people not…? Death is it. I mean, every song should be about death. I don’t know, it’s the ending, or it’s the beginning, or whatever the fuck it is, but it’s a powerful, powerful thing, man.
“Pass Me By” (from 1997’s The Great Milenko)
VJ: It’s a lot like “Dedicated To The Butterfly.” Just remember where you have to get to. Heaven is the answer. Heaven is where you wanna be. You might go through your stages in life, but don’t let it pass you by. Remember, you have to eventually get your shit together so you can get to heaven. You may go through your wild teenage stages, and wild out and all that, but you’re going to float on later in life and get back on track because, if there is a heaven, you want to be there. So don’t let it pass you by. Believe it or not… We have songs about children dying. I’m religious, I guess, but I don’t go to church, so I don’t know what it says in the Bible anyway. I can’t even read that fucking thing. So I try to think, “What happens when a kid dies?” They don’t get a chance to prove themselves for heaven or hell. Like, how are they judged? So I don’t know how kids are judged. It’s not fair. It’s almost like, yeah, the kid’s 17, he’s gonna be wildin’, but no doubt he would have got his shit together again. When he’s cut off like that, it’s not really fair.
AVC: Jon Ronson has described you and Shaggy as evangelical Christians, but it sounds like you don’t see yourself that way.
VJ: I don’t even know what the difference is between a Christian or a Catholic or a Muslim or a Buddhist. I don’t have a fucking clue, man. I know what I feel, that shit. I know what I think about, and that’s what I rap about. I don’t even know what a fucking evangelist is, man.
“Hellalujah” (from 1997’s The Great Milenko)
VJ: My brother told me that people use God’s name for evil purposes, like a guy on late-night cable TV with fat nugget rings telling you to send your money to him. My brother told me that when he was in the army, he went to this church with this girlfriend of his. He said the preacher had fucking nugget rings, and he was up there telling everyone to bring their belongings, and they were bringing all their shit and putting it on the stage. And they were bringing watches and rings and shit, and throwing them up on stage, and he was saying, “Give it all to God,” and my brother told me he saw on TV this lady said that she died and God took her on a tour through hell. In the devil’s stomach, the hottest place in hell, are people who do that, people that use God to gain money, to gain evil. Those are the people who burn the hardest.
That’s always been fucking crazy to me. So that’s what “Hellalujah” is about, because for a lot of old people, that’s all they’ve got left, their belief in God. They’ve got these people who prey on them like vultures. They’re telling them to send their little bit of money left. They’re on fixed incomes and shit. They tell them to send their money, and pure fucking craziness, and there’s nobody even stopping them. These old people, they don’t have anybody left. This ain’t like in Japan where old people are looked up upon and treated with respect. Here, nobody wants to hear an old person’s stories. They just want to fucking hawk on them and get them out of the way. Fucking old folks’ home, nobody even goes up there and visits anybody. People are just like, “Ahh, get out of the way.” It’s really fucked up. So a lot of old people don’t have nobody. So what is that person going to do? They’re going to believe in God. They’re wondering what’s next. That’s why so many old people are religious. They can’t help but think, “What’s next? I hope there’s a God.” They start getting religious. Like people on death row, they all start getting religious because they’re faced with what’s next, and they want to believe there’s something next. So you take somebody like that and some fucking crooked preacher who’s up there getting paid off old people, and fucking hookers and shit, and doing all that shit off their money, and buying a big-ass white Cadillac with a mink robe off old people sending their money into the church, you know? That’s fucked up. That’s what “Hellalujah” is about.
“Your Rebel Flag” (from 1992’s Carnival Of Carnage)
VJ: When my brother was in the army, I lived down South with him. I was having some trouble. We were fighting these gangs in our neighborhood. ICP wasn’t really a gang. We were kind of wanting to be a gang at the time, and they were breaking the windows out of our house, so I bailed out of there and went to stay with my brother. There are people down there who are racist and don’t even make a secret out of it. They just talk about it out loud. Just rebel flags everywhere. It’s thinking about what a rebel flag is. I don’t know much about our history, so at the risk of sounding even more ignorant than I am, I tend to think… I’m almost sure that rebel flags were what the South waved in the Civil War, and the majority of the Civil War was about slaves. The South wanted to keep slaves around and the North wanted to quit having slavery. So how are you going to wave a fucking rebel flag in 2011? What does that say if you have a rebel flag in your back window? What does that say to the black family in a car behind you? “If I had my way you’d be slaves?” What does that exactly say? Or, even if that’s not what you mean by hanging your rebel flag, wouldn’t you be afraid of other people taking it that way? Even if you mean that you like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and that’s why you have a fucking rebel flag, wouldn’t you worry about people taking it the wrong fucking way?
