Originally known as Inner City Posse, Bruce and Utsler changed the group's name when prompted by a vision in a dream resembling a traveling carnival. The dream also inspired the introduction of supernatural-and horror-themed lyrics. The duo founded the independent record label Psychopathic Records with Alex Abbiss as manager, and produced and starred in the feature film Big Money Hustlas. They formed their own wrestling federation, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, and later collaborated with many famous hip hop and rock musicians.
The themes of Insane Clown Posse and other acts on Psychopathic Records center on the mythology of the Dark Carnival, which the duo claim is a spiritual force that has revealed a series of stories known as Joker's Cards. These stories each offer a specific lesson designed to change the "evil ways" of listeners before "the end consumes us all." Insane Clown Posse has a dedicated following, often referred to by the group as Juggalos and Juggalettes.
Feeling a sense of home and belonging, Bruce formed a gang called Inner City Posse. The gang consisted of Joseph Utsler, Rudy Hill, other friends of Bruce, and a number of other connections he had made in Southwest Detroit. Bruce was jailed for ninety days in 1989–1990 for death threats, robbery, and violating probation; this experience convinced him to reduce his involvement in gang life. Bruce began his professional wrestling career after getting out of jail, and it was at his first show that he met Rob Van Dam and Sabu, two other first-timers with whom he became very good friends. During this time Bruce brought Utsler backstage with him, and all four became close friends.
Bruce became frustrated with the backstage politics of the wrestling business and began searching for another career. Back on the streets, Bruce began listening to hip hop with Utsler and with Utsler's brother, John. The trio performed at local night clubs, using the stage names Violent J, 2 Dope, and John Kickjazz, under the name of their gang, Inner City Posse. Seeing a need for a manager, Bruce's brother Robert recommended his friend and record store owner Alex Abbiss, who established the Psychopathic Records record label with the group in 1991. Later that year the group released the self-produced EP entitled Dog Beats. Growing popularity in the local music scene turned negative for the group's gang, which became the target of growing violence. After receiving jail sentences, the group members abandoned gang life.
In late 1991 the group invested more money into production than was covered by returns. The group decided that its gangsta rap style was the cause of the problem: Most rappers at the time used similar styles, making it difficult for Inner City Posse to distinguish itself stylistically. Referring to local rapper Esham's acid rap style, Bruce suggested the band adapt this genre, in a bid to have Detroit represent acid rap, much as Los Angeles represented gangsta rap. The group agreed, but not to copying the style of Esham closely. Instead, they suggested using horror-themed lyrics as an emotional outlet for all their negative life experiences. They were also unanimous in deciding not to rap openly about Satan, which Esham often did.
After the change in musical style, the group decided it needed a new name. Utsler suggested keeping the "I.C.P." initials to inform the community that Inner City Posse was not defunct, an idea to which the group agreed. Several names were considered before Bruce recalled his dream of a clown running around in Delray, which became the inspiration for the group's new name: Insane Clown Posse. The other members agreed, deciding that they would take on this new genre and name, and would all don face paint due to the success of their former clown-painted hype man.
Upon returning home that night, Bruce had a dream in which spirits in a traveling carnival appeared to him—an image that would become the basis for the Dark Carnival mythology detailed in the group's Joker's Cards series.
The group's second studio album, Ringmaster, was released on March 8, 1994, and its popularity enabled the group to sell out larger nightclubs across Detroit. Because Bruce and Utsler made reference to the Detroit-produced soft drink Faygo in their songs, they "figured it would be cool to have some on stage with [them]." During a concert in 1993, Bruce threw an open bottle of Faygo at a row of concertgoers who were giving them the finger. After receiving a positive response, Bruce and Utsler have since continued to spray Faygo onto audiences. A subsequent national tour increased sales of the album, earning Ringmaster a gold certification. The group's second EP, The Terror Wheel, was released on August 5, 1994. One of the songs from the EP, "Dead Body Man", received considerable local radio play. The same year marked their first "Hallowicked" concert, which has since continued annually on Halloween night in Detroit.
