Drake's gotta have a clothing guy.
That was the rationale, the only rationale, that Violent J could come up with when, back in August, the Canadian superstar posted a picture of himself clad in an Insane Clown Posse hockey jersey on his Instagram Stories for his 143 million followers across the world to see.
There's no way he knows what that jersey is. He just thought it was a cool looking logo. He's not actually down with the Clown.
No word yet from Drake on the matter. But no matter the intent, it's one of several instances in recent months where ICP, once the scourge of the music industry, toppers of every Worst Group in Music History list imaginable, has been acknowledged and even embraced by the very mainstream that once rejected them.
To wit: Post Malone hit the stage in an ICP jersey at his Pine Knob concert in July. The New York Times featured Violent J in an article about hip-hop's 50th anniversary, singling him out as one of the genre's 50 influential voices. And LL Cool J's summer tour, also celebrating hip-hop's golden anniversary, positioned Violent J's name on video screens alongside the likes of Busta Rhymes, Method Man, the Notorious B.I. G., Eminem and other hip-hop greats.
The sudden, surprising — and, as far as ICP is concerned, wholly welcome — recognition comes as the notorious face-painted duo prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hallowicked, the group's annual Halloween concert, which has hit its hometown every year, except one, since 1994. (The 1996 version was postponed after Violent J shattered his collarbone in a pro wrestling match; it was made up that December.)
"I've been loving it. I'm having a lot of fun," says Violent J, real name Joe Bruce, on the phone from his Oakland County home earlier this month. "I'm very, very, very content with our place in pop culture. Me and Joey are not angry anymore. We don't have no complaints anymore. The love we always felt we never got, I feel like we get now."
Joey is Shaggy 2 Dope, the other half of ICP, who shares his cohort's feelings over the changing perception of the group and its place in the culture.
"It feels good now to be appreciated and respected for the work you've done your whole career," says Shaggy, aka Joseph Utsler, who formed ICP more than three decades ago with his childhood pal. "We didn't change our music or style to make Drake wear our jersey. When other people come to what you do without you changing it, that's good to go in any circumstance."
J says he started to feel the tides changing around ICP several years ago, when doors that had always been shut to the group — festival offers, etc. — started to open up.
Hating ICP is no longer the cool thing to do, he says, and the journalists, program directors and promoters that used to be in those gatekeeping positions have all moved on. It's a considerable weight off his shoulders, he says.
"It feels great to not be hated or disliked," says the 51-year-old, who talks in the gruff cadence of a pro wrestler, because he is one in his spare time. "It does feel good not to have that anxiety in you all the time that you're going to get shut down or rejected or dissed somehow or have to fight, you know what I mean?"
But with Drake in particular, J has his doubts. It's just the way he's wired, and until he hears otherwise, he's going to assume it was strictly a fashion choice with which the Toronto chart topper was presented.
"He don't know what he was wearing. That's just a sweet looking jersey!" J says of the apparel, featuring the logo from ICP's 1994 "Ringmaster" album, which Drake posted online on Aug. 3.
"I don't think Drake himself was like, 'I gotta get me an ICP jersey.' I don't even think Drake has heard a single verse of our music in his life," he says. "I personally don't think he has any idea what he's wearing or that he was trying to make that statement. It just doesn't make any realm of sense to me when I try to think of it in terms of 'Drake likes our music' or 'Drake respects us,' you know what I mean?"
"But I do think it's incredibly awesome that it happened!"
Aside from the recent acceptance from the outside world — "I just got finished talking to Billy Corgan a second ago," says J of the Smashing Pumpkins front man, "and I never f---ing thought I'd know Billy Corgan! I never thought in my wildest dreams we would be friends!" — internally, it's business as usual these days for Joe and Joey and ICP inc.
The pair has spent the better part of the last year touring separately, Shaggy on his solo tour, and Violent J with his 3 Headed Monster side project, alongside Detroit acid rap legend Esham and Nevada-raised ICP affiliate Ouija Macc. The pair has convened for their annual events, including February's Juggalo Weekend and July's Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
A new album is on the horizon, its first since 2021's "Yum Yum Bedlam" and its first with producer Mike E. Clark since 2012's "The Mighty Death Pop!" Clark is the chief architect of the group's classic sound, the instrumental cornerstone of the demented circus known in ICP lore as the "Dark Carnival."