“Chicken Huntin’” (from 1995’s Riddle Box)
VJ: Same thing, chicken-huntin’ rednecks hunting chickens. Bigots. People that run around fucking hating, full of hate, hillbillies speaking on everybody, speaking on all the nationalities: They’re just a bunch of fucking rednecks, bums, speaking on everybody. I’ve seen all that shit when I was down there, and I’m from Detroit. I didn’t see that shit ’til I went down there. My brother would tell me stories. He told me that he was in basic training with this guy who he thought was super cool, and then one day the guy confided in my brother that he was in the Ku Klux Klan. My brother couldn’t fucking believe it. And these guys are all from the South. And I’m not saying the whole South is like that, ’cause I toured, so I’ve seen it’s not everybody. But at the time, I had only been two places, Detroit and Statesville, North Carolina. It just blew my mind. So when we started rapping all those feelings were in me, me and Shaggy about the South and the racism, and I didn’t like it. I never liked that. I never dealt with racism. I never liked that to this day.
You’d be surprised, they say something racist to me, assuming I’m with that or something. It just blows my fucking mind. Like, “Really? You’re that fucking stupid?” I’ve never been one for racism at all. I hate racism. I remember my boys a couple years ago… This blows my mind: I was with two of my friends, black dudes, and we’re on the road, and we were in San Francisco. We were trying to get a cab, and they were like, “I’m telling you, we ain’t gonna get no cab with us standing out here.” And I’m laughing at them, and I’m like, “C’mon man, it’s fucking 2008. That ain’t gonna fucking happen. That ain’t the way it is anymore.” They were like, “I’m telling you Joe, we ain’t gonna get no cab.” And I’m like, “Brother, I’m sure. C’mon man. That ain’t the way it is.” And they’re like, “Swear to God, watch this. You stand out here and we’ll hide over here.” So they went behind a bus, and I’m standing out there and flag a cab down, the cab pulls over, and then those guys slowly start walking up to me, and the cab takes off. Can you fucking believe that? The cab took off right in my face.
And another time I experienced racism was when me and my friend Esham went to Toledo to book a concert at this club called The Asylum. We wanted it to be an ICP and an Esham concert. So we’re sitting in the guy’s office, and we’re talking to him, and we’re trying to talk to him about the concert, and he’s saying he’s not interested. He’s not interested. And then finally whatever happened, Esham was looking at the stage or something like that, and the guy waved me into his office, and he said, “If you guys want to do a show here that’s fine, but I don’t want their kind doing a show here.” Can you believe that shit? I was shocked, like, what could I even say on the way home? I couldn’t even believe it.
“Piggy Pie” (from 1997’s The Great Milenko)
VJ: Sort of the same thing. It was about cops I guess. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s talking about cops. I don’t really hold that strong feelings against cops anymore, but there’s crooked cops out there, definitely. That’s more or less what the song was about. If you listen to the stories, the song gives you three examples of that. One of them is a judge I think, I’ll have to listen to the song again, but same scenarios: racism, crooked cops.
AVC: And that featured Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols.
VJ: Yeah, that was awesome, but we can’t take credit for that. When we signed with Hollywood Records, our guy Julian Raymond, who was our A&R, he was hellified cool. He was the one who got Slash on “Halls Of Illusions.” He said he knew Steve Jones, and that he could get Steve Jones to play. I can tell you something about that song. [Laughs.] Are you ready for this? I’m about to reveal something pretty crazy.
All right, here’s the deal: He said he’d get Steve Jones to play guitar on that song. So we had our version of “Piggy Pie” with the guitar and basically Steve Jones was going to come in and replay. Now, I didn’t want to be there in the studio because I didn’t know who Steve Jones was, and I didn’t want to say something stupid, or I was too shy and didn’t want to meet him. So I was off doing something else, and that’s when Shaggy was in jail, and he missed the whole thing. He missed Slash coming down. I was in the studio when Slash did it, but when Steve Jones did it I ducked out. I let our producer Mike Clark stay and our A&R Julian stay. So when they were done, I came back into the studio and I heard what Steve Jones played, and I didn’t like it. It was too wild-style. So what we did was, we used our old tracks, and we used one little track of Steve Jones in there, at really low. [Laughs.] One really low. So he was in there, but the majority was Mike Clark playing it. We used it for the name value. We were like, “Featuring Steve Jones on guitar,” because technically it was Steve Jones playing on there. I believe he did a bend where he did, like, “Wrrrrrrrr,” but we kept the stuff that Mike Clark did.
