Hillbilly Hip Hop LIVES! Go Juggalo!
If you’ve read my blog, you know that I’m pretty obsessed with the idea of hillbilly hip-hop, or hip-hop with backwoods twang. I thought it was dead, but just discovered the strange legacy of the Juggalos and a brand-new wave of HILLBILLY HIP-HOP!
If you haven’t heard of juggalos or juggalettes yet, you’ve probably seen them without knowing about it. They’re the weird goth clowns with white/black face makeup and crazy hair colors that are usually associated with small rural American towns and white trash culture. In fact, the juggalos are a true community of music-lovers with a strange and warped view of today’s music scene and a strong connection to modern hillbilly culture.
Born from the music of Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit-based horrorcore rap group, the juggalo culture is based on the “dark carnival” mythos of ICP and partner groups from Psychopathic Records. But it’s also based on new and old tropes of American hillbilly culture. Usually thought of as white trash or redneck culture, hillbilly culture revolves around stereotypes of small, rural American towns, fake or real Southern accents, wrestling, trailer parks, meth addiction, poverty, demolition derby, county fairs, heavy machinery, jeez this list could go on forever!
Growing up in the little town of Rough and Ready in Northern Cali, my next door neighbor on one side was a pro demolition derby driver with a yard full of junked cars and about 30 fighting cocks in the backyard in little hutches. I used to go over after school and hang out with their kid, a good friend. We’d eat cat food for snacks, since they had no money. (This is all TRUE!) My next door neighbor on the other side had bought himself a bulldozer and liked to get up early in the morning to plow every inch of his one-acre property. Had I stayed in this environment, I’d likely have ended up a juggalo as well. And this is the environment that juggalos come from. The juggalo movement staunchly insists that juggalos come from every walk of life; Violent J from ICP was quoted recently: “Juggalo is not one specific person, a Juggalo comes from all walks of life — from poverty, from rich, from all religions, all colors. Anyone can be a Juggalo. It’s just kind of like a frame of mind, because you can be rich and still be a hard dog. It doesn’t matter if you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or a crack rock in your mouth.” Violent J even claims that Chuck D is a juggalo! But juggalo culture is a distinctly rural phenomenon and as time goes on, it aligns more and more closely with a new American hillbilly culture.
The most obvious connection between juggalos and hillbillies is the Southern rapper, Boondox, recently signed to Psychopathic Records. Born and raised in Georgia, Boondox’s first video, “They Pray With Snakes” assures his place in the hillbilly hip-hop hall of fame. The video features B&W clips from documentaries on Southern snake handler religions, clips of him rapping in plaid, in front of shacks, with a cowboy hat, and of course the juggalo face paint indicative of Psychopathic Records artists. The video ends with a great field recording of a song from a ceremony singing about snake handling. It’s great stuff and plenty theatrical; the key element to hillbilly hip-hop.
The best way to get a clue to juggalo culture is to watch the mind-bending video trailer for the 2010 Gathering of the Juggalos. A lynchpin for internet juggalo abuse, it’s hard to argue with the haters when you see how ridiculous the video is. But it shows off the hillbilly aspect of juggalo culture perfectly: backyard wrestling (a tradition that both members of ICP started out in), wild west imagery, county fair performers like Naughty By Nature and Gallagher (i hate that guy), and acres and acres of white guys in wife beaters getting high.
Of course, it’s not accurate to label juggalos as hillbillies, for even at the start of ICP, they’ve been tapping into the dark, urban vibe first explored by pioneer-horrorcore group Gravediggaz. But with ICP and the juggalos, this urban vibe goes hand in hand with the apocalyptic small-town redneck serial killer worldview of old horror movies and Rob Zombie’s new splattercore movies. In fact, Rob Zombie’s movies are perfect
expressions of the evil hillbilly tropes that keep cropping up in ICP and juggalo imagery. Check out my equation here: Gravediggaz (East Coast Staten Island urban horrorcore) + Rob Zombie (redneck slasher movies) = ICP and juggalos. See for yourself:
Much of the hatred directed against juggalos (ICP is universally hated by critics and juggalos are the butts of many internet jokes), mirrors the hatred directed against hillbillies. It’s a class thing, people. It’s the reason so much Americana and bluegrass music has been removed from its origins. Because the people who are co-opting it aren’t comfortable with its roots in poverty, isolation, and deep Southern culture. Same thing with the juggalos. They’re connection to low-income, rural America means that they can fill stadiums of loving fans, but never get played or interviewed on mainstream media.
Of course, despite all the blood, guts and Faygo, the ICP and the juggalos are all about peace and love. It’s true! The final reveal in the Dark Carnival mythology was that God is great and we should strive to get into heaven, a controversial move that alienated some of their fan base. And though early ICP material talked about mass murder and creepy clowns, now they’re rapping about the miracle of life (and magnets). This transformation is so bizarre as to have prompted an SNL skit. Check out their mind-bending video to “Miracles”
Obviously, ICP is having fun with the media and their fans in this video, but peace and love actually does seem to be the vibe of juggalo gatherings. Check out this great article and video, by an unbiased reporter who went both to hipster-bait festival Pitchfork and the Gathering of the Juggalos. His video shows that positive side of juggalo life. And that’s what makes juggalos something of interest, and not just a bunch of crappy rap-metal fans. Because after all, juggalos aren’t any weirder than nouveau-burlesque troops, Burning Man, tribal bellydance, larpers, or hippies. They’re just an international community of people who celebrate their outcast status together through bizarre rituals and insider traditions. Or to put it bluntly, they’re just trying to have a little fun.