The new album will be the sixth Joker's Card in the second deck of the Dark Carnival saga, a description that makes absolutely no sense to anyone who isn't well-versed in the world of ICP. Basically, it's the latest chapter in the group's ongoing morality play that kicked off in earnest with 1992's "Carnival of Carnage" and has encompassed 13 of the group's 16 studio albums. (There has also been a slew of compilations, EPs, solo albums, box sets, loose singles, reissues and side projects; the group's recorded output well exceeds 600 songs, and that's a conservative estimate.)
J says he and Shaggy plan to record the new album in November and December and have it out "bright and early" in 2024, hopefully by Juggalo Weekend, scheduled for mid-February in Peoria, Illinois.
And after that? More albums: J has plans mapped out for a third deck of Joker's Cards, made up of five releases, not six, which would bring the total number of Joker's Cards to 17, ICP's magic number. (The Clowns were into numerology way before Taylor Swift had written her first song.)
And then there are more live shows, even though ICP has slowed its rigorous touring schedule in recent years, following J's 2021 announcement of his diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, an irregular heartbeat. J's also got bad knees and both he and Shaggy, 49, now wear hearing aids, a side effect of a life lived pummeling their ears with loud music on stage night after night.
J says his heart is better, and he's back to where he was before the A-fib announcement, but his health is more of a priority these days. "I could easily tour, physically, right now," he says. "But since everyone was so concerned and since it was a good time to announce we were finished touring, I'm glad we did."
And then there's Hallowicked, ICP's first and longest running annual tradition, which is like Christmas for Juggalos, the name given to the group's fans. Tuesday's concert will be held at Detroit's Masonic Temple, a Hallowicked first, which comes after several years of Hallowickeds at Detroit's Russell Industrial Center. (In 2020, smack dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, an acoustic Hallowicked was held for a select group of fans in the living room of Violent J's house.)
J says even back in 1994, when the first Hallowicked concert was held at Detroit's Majestic Theatre, he knew they were starting an annual tradition.
"We knew. Even on the promotions I believe we called it the first annual Hallowicked," he says. "That was the key to being successful, was knowing. People always say, 'did you ever think you would get this far?' Hell yeah, we knew. That's a very important thing, if you're going to go into a new endeavor, you can't go into it wishin', hopin' and prayin'. You gotta know, for a fact, there is no plan B."
Hallowicked came to the Royal Oak Music Theatre in 1995, and after the hiccup in 1996, bounced around various venues for years — the now-shuttered Palladium Music Club in 1997, Harpo's in 1998, three nights at the Majestic in 1999 and Saint Andrew's Hall in 2000, followed by a run at the State Theatre/Fillmore Detroit in the '00s and '10s.
In addition to geysers of Faygo sprayed on the crowd, the concerts usually feature the release of a new Halloween-themed single — "Dead Pumpkins" in 1994, "Murda Cloak" in 2004, "If I Are Your Brains" in 2009, for example — and different face paint than ICP's traditional black-and-white colorway. The group also dresses in costumes, such as during the 2020 show, when they dressed as legendary pro wrestling tag team the Road Warriors.
"Halloween has always been our most favorite time of the year," says J. "It's always been our time, our celebration. It's such a bizarre holiday, I love it. It's just about horror, which is so weird. And I love the time of year Halloween falls on, everything's so beautiful, the golden leaves and everything. It's easily my favorite holiday, even if I had nothing to do with music."
Aside from ICP's headlining set, Tuesday's Hallowicked lineup features Esham, Ouija Macc and Merkules; 1980s child star turned pop performer Corey Feldman was initially announced as part of the lineup but was later dropped off the bill. For those who don't make the trek to the Masonic, the show will be broadcast via juggalotv.com for $17.
And ICP, for their part, don't plan to stop the Hallowicked tradition anytime soon.
"Even if I'm on my third clone with a robotic spine and a glass case where you can see my brain," says Shaggy, "we'll still be doing Hallowicked."
That gives Drake plenty of time to officially declare himself a Juggalo.
7 p.m. Tuesday
Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St., Detroit
Tickets $59.50 and up