During a music store autograph signing, Insane Clown Posse was notified that Hollywood Records had recalled the album within hours of its release, despite having sold 18,000 copies and reaching #63 on the Billboard 200. The group was also informed that its in-store signings and nationwide tour had been canceled, commercials for the album and the music video for "Halls of Illusions" (which had reached #1 on The Box video request channel) were pulled from television, and that the group was dropped from the label. It was later revealed that Disney was being criticized by the Southern Baptist Church at the time because of Disney's promotion of "Gay Days" at Disneyland, in addition to presiding over the gay-themed television sitcom Ellen. The church claimed Disney was turning its back on "family values." Although Abbiss told the press that Disney had stopped production of The Great Milenko to avoid further controversy, Disney claimed instead that the release of the album was an oversight by their review board, and that the album "did not fit the Disney image" because of its "inappropriate" lyrics, which they claimed were offensive to women.
After the termination of the Hollywood Records contract, Insane Clown Posse signed a new contract with Island Records, who agreed to release the uncensored version of The Great Milenko. Entertainment Weekly music critic David Browne gave the record a C-minus rating: "[With] its puerile humor and intentionally ugly metal-rap tunes, the album feels oddly dated." The Great Milenko has been certified platinum with over 1.5 million copies sold. One of the group's first projects with Island Records was an hour-long documentary entitled Shockumentary, which aired on MTV. The station initially refused to play the documentary, but Island Records persuaded them to air it as a personal favor. Shockumentary helped increase album sales from 17,000 to 50,000 copies per week.
The success of the tour enabled Bruce and Utsler to purchase new houses both for each other and for their families. Bruce even told his mother to quit her job because he would pay her expenses.
After a show in Indianapolis, Insane Clown Posse's tour bus stopped at a Waffle House in Greenfield, Indiana. When a customer began to harass Spaniolo and Bruce, a fight broke out between the customer and all of the bands' members. Months later on June 4, 1998, Bruce and Utsler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges (reduced from battery) in an Indiana court and were fined US$200 each. Members of Twiztid, Myzery, and Psycho Realm were charged with battery. The group's tour was briefly derailed in January 1998, when their tour bus drifted off a highway and down an embankment, leaving Frank Moreno of Psycho Realm with a concussion. As a result of the accident, Insane Clown Posse postponed two shows scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio, on January 22 and January 23, but honored their promise to perform on January 25 and January 26.
To help increase their positive publicity, the group hired the Nasty Little Man publicity team. The team set up a photo shoot for Insane Clown Posse that was to appear on the cover of Alternative Press magazine in Cleveland. On the set of the photo shoot, a member of the publicity team approached Bruce and explained that in the song "Fuck the World", the lyric that stated "Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama" needed to be changed. Insulted, Bruce exclaimed that his music would not be censored again—referring to Disney's previous requirement of censure. Nasty Little Man told Bruce that the Beastie Boys were not only clients of the company but also personal friends, and the Beastie Boys told the company to make Bruce change the lyric. In response, Bruce fired Nasty Little Man and asked its team to leave the photo shoot.
The Amazing Jeckel Brothers was released on May 25, 1999, and reached #4 on the Billboard album charts, and has since been certified platinum by the RIAA. Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave the album a "four out of five stars" rating, stating that "[Insane Clown Posse] actually delivered an album that comes close to fulfilling whatever promise their ridiculous, carnivalesque blend of hardcore hip-hop and shock-metal had in the first place". Rolling Stone writer Barry Walters gave the album a "two out of five stars" rating, writing that "no musical sleight of hand can disguise the fact that Shaggy and J remain the ultimate wack MCs." At the same time as The Amazing Jeckel Brothers' release, Island Records merged with Def Jam Records. It quickly became apparent to Bruce and Utsler that Def Jam Records had no interest in them. Eminem, who had begun to gain mainstream success, insulted Insane Clown Posse in interviews, tours, and the song "Till Hell Freezes Over."
Before the show went on air, Osbourne bet Bruce and Utsler US$50,000 that Insane Clown Posse's next album would not even sell 200,000 copies—a bet that Bruce accepted. On air Osbourne informed Bruce and Utsler that Coal Chamber filed a lawsuit for breach of contract. Osbourne stated that her group was to receive US$12,500 per show for a scheduled two-month package tour. Bruce reiterated that Coal Chamber's music did not appeal to Insane Clown Posse fans, and that ticket refunds decreased after Coal Chamber had been removed from the tour. Osbourne then made public the bet with Bruce about Insane Clown Posse's next album, also stating that the duo would be subsequently dropped from their distributor. In Osbourne's words, "You're dead. Your career is over." Bruce predicted that the group's next album would sell at least 500,000 copies; however, the bet officially stood at 200,000 copies as agreed by both Bruce and Osbourne backstage.
