Oddly, Insane Clown Posse rapper Joey Utsler — better known as Shaggy 2 Dope — is humble. When we meet up with them in June, on the group's bus in the parking lot of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, he speaks as if he can't believe his duo's success. His counterpart Joseph Bruce (aka Violent J) is watching SpongeBob SquarePants on a small TV, smirking now and then.
Ever hustling, the group offered to meet us at the L.A. Weekly offices, but their tour bus wouldn't fit in our parking garage, so here we are.
They've come out to Hollywood before, and remain enamored of the local women. “There's so much parking-lot pimpin' going on,” Utsler says, a bit cryptically. “The women are like 3-to-1, all over this fuckin' place.”
The bus itself is a typical rock-star 40-foot coach, unadorned, and there's no Faygo in sight. Utsler and Bruce look the part, however, dressed in Hatchet Man gear and done up in their signature face paint, black-and-white schemes that have remained unchanged for decades.
While for much of their 21-year history they were largely ignored by the media, more recently they've broken through, although mostly to be mocked, by everyone from Saturday Night Live to Comedy Central show Workaholics. Their “Miracles” video (“Fuckin' magnets, how do they work?”) went viral enough to give the Internet chlamydia. Meanwhile, their Juggalo fan base has blown up; their Gathering of the Juggalos finishes up today in the middle of nowhere, Illinois, and their supporters have landed on the FBI's national gang watchlist, which distresses Utsler: “That's now calling our concerts a gang rally, that our fuckin' merchandise is gang apparel. That's a public lynching of our name.” (Two months later, on August 10, ICP announced they are suing the organization.)
Now the Detroit-based outfit is set to release its 11th studio album, The Mighty Death Pop!, out Tuesday. Hugely ambitious and a little, um, insane, it comprises four individual discs: one featuring the original rap-rock tracks the group is known for, another that's a 64-minute riff on Too $hort's 1987 sex rap “Freaky Tales” and a third that covers songs like Christina Aguilera's “Beautiful,” Eazy-E's “Love for Them Gangstas” and Tears for Fears' “Shout.”
The fourth contains unreleased B-sides, and is probably the most compelling, due largely to the strength of guest stars like Scarface, Three 6 Mafia and Kreayshawn. The whole project is messy fun; while The Mighty Death Pop! certainly caters to the Juggalos, it's nice to see the guys stretch themselves creatively.
But wait. Is the scope and ambition of the work an attempt to get folks to finally take them seriously? Utsler sighs and briefly places his head in his hands before reclining on the bus's leather bench next to Bruce. “We're not respected for the music,” Utsler admits, adding: “We were trying to shock people and to be the shit.”
One suspects that, despite their don't-give-a-fuck attitude, they've long craved musical legitimacy, and this work might just go a ways toward getting them there. In an Internet age where weird and outlandish are more accepted than ever, it looks like the duo finally stands a chance. “If things look like they're changing for ICP — and it looks like we're getting more exposure now than we ever have — a lot of that has to do with the world being different,” Utsler says.
Don't think, however, that they're going to start sucking up to the mainstream.
“We never changed shit,” Utsler maintains. “The world changed around us.”