AVC: That’s got to be flattering to Mike Clark, that he played that better than Steve Jones.
VJ: Well, to us. I think Steve Jones did it bigger, wilder. It was just a different style. He played it more messy, and we wanted it real locked and tight. Real tight and chunky. When Steve Jones did it, it was just different. And it didn’t sound the way we wanted it, like real cut-and-dry. We kept one of his tracks in the there, and the other 90 were Mike. [Laughs.]
“Bowling Balls” (from 2004’s Hell’s Pit)
VJ: Another thing about a lunatic that collects heads, he gets bowling balls and he collects them. I like to get into the mind of crazy lunatics and tell the story through their perspective. There’s some funny lyrics in there. The guy goes to work and he has a head in a bowling-ball bag, and everyone thinks that it’s a bowling ball, but it’s really a head that he brings in to work with him. One of the lyrics I believe is, he has the head under his desk, and he’s sticking his toes in the head’s mouth when he’s working. [Laughs.]
AVC: Where do you think you got that sense of humor?
VJ: I have no idea man. I don’t even know. [Laughs.] That’s that real Dark Carnival shit. Listen, I give you my word, I’ll put this on my kids. To the best of my knowledge, I write some of these songs, I go back and listen to them, and I don’t even remember writing them. I don’t even remember where I got them. I go back and read them, and it’s the first time. I can tell you specific songs where I don’t even remember writing them. Like the song “Amy’s In The Attic.” To me, that song is so brilliant and so awesome, and when I wrote that shit, I wasn’t even there. I was somewhere else. Something took me over and wrote that shit.
AVC: You feel like you were channeling something?
VJ: I swear on everything that I love, absolutely. All the time. All the time. And when I’m writing it, and when it is me writing it, I feel like I’m doing something like “Boing Boing,” or something like that. But some of the Dark Carnival cool-as-shit stuff, like “Bitter Leaf,” for example, off the last record: Dark Carnival wrote that song. And it doesn’t come from somewhere. If anybody said, “How were you inspired?” or “Where did you get the story from?” to this day, I have no fucking idea. To this day, I don’t even remember writing it.
AVC: You’re just channeling something?
VJ: Absolutely. I think it’s channeling something from a higher power. I’m not saying it’s God. I’m not saying anything. I’m not saying nothing. All the people can assume that’s what I’m trying to say, but I’m strictly saying I don’t know what it is, ’cause it don’t feel like it’s me. Perhaps a logical explanation is I’m so in tune with the music that I don’t remember. It’s probably 100 percent me, but I don’t feel like it is.
“Bang! Pow! Boom!” (from 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!)
VJ: That’s the first Joker Card of the second deck. It’s a constant explosion. “Bang! Pow! Boom!” is a mass wipeout. All right, here’s the thinking behind this: An explosion is a happening, “boom” that’s it. Like, a fraction of a second, the pipe bursting, “boom,” that’s it. Imagine a constant explosion like, “BoooooooooooooooOOOOOOoooooom.” [Laughs.] It’s an explosion, that’s the only way I can describe it. “Bang! Pow! Boom!” and the story is, we try to explain on the album, it’s all the people who couldn’t fit on the rides of the Dark Carnival. There’s so many people now, like religion and hope and belief are so lost.
Look at ICP. All we have to do is say that we believe in God, and everyone calls us Evangelists and Christians. All we’re doing is believing in God. What the fuck, you can’t even do that even anymore without everyone pointing a finger at you like you’re fucking crazy. It’s becoming harder and harder on this earth to even have faith without everyone one else jumping on your back about it. So therefore, the gates to hell are wider and wider, and the gates to Shangri-La are thinner and thinner. So the Dark Carnival, which provides all these rides that send people off to Hell, is so crowded, and lines are so long, that every once in a while, bang! Pow! Boom! comes down and wipes everything out.