After the Gathering of the Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse set out to release its sixth and seventh studio albums—Bizzar and Bizaar—as a double album. While recording the albums, the duo had a fallout with long-time producer Mike E. Clark. Bizzar and Bizaar were the last complete albums Clark would produce with Insane Clown Posse until his return in 2007. Bruce and Utsler flew to Denver, Colorado to add the finishing touches to the albums. Bizzar and Bizaar were released on October 31 2000, peaking at #20 and #21, respectively, on the Billboard 200. In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Ben Sisario wrote that the albums "qualify as ICP's masterworks of both merchandising and music." Both albums were given a "three out of five stars" rating. The combined sales were around 400,000 copies, exceeding the bet placed previously with Sharon Osbourne; Osbourne did not come through with payment for having lost the bet.
Two music videos were released from the albums: "Tilt-a-Whirl," from Bizaar, and "Let's Go All The Way," from Bizzar. MTV agreed to play "Let's Go All The Way" on their network. Bruce and Utsler decided to bombard Total Request Live (TRL) with requests for the video. While on their "Bizzar Bizaar Tour," Insane Clown Posse posted on its website that December 8 was the day for their fans request the video. Bruce and Utsler named that day "The Mighty Day of Lienda," meaning "The Mighty Day of All or Nothing." On December 8, Rudy Hill, Robert Bruce, Tom Dub, and six other Psychopathic Records employees and friends drove down to New York City. They were met by nearly 400 Insane Clown Posse fans standing outside in front of the TRL studio window, all with signs supporting the duo. Thirty minutes before the show began, Viacom security guards and New York City police officers were dispatched to remove all the fans from the sidewalk. When some fans, including Robert Bruce, refused to move because it was a public street and no other individuals were asked to move, they were assaulted. All telephone requests for the video to be played were ignored, and Insane Clown Posse was never mentioned during the show. MTV later informed Island Records that the heads of the network must choose the band first before it can become eligible to be featured on TRL. The group's contract with Island Records was subsequently terminated. Bruce and Utsler later signed a new contract with Sony BMG's RED Distribution to distribute every release on Psychopathic Records, which would remain independently funded, produced, and recorded. Insane Clown Posse had their own studio built, called "The Lotus Pod."
The second Gathering of the Juggalos was held from July 13–July 15 at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio. The event featured the same activities as the first Gathering of the Juggalos, as well as guests such as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Vanilla Ice, and Three 6 Mafia. On June 15, 2001, Bruce was arrested in Columbia, Missouri for an outstanding warrant in St. Louis stemming from an incident in February 2001. That incident involved Insane Clown Posse allegedly attacking employees of a St. Louis radio station over disparaging remarks that a disc jockey made on the air. The police used several squad cars to detain Bruce, Utsler, and two associates a few miles from a venue where the group had completed a concert. Bruce was transferred to St. Louis the following day and released on bail without charge on June 18. On July 18, 2000, Big Money Hustlas was released direct-to-video.
The Wraith: Shangri-La debuted at #15 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums. In September 2003, Insane Clown Posse was voted the worst band of any musical genre in Blender, with The Wraith: Shangri-La named as the group's worst album. The magazine also gave the album a positive review for its "charming, good-natured idiocy.
Insane Clown Posse went on the 75-date "Shangri-La World Tour", where they performed across the United States, Australia, and Europe. Bruce and Utsler also launched the Psychopathic Europe record label.
