The Brilliant Branding of Insane Clown Posse
If you want to see what Shaggy 2 Dope calls "the central nervous system" of Psychopathic Records (and, by proxy, its star attraction, Insane Clown Posse, or ICP), you have to head to Farmington Hills. The prosperous Michigan city located some 30 miles from Detroit houses the brick-and-mortar incarnation of the label launched in the early 1990s by ICP's Shaggy (a.k.a. Joseph Utsler) and Violent J (a.k.a. Joseph Bruce), plus associates. Utsler describes the headquarters as "a two-story office structure with a huge warehouse in the back" and estimates it has more than 20,000 square feet. All basic Psychopathic tasks are conducted within the building, including the shipment of merchandise, recording (in Psychopathic's "Lotus Pod" studio) and weekly staff meetings. "Everybody that works at Psychopathic, they're not just drones—you know what I'm saying? We only hire thinkers and doers. We don't just hire people that sit around, surfing the Internet, trying to get a check," says Utsler, who guesses that Psychopathic employs 40 people (not counting tour-related hires).
The Farmington Hills complex isn't remarkable just because it represents an independent label doing so well in 2013, but because it symbolizes just one piece of the Psychopathic empire. In nearby Novi, Michigan, Psychopathic runs a smaller facility focused on manufacturing the nitty-gritty. Then there's the myriad pies Psychopathic and ICP have their fingers in: the careers of musicians signed to the label, events promotion, a pro-wrestling promotion, a hot line and ICP's own tours, among others. All this from people whom Utsler calls "high school dropouts with no business sense whatsoever."
"A lot of people around here say that Psychopathic was founded off nerds and thugs—the nerd aspects were the thinkers, and thugs were the ones that made sure the money was right," he says with a chuckle.
By now, ICP have become such prominent pop-culture public enemies that little is said about the good things musicians of all stripes should be taking from the rappers' success. The young and hungry shouldn't be cribbing ICP's taste for grease paint, mystical allusions, X-rated lyrics or ambitious concept albums, but rather how the Posse have managed to build and maintain such a massive enterprise.
The foundation that everything ICP and Psychopathic rests on is made of Juggalos and Juggalettes, the band and label's fleet of ardent supporters. ICP built an audience through touring hard and releasing music with a take-no-prisoners style and—to a certain degree—shock value that clicked with a niche. It also didn't hurt that ICP kept Psychopathic's name synonymous with the band's while their albums had major-label distribution in the late 1990s; after ICP returned to releasing records solely on Psychopathic, the brand still had a lot of momentum behind it.
Naming the Juggalo fan base, writing frequent shout-outs and having a logo as iconic as the Hatchetman helped galvanize the fans into a visible, united force. ICP earnestly emphasize they would stick with this relatively underground base rather than ever attempt a move into the mainstream, which has helped to make them appear to be a cause worth aligning with.
When the FBI classified Juggalos as a "loosely organized hybrid gang" in 2011 because of crimes committed by alleged fans, it provided its share of problems. According to Utsler, Spencer's and Hot Topic were among the chains that stopped carrying the group's merchandise because it qualified as gang apparel. Several Juggalos have also complained of alleged harassment from the authorities, and ICP went so far as to file a lawsuit against the FBI in September 2012 to have the gang association formally removed. But on a communal level, this ordeal was great for strengthening the commitment Psychopathic, ICP and Juggalos bring to one another. Being marginalized and mocked just can't hurt these entities because they won't let it happen.
After ICP experienced a surge in media coverage circa 2010 through their viral video "Miracles," a Saturday Night Live sketch lampooning a Gathering of the Juggalos infomercial and other perfect-storm factors, the group embraced their revived role in the national conversation. The band enjoy media exposure when they get it—even when they're condemned—because it only makes them seem more vital and allows them to attract more listeners, Utsler says.
"As far as us ever being straight-up mainstream, it'll never fucking happen. We're just not interested in that. We're interested in the Juggalo nation," he says. "But, of course, we absolutely love spreading our music as far as we can to as many listeners as possible. I want people that bump country music bumping our shit. Everybody [should be doing it]. There's nothing wrong with that."
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