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Two nineteen-year-old girls hold up their T-shirts to show off the matching tattoos on their lower backs. The tats are the logo for Primos, the kerosene-and-tire shop where they've hung out, sometimes for hours at a time, every day since they started high school. "I just showed up for a barbecue one year and never left," Bethany says. "I've never had a big family. It's been nice having this instead."
Bethany and Lindsey are juggalettes, and that means Primos is home.
A couple dozen juggalos and juggalettes — many dressed in red, one in a hooded cape and black lipstick — are hanging out in the Primos parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. Hot dogs sizzle on the grill, and while a few of the guys have 40-ounce beers in brown paper bags, most hold tight to bottles of Faygo. "It's like a living, breathing MySpace for juggalos around here," says Wayne, who's just bought his pop in Primos' tiny store. Wayne stops here at least twice a week to see what's going on. But he'd have to be a pretty reclusive juggalo not to know the agenda for this weekend — when Insane Clown Posse and the entire Psychopathic Records label descend on Denver for shows at the Gothic and Red Rocks. The owners of Primos will be there, too, handing out free bottles of Faygo from their tricked-out Primos van.
"I've been a juggalette since the day I was born," says seven-year-old Sierra, proudly pointing to her juggalette T-shirt and her bike, emblazoned with Primos and Denver City Killaz stickers. DCK's frontman, Franky, is a lanky nineteen-year-old who discovered ICP when he was eleven. He gives Sierra props for the sticker, then hobbles over to a cluster of rappers who've been growing a horror-rap scene that caters to Denver's massive juggalo community, the largest in the country. Franky busted his ankle two nights before, and his right foot is twice the size of his left — but he's got drugs to numb the pain until he feels like going to the emergency room. For now, he's trying to unload some chronic. He starts, unsuccessfully, with Scum — the biggest and darkest act in the growing underground horror-core/gore-hop scene, who rhymes about dismemberment and cannibalism.
"We don't go out killing people," Bethany says. "We just use the music as a release."
"And the message behind it is completely different," says 21-year-old Jerrica, who first came to Primos looking for Faygo but soon began using the shop as a refuge when she didn't have food or money, or couldn't take the kids at school anymore. "They throw all that in to attract the kids who are having a fucked-up time."
When Denver School of the Arts student JD Gonzales entered the national My City Now contest a few years ago, he had to create a video about what made his city a great place to live. His answer: a little tire shop near Alameda and Sheridan called Primos, "A Juggalo Home in Denver's Zone." While the camera pans across a dozen kids sitting on the ground outside the shop, outfitted in baggy red and black clothes, tattoos, piercings and long dreads, the voice of Kiki Rodriguez, a Primos owner, explains ICP's draw: "All these kids don't have shit. They wouldn't have nothing, dude. But because they're a juggalo, that's a big part of their life. It gives them something to fucking do, something to be proud of."
Childish, a member of the rap group Brutally Vicious Killaz, tells the camera that Primos is a place where juggalos get together like family. There's no other place like it in Denver; he doubts there's another place like it anywhere. "Denver juggalos are the lifeline of Denver," Kiki continues. "Everybody thinks, how can that be? How can all these scruffy kids have anything important to do with our Mile High City? Juggalos, we're the backbone, yo.... We're all one family. We're united. We're from everywhere. Jocks are juggalos. Rich kids are juggalos. Poor kids are juggalos. Everybody's a ninja. Your grandma could be a juggalo — you just don't know it."
Gonzales's video earned him third place in the contest, and the same question over and over again: "What the hell is a juggalo?"
"There are millions of different definitions, but I'll give you the one I use most often," he says. "To a non-juggalo, a juggalo is just a fan of ICP or Psychopathic. To a juggalo, it's people who are accepting and supportive, people who look out for each other."
That's certainly how Primos got started. Back in 1992, eighteen-year-old Ernie Jones started working at a Texaco gas station on Alameda just off Sheridan. His cousin Kiki Rodriguez, who lived out in Elbert County near Parker, was just eleven then, but he'd come into Denver to hang with Ernie and Ernie's best friend, Flavio "Flava" Arellano — and steal candy from the 7-Eleven next door. "They were gangsters, and I was just kind of running wild with them guys, running around Denver when Larimer was crappy, spray-painting and acting the fool," Kiki remembers. "We were just a bunch of hood kids running around."