There is no ride. Like, “Boom” comes through and wipes it all out. And the carnival is empty and everyone’s off to hell, and then we can start taking in newcomers. It’s overcrowded. There’s so many people they can’t even get on the rides of the Murder-Go-Round, The Funhouse, The Tunnel of Love, all the different rides that show you yourself, and how you got there. The Riddle Box and the Ringmaster and all those things are there. They show you exactly where you fucked up in life. They give you an explanation of where you went wrong before you’re whisked off to hell, but bang! Pow! Boom! is when there’s too many people to explain to everybody. It’s so big, it’s so wrong that the bang! Pow! Boom! is called upon to come wipe it all out, like “Foom!” Everybody out at once. And then start all over again.
“Is That You?” (from 1992’s Carnival Of Carnage)
VJ: “Is That You?” Yeah, see, you don’t want to talk about that Bang! Pow! Boom! shit. [Laughs.] You’re like “Okay…” [Laughs.] You know, back in the day, when we were recording our first album, we wanted to get into the Harmony House chain of record stores here in Michigan, which are long gone now. But it was 34 record stores, and Esham was one rapper who they carried in all the Harmony Houses. And the other guy they carried was Kid Rock. So we figured if we could get Kid Rock on a song and get Esham on a song, we would automatically be carried by Harmony House. It would automatically propel us to their level. This is of course before Kid Rock became Kid Rock, you know what I mean? First we asked Esham to do it. And actually, we had this other rapper coming down to do it, and we bumped into Esham in the studio. He said, “What’s going on?” We said, “Well, we’re waiting for Awesome Dre to get here. We’re going to give him 500 bucks to lay a verse.” And Esham said, “If you give me that 500 bucks, I’ll lay that verse.” And we were like, “What?!” So we called Awesome Dre and we told him some lie about how we lost a reel or something, and we were so fucking happy because Esham was the local horrorcore king.
Mike Clark knew Kid Rock because Mike Clark helped do Kid Rock’s first record for Jive Records. He called Kid Rock, and Kid Rock said, “How’d they get Esham on it?” and Mike told him, and he said, “Well how much did they give Esham?” And Mike said “500 bucks,” and Kid Rock said, “All right, well, I’ll do it for 600.” [Laughs.] So then we got Kid Rock on it, and Kid Rock came into the studio, and he said he’d only rap over a Mike Clark beat. Now back in those days, we used to do the beats. Me and Shaggy would come in there, and we had breakbeats, and we’d make the beat from scratch. Mike Clark did his own beats on his own time at home. And Kid Rock didn’t want to rap over one of our beats. He wanted to rap over a Mike Clark beat. So we got a beat from Mike Clark and Kid Rock did it. If you listen to the song, we take little barbs at each other. We weren’t really close to Kid Rock. We’ve never been that close to Kid Rock. So we took stabs at each other. I said, “If you know a bitch who got grits / Kid Rock, Kid Rock will probably eat that shit,” and he didn’t like that. And then he said, “You too motherfucker,” or something like that. [Laughs.] But that was it, we got him on, and the rest was history. Once we got Esham and Kid Rock, we were in Harmony House just like we hoped.
“Terrible” (from 1999’s The Amazing Jeckel Brothers)
VJ: I guess you could say a political song, talking about what’s terrible in the world. Talking about the media and the news and what they cover. How some things are considered terrible that are small compared to other things that are huge. That’s what that song’s about. Like, what’s more important: Michael Jackson allegedly fondling some little kid’s balls, or Oklahoma exploding from Timothy McVeigh? Just things that are considered terrible. It’s just more questions really. We don’t have the answers to the problems. Just things we’re asking. “Why are there things like this?” It’s unleashing anger about the world, how it’s not perfect, but unfortunately, we don’t supply the answers, or the way things should be. We just know how things are fucked up. If you listen to us talk about things like Nancy Kerrigan getting her leg hit by Tonya Harding’s thugs, and how that makes such huge news that it’s actually outshining somebody found in the woods with a dick in their ass. Like, really? Just cause she got her leg hit by a billyclub, that’s bigger news than the guy found with a severed dick in his ass? Just fucked up shit, you know what I mean?
“Halls Of Illusions” (from 1997’s The Great Milenko)
VJ: Okay, let’s say you’re walking down the Halls Of Illusions. You see these illusions on the wall of yourself with all this money, yourself in the new car, yourself with all the groceries you need, yourself with you paying all your bills. The only way you’re going to get this money is if you rob this bank. The Halls Of Illusions are showing you these illusions, and how great they would be if you were to act out this crime. But in reality, it’s just an illusion. In reality, it’s fucked up to do what you’re doing, but you see the illusions. And The Great Milenko is a character in The Joker’s Cards. He’s an illusionist, and he’s the one casting the illusions. So the question is: Are you strong enough to see past these illusions? Do you know that you really shouldn’t rob that bank? Or, are you so caught up in these illusions that you do rob the bank because the illusions look so wonderful to you that you want that shit? You don’t care what you do to get it. Somebody like me, the illusions don’t work. I can tell they’re fake, and I tell The Great Milenko to go fuck off. But somebody with a weaker mind would go and commit the necessary crime to have those things because The Great Milenko’s illusions worked on him or her.
“I Stab People” (from 1999’s The Amazing Jeckel Brothers)
VJ: Just wicked shit fun. Another character, much like Bowling Balls, stabs people. Fucking guy that runs around stabbing people. That’s his weapon of his choice, that’s his murder tool, or torture tool, whatever. Just to get inside the mind of a guy who likes to puncture people. [Laughs.]
AVC: A lot of characters in your songs are murderers, or people who like to do things with dead bodies. Do you think of them all being the same character? Or do you see them as different characters?
VJ: They’re not the same character at all. Those are different characters. That guy is his own Freddy Krueger. He uses his finger blades, or whatever, and kills people in the dreams. It’s like if I made a song about that, and there was no Freddy Krueger, you feel what I’m saying? I believe that they could make a song about a guy who goes around killing people by stabbing them all the time. “I stab people.” Walks through crowded fucking hallways stabbing people at random. It’s a scary thing, and that’s the idea of that. But it’s also mixed in with humor, like a lot of the horror movies are. I’m not justifying it. I’m just saying that’s what it is. It’s just a story. A tale. Maybe that kind of music helps you vent anger. Maybe it’s just what it is. It scares you. You get enjoyment because you’re thinking about that. I’m painting a picture so realistic, you’re thinking, “God, that’s so fucked up,” and that’s what it is, it’s just horror. That’s what wicked shit is, you know?
“Miracles” (from 2009’s Bang! Pow! Boom!)
VJ: Miracles. Things on this Earth that are beautiful that are overlooked all the time. Especially nowadays. Everybody lives on the fucking Internet. Things that we see every day that we take for granted. I got kids, all right? I got a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. They love lightning bugs, brother. You know why? Because they’re seeing them for the first time. A bug. Listen to me, a bug. That can light up, like a light bulb. They look out the window at night in our front yard, and they see lightning bugs. And that’s the shit to them. And you know what, it’s the shit to me too.
And that’s what it is, miracles. Just because we’ve seen them our whole lives doesn’t make them any less amazing. When the sky is all red at night when the sun’s going down. My son asked me yesterday, “Why does the sky look like that? Why is everything golden like that?” I don’t know why. I’m sure scientists can explain it, but it’s still awesome to look up and see the sky look like that. Same thing with a fucking rainbow after a big thunderstorm. Sometimes there’s two rainbows. It’s just awesome. Little things that we see in this world that we see so much, we probably don’t appreciate anymore, but they’re awesome.
They’re miracles. They’re little gifts of freshness on this earth. And I’m not saying they’re from God, even if they’re all nature, and it all can be explained by science, they’re every bit still as cool as they were. A giraffe. A fucking giraffe, all right? Maybe if you live in the desert in Africa, a giraffe ain’t shit to you. But for some motherfuckers from Detroit, a giraffe is some shit, man. It is awesome, living on the second story of your house, and have a giraffe stick its head in your bedroom. Tell me you won’t freak the fuck out. And the same thing with elephants, man. An animal that big that can step and crush your car? That’s like a dinosaur! That’s amazing! Just ’cause they’re on TV every day doesn’t make it any less incredible. They’re fucking huge. Imagine shoveling elephant shit. It’s just saying that these are gifts that we are given to help us relax, to get to the ocean at night. Standing at the foot of the ocean at night at Myrtle Beach, looking out to the darkness, is terrifying and it’s beautiful and it’s awesome. These are gifts we’ve been given. And somehow we make a song about it, and everybody laughs at us? I’d rather be the dorky guy appreciating that shit than the idiot missing it all, I’ll tell you that.