On February 1, 2006, Insane Clown Posse fan Jacob D. Robida attacked individuals in a gay bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts with a handgun and a hatchet—a weapon featured in the logo of the group's record label, Psychopathic Records. Robida had a swastika tattoo and flaunted Nazi insignias and paraphernalia on his website. On February 5, Robida shot and killed a traffic officer during a routine stop. When police pulled Robida over during a later stop, he killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Bailey of Charleston, West Virginia, then opened fire on the police. Robida was shot twice in the head during the shootout with the police, and later died in the hospital. On February 7, Insane Clown Posse released a statement on the Robida attacks. The group's manager Alex Abbiss extended Bruce and Utsler's condolences and prayers to the families of the victims, stating that "It's quite obvious that this guy had no clue what being a Juggalo is all about. If anyone knows anything at all about ICP, then you know that they have never, ever been down or will be down with any racist or bigotry bullshit.
On March 20, 2007, Insane Clown Posse released their tenth studio album, The Tempest, which debuted at #20 on the Billboard 200 and sold nearly 33,000 copies in its first week. In 2008, Bruce and Utsler starred in the film Death Racers. It was released direct-to-video on September 16, 2008 by The Asylum.
Insane Clown Posse has covered songs by Geto Boys, Sly Fox, and Above the Law. Bruce and Utsler refer to the acid rap style of Esham as an influence on their own music, while Bruce has expressed admiration for Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson. Kimberly Chun of the San Francisco Chronicle described Insane Clown Posse's musical style as a mixture of "dub, goth, metal, shock rock and hip-hop, with a WWF announcer's delivery and shuffling stoner beats thrown in for good measure. Mike E. Clark's production for the group incorporates elements such as "carnival organ riffs, power chords and shotgun blasts [...] banjolike plucking and Van Halen-esque guitar squeals," while Bruce and Utsler sometimes alternate between rapping and screaming. In his review of The Tempest, Allmusic's David Jeffries writes that Bruce and Utsler "[rap] in a carnival barker fashion that fits with their circus motif, their Insane Clown disguises, and Mike E. Clark's big top-inspired production. Insane Clown Posse has influenced similar acts, such as Blaze Ya Dead Homie and Boondox.
Insane Clown Posse is known for their elaborate concert performances. In Marley Brant's Tales from the Rock 'n' Roll Highway, Bruce described a typical performance: "We toss out, kick out, and shoot out into the crowd about three to four hundred two-liters of Faygo soda at every show. [...] We bring with us monsters, dancing clowns, girls, trampolines, and pure and absolute madness to the stage." Performances feature backdrops including, among other settings, a game show set and a cemetery. Bruce stated, "Shaggy and I know that without all that crazy shit going on around us, we'd just be two more idiots walking back and forth, rapping on stage. [...] ICP's motto has always been 'Fuck keepin' it real: we just keep it entertaining.'"
On tour following the release of Carnival of Carnage, Insane Clown Posse was scheduled to perform at Big Rapids University in Michigan. After the group was announced by their manager, Alex Abbiss, Bruce remembers that "[w]e came out with no microphones or nothing; we were just right up in the people's faces. Shaggy and I were just fuckin' yelling over our own cassette. The people were staring at us in amazement and bewilderment. They must have been in shock and awe. We finished our two-song set, and the crowd [...] didn't cheer or boo. They just stood there, stunned."
The group was unable to bring the large amounts of Faygo needed for their concerts to their European tours without a sales permit visa because customs believed that the group had intended to sell the soda at their concerts. As a result, the group's European record label purchased similar quantities of another soda and creating fake Faygo stickers to label the bottles. According to Bruce, "The craziness was this: they were not the regular two-liter bottles we're used to; they were some other amount [...] maybe one-and-a-half-liter bottles. Over there, they make their plastic bottles taller and thinner. [...] when you're doing what we do with them—that makes a world of difference." During a performance in England, Bruce recounts that he "rocketed one of them bottles off my foot and that motherfucker shot straight up and out like a guided Patriot missile, right towards the disco ball high above the crowd. [...] The bottle nailed the disco ball, and [...] came falling down [...] on top of some English kid's head. [...] We must've knocked fifteen or twenty people flat-out cold on that tour [...] Shaggy and I both had black eyes and several injuries and bruises ourselves from them things hittin' us."
Bruce and Utsler did not expect many of their fans to attend Woodstock 1999, and were surprised when thousands of people chanted "I-C-P! I-C-P!" as they waited for the group to perform. Bruce told his stage crew that he would pay US$2,000 to each person who ran around the stage naked, and two people took up his offer. Insane Clown Posse also brought naked women on stage. Bruce and Utsler felt that because the tickets to the event were over-priced, they needed to "give something back." According to Bruce, "We brought along these big beach balls. We announced to the crowd that they each had a hundred dollars taped to them, and then we proceeded to kick about thirty of them into the crowd. Then we rolled out these bigger giant-ass beach balls and announced, 'These ones have five hundred bucks taped to them!' We booted a gang of them into the human sea." Bruce also recounts that their set had multiple technical problems, and the audience was not allowed to get close to the stage, which made the duo feel less connected with them.
Insane Clown Posse was put in a feud with The Headbangers. In the first wrestling match, The Headbangers were stiff, throwing real punches and kicks. In the rematch, a move was planned where The Headbangers would be flipped over by Bruce and Utsler. When the time came to flip over, however, The Headbangers refused to move, forcing Insane Clown Posse to genuinely flip them over and begin throwing punches. Realizing that the match was getting too heated, McMahon ended the feud after that match. Bruce and Utsler were put into other matches along with The Oddities. Vince Russo told Bruce and Utsler to "make it seem like you don't know anything about wrestling, and you guys keep choking and digging into their eyes." During this time, Bruce and Utsler had no contract with WWF. They, however, did have an agreement that the WWF would occasionally play Insane Clown Posse commercials, and in return, Bruce and Utsler would wrestle for free. Bruce and Utsler knew that airtime cost significantly more than any monetary compensation they would receive and were thus satisfied with the agreement. Bruce and Utsler were told they were to suddenly turn on The Oddities in their match against The Headbangers, then join them in beating up the group. They were also informed that their commercial would air the very next week, which had still not aired after three months of being involved with the WWF. The next week Insane Clown Posse and The Headbangers had a match with Steve Austin. Backstage, Austin made it clear to Bruce and Thrasher that Thrasher would receive the first Stone Cold Stunner, after which Bruce would turn around and receive the second. During the match, Austin gave Bruce the Stunner first, catching him off guard, thus having Bruce sell the move awkwardly. Although disappointed over the events during the match, Bruce and Utsler continued in hopes that McMahon would air the commercial as promised. Bruce and Utsler contacted Abbiss to inquire about the commercial and were informed that it was not aired. Given that McMahon failed to uphold his promise to air Insane Clown Posse's commercial, Abbiss recommended that Bruce and Utsler terminate their agreement with the WWF.
On August 9, 1999, Insane Clown Posse made their WCW debut on Monday Nitro in a six-man tag team match. Insane Clown Posse and Vampiro defeated Lash LeRoux, Norman Smiley, and Prince Iaukea. At Road Wild 1999, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Billy Kidman, and Eddie Guerrero defeated Vampiro and Insane Clown Posse. Insane Clown Posse continued to wrestle on Monday Nitro, defeating Public Enemy one week, and losing to Konnan and Rey Mysterio, Jr. another. At Fall Brawl 1999, the tag team of Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Billy Kidman again defeated Vampiro and Insane Clown Posse. On September 13, Insane Clown Posse defeated Lenny Lane and Lodi. Shaggy 2 Dope then went on a solo run for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship.
On the August 23, 2000 episode of WCW Thunder, Great Muta, Vampiro, and Insane Clown Posse beat Tank Abbott and 3 Count. Five days later, on Monday Nitro, Insane Clown Posse and Vampiro defeated 3 Count, and the following week, Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Juventud Guerrera beat Insane Clown Posse. On September 25, Mike Awesome defeated Insane Clown Posse in a Handicap Hardcore match.
The duo continued to wrestle for JCW, which could only be seen at live events until the 2007 start of JCW SlamTV!.
On February 4, Insane Clown Posse defeated Glen Gilbertti and David Young. Later that night, Scott Hudson interviewed Insane Clown Posse, and the duo announced that they would face whoever Jeff Jarrett threw at them next in a "Juggalo Street Fight". Insane Clown Posse won against the team of Glen Gilbertti and Kid Kash on February 18. Two weeks later, Insane Clown Posse announced that they would take part in a "Dark Carnival Match" the next week against Glen Gilbertti and any partner he chooses. The following week, Insane Clown Posse and 2 Tuff Tony took on Glen Gilbