If you’re a Juggalo, here’s all you need to know: Insane Clown Posse Theater is premiering July 24 on Fuse. The show will feature Mystery Science Theater 3000-style videos, of the sort ICP already does online, along with special guests and sketches. But you probably already knew that.
If you’re not a Juggalo—or, as is more likely the case, don’t even know what a Juggalo is—here’s what you need to know. A Juggalo is a fan of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse…but more on that later. Insane Clown Posse, the love-‘em-or-hate-‘em pair that perform as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, practice the love-it-or-hate-it rap variant known as horrorcore…but more on that later. Theirs is an insular world and non-fans might be understandably overwhelmed trying to process their complicated backstory and attendant subculture, even as the band’s mainstream presence is bigger than ever. Though ICP has been rapping for about 25 years, their transition from the underground to having their own TV show has been less of a steady climb than a sudden leap.
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“It’s all relatively brand new. All our lives we figured that when the band gets a little bit older, we’re going to start doing stuff on TV. What we were going to do on TV we had no idea,” Violent J tells TIME. “Next thing you know, somehow, due to the turning of the clouds and the planets aligned, [Fuse] called us and said come out to New York and talk about a TV show.”
Of course, we had some more (and more basic) questions for him—like:
What is “horrorcore”?
“It’s a lot like when you used to go to a Blockbuster video for movies: there’s romance movies, there’s action-packed movies and there’s horror movies. Music is a lot like that,” explains Violent J. “There’s super high-speed rock, there’s ballads, and believe it or not—it’s a small section and not very many artists do it— there’s horror music.”
What’s with the face paint?
Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are characters in the horror story, the former explains, which allows them to sing about horrific topics. “It’s all fake; it’s not real. You don’t actually think we’re murderers but we rap about it,” he says. “We rap about dark, grim things but it’s storytelling. I play the role of Violent J, my partner plays Shaggy 2 Dope, and we’re wicked clowns from the dark carnival, but there are many secrets beyond that and many clues to unlock as you go.”
Some ICP albums are “Joker’s Cards,” all of which are supposed to fit together to reveal a message. And the liner notes are meant to make listeners ask questions. “The messages were ways of looking at yourself before it’s too late, asking you to take a look at yourself in the mirror: Are you good for the planet and people in general? Or are you bad for the planet and people?” he asks. (And though he admits that the message is one that meshes with spirituality, he says it has nothing to do with any specific religion.)
What’s with the Juggalos?
The fans, says Violent J, are the real Insane Clown Posse story; he calls ICP fandom “the Juggalo movement.” He says that the music is directed at people who perhaps, like the duo themselves, dropped out of school, or are bullied or simply misunderstood. The annual festival for ICP fans is called the Gathering of the Juggalos; this year’s takes place in Cave-In-Rock, Ill., from Aug. 7–11. But, says Violent J, the music isn’t really the point: “Listening to our music is hard to do. You get picked on just for listening. When you get to the Gathering, there’s all these people that share your interests, this euphoria comes over you, you can go up to anybody and they’ll give you a cheeseburger. We just provide the soundtrack to it all.” (There is a history of violence at the Gathering, too, but Violent J—ironically—claims that problems are more likely to come from “hotdog vendors” and other outsiders than from the Juggalos themselves.)
Why would fans get picked on?
It’s not just that they wear face paint too: Insane Clown Posse calls itself the most hated band in the world; just this month GQ named them the worst rappers ever. Violent J believes out that when ICP did a song with Jack White in 2011, it only made news because nobody could believe Jack White would associate himself with the group, and he says that the group has always received completely negative reviews. “What we do is so easy to pick on,” he says, adding that when the band does receive respect it’s often in the form of a backhanded compliment. “People look at us and say, ‘These guys have gotta be creative geniuses, because how else could they sell that music?’”
But now you have a TV show. What changed?
Violent J’s theory: the Internet. One of the first hints that ICP would be getting a lot more mainstream attention was the response to the 2010 music video for their song “Miracles”:
The trippy clip merited an SNL spoof—proof, says Violent J, that enough people would get the joke to make it worth airing, which he attributes to the power of YouTube. (The video has clocked 12 million views.) “Back in the ‘90s, only the biggest, die-hardest fans had actually seen our videos,” he says. “Nowadays, we operate in this glass office where anybody can see us. ‘Miracles’ wasn’t anything different; that was just another ICP video. You don’t have to be a super die-hard fan to dive into our world.” And once people start watching their music videos on YouTube, they might watch ICP comedy clips…which eventually leads to a TV show.
And what’s next?
The duo does have one idea for what they could do if astronomical wealth comes their way. “We always talk about, ‘Wouldn’t be great if we could get a giant apartment complex and we owned them all and all the Juggalos could live together?'” Violent J says. “What if it 20 years we could put the money down? Everybody smiles when they think about it.”