Where's God? Insane Clown Posse's Violent J speaks frankly about God and religion
Since the early '90s, Insane Clown Posse has built itself into what is arguably the most successful independent band of all time. The cult of fandom surrounding ICP is unprecedented and notorious (the FBI considers Juggalos to be a gang). Outside its home state of Michigan, the polarizing act has developed a large and extremely devoted fan base, including here in Colorado. We had the rare opportunity to speak at length with the personable and thoughtful Violent J about the act's latest video, "Where's God?" and the nature of his spiritual beliefs.
In 2009, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope revealed the fact that they're Christians -- or, perhaps more specifically, that they believe in god, even if it's not the god of a specific sect of the Christian religion. The group's song "Miracles" courted controversy with those who ironically took things more literally than necessary when Violent J reflected on how magnets work. ICP recently released another video for "Where's God?" that may have some people thinking they're holy rollers.
Westword: Recently you put out a new video for "Where's God?"
Violent J: Nowadays, for us, releasing a video to the YouTube world is like releasing a single.
Why a video for that specific song?
It's really something different for us because there's always been speculation about our religious beliefs. Some people say we're holy rollers and everything. This is the first time we put out a video or a single where we address our religious beliefs pretty much flat out. When we put the album out, we got so much feedback, and a lot of people really liked that song. That's really why we chose to put that out. It was one of the more popular songs on the album, and those are the ones we try to make the videos for. We're not scared of the controversy about the religious tone of it. We're not afraid of some people calling us holy rollers.
You explicitly revealed your Christian faith around four years ago. Was that belief system always an important part of your life?
You know, we were born and raised not with any specific religion. My ma never took me to church or nothing. But she taught me the basic principles of how it works, heaven and hell. And I've always believed that. I don't know the specifics of any certain religion or anything like that, but I've always believed you can hear your guardian angel on your shoulder telling you if what you're doing is evil or not. And I've always believed that good souls go to heaven and bad souls go to hell.
I don't know if I necessarily believe in hell the way a lot of religions depict it. Of course the more I learn about specific religions, the more it turns me off, because I don't think somebody is going to spend an eternity in hell just because they weren't a member of a specific religion. But the thing I do find positive about believing in god is that it gives people a lot of hope, especially later in life, when people are losing loved ones and getting older themselves -- they're facing their own mortality.
And hope is a good thing, man. I know that the further the world goes, and that this and that was wrong and proves that mankind evolved from this and that, and people are more and more not believing in god and believing more in science, I still think hope is a good thing. I still believe in it, and I think it gives people something to live for, you know?
Some people might listen to some of your earlier records, and I admit I have been one of those people, and wonder if those beliefs are sincere. But it's also obvious to anyone who thinks about it for more than a few moments that it's theater and entertainment and maybe even cathartic. Do you feel that's true?
All I know is that we're just as guilty of ruthless, brutal lyrics today as we've ever been. It's just different songs. We've always had songs like "Where's God?" on our albums, but we didn't release videos for any of them except when we did "Miracles," and that showed a new side to us. But we've always shown that we do care.
All our albums we refer to as Joker Cards. In the first ten or twelve years of our career, it was counting down from the first six Joker Cards. And on the sixth Joker Card, at the very end of the album, track seventeen was called "The Unveiling," and in that song we said the Dark Carnival is god.
That shocked a lot of people, and that's where a lot of the rumors came about us being holy rollers. I think, for the most part, even if it pissed a lot of Juggalos off, they all understand that even if they believe in god or not, I think they appreciate the fact that we care and we want to see Juggalos in heaven. Even if they don't believe in heaven themselves, they appreciate the fact that we care.
I honestly believe that the Dark Carnival is god. I believe that some of the coolest stuff, the magic we feel at our events -- not just the Gatherings, but at our concerts, the thing that brings us together -- I believe that's god working his magic. It's not a god of any organized religion, but I believe that it's a higher power that is bringing us all together in this way. I truly believe that. We've always believed that from the very beginning.
We've dropped little hints, and we've revealed that we're religious people from the beginning of our music. We've never hidden the fact that we believe in god. Behind the face paint, behind the brutality of our music, there's a fine message there that says this is entertainment, but in real life, live by that guardian angel on your shoulder and it'll tell you when you're doing something you shouldn't be doing. It'll tell you when you're being helpful, and you should listen to that voice.
Obviously you've addressed this before, and again, it's obvious that what you do is in fact entertainment, but how do you reconcile that more brutal lyrical content with the material that has a more positive message?
Right. It's entertainment. Sometimes the music serves as therapy. Sometimes it's everything. Some songs are entertainment, some songs are meant as therapy to help you work through something, and some songs are just us talking to other Juggalos, and when we're talking to other Juggalos, it's not necessarily so ruthless. Sometimes we're talking to the world; some songs we're talking to each other.
If you're looking for something, you're going to find it. Our music is every way it can be. Most of it is entertainment; some of it isn't. Some of it is very real, our beliefs. But most of it is our beliefs amped up. We would never kill somebody, but it's our beliefs amped up to super volume ten into these vigilante characters.
A lot of hip-hop is like that. It's like a heightened reality or an exaggerated fantasy life, in a sense, to give yourself strength in a place of weakness or struggle.
That's right. As far as the religious stuff goes? That's real. We do believe in god. We do want to see Juggalos in heaven. I don't follow any one religion, but I know that there's a lot of real wisdom in the holy Qu'ran; I know there's a lot of wisdom in the Bible. I know there's a lot of good in religion, because if you follow these religions, a lot of them really do support a good way of living and a way to be good to each other. Even if science proves that it's all bullshit, there's a lot of good to religion. I honestly feel that way.
Oh, sure. Not everything in your life that is true or that has real significance would fit into current empirical scientific analysis about whether or not it's true. You can't prove the significance of loving someone or being loved.
It's funny you said that, because I've always felt there is some real magic in this world that no science can explain. And love is one of them. Music is another. If science could tell you about what it is that makes the human ear like music, it seems that scientists would simply make the master song that the world would all love.
But they can't, because there's magic behind music. That's why we don't all like the same music. We're all different, and music is magic, and love is magic. People looking at Juggalos and Insane Clown Posse on the outside? Sure, there's a lot of punchlines there; there's a lot of easy things to point at us and laugh about. But on the inside, when you're us living our lives? There's a lot of real magic we feel when we're together.
When we're together, we feel a real camaraderie with each other. Even though we may technically be strangers, we don't feel like that. We come together with a very special kinship that feels as magical as love or any other magic in the world. Even if it's only 400 Juggalos at a concert one night, it doesn't feel like other shows where you have to look over your shoulder because you might get into a fight.
When you're a Juggalo and you come to a Juggalo show...that's why people love to come early. They want to sing songs in line, they want to be part of it. You find yourself having this friendship with these people you don't really know, but you feel like you do because you have so much in common.
There's a lot of real magic there. People grow up having memories about it. It means a lot to them. That's why we've always said, "You feel this magic going on? We believe it's god." We've always said that. It's god that's bringing us together; it's god that's looking out for us.
That's interesting how you acknowledge the role of science as one side of humanity's attempt at finding the truth. When you put out that song "Miracles" and the video, some people made way too much out of the "magnets" lyric. You clearly have a sense of how magnets work; it was just kind of a funny line.
I know that there's a scientific explanation for how magnets work. I know that people know how magnets work. But when I wrote that line, I looked at my five-year-old playing with magnets at the table, and I realized it's just another cool thing in this world. Little things can be magical, too, to different people. Even though there's an explanation behind it, it's just another beautiful thing in the world. It's just like how when the sun is shining, and it looks really huge, there's a scientific explanation for why it looks that way, but that doesn't mean it's not cool.
Exactly. The scientific explanation doesn't explain why it's beautiful or why it strikes you specifically in that moment.
Right. Even though they can tell you what's causing the Northern Lights in Alaska, it doesn't explain why they're awesome and they're magical to people.
You can describe the scientific principle for how it does what it does, but not necessarily why it exists that way.
And if they can explain a rainbow, that's cool. That doesn't mean they're not cool to look at. We point them out every time we see one.
Was that video for "Where's God?" something you directed?
You know, I'll be honest: This is the first time I've ever told anybody this. That particular video, there was a guy, Douglas Schultze, that liked the song so much, he was a local film director here in Michigan, and he was making a movie, and he wanted that song on the soundtrack. He said, "Listen, if you guys allow me to use that song in my movie, I'll film a video for you and give it to you guys." Even though we have our own video department putting out videos, we said, "Sure. Let us write the video up." They ended up shooting the video and gave us all the reels, and we edited it together and everything.
Our role was writing the video, and it basically shows Shaggy and myself carrying crosses down the street to the people. It was supposed to show people in hard times and hardships of life, like a guy doing drugs and the girl gets up and follows the religion as a way out, as something to believe in. More and more people join us, and at the end we're all just humans looking up and wondering if there is god there, and a gold light cascades down on us. It just shows we're all believing.
Where in Detroit did you film that?
We filmed it right in the city. We filmed some parts in Hamtramck, which is a city surrounded by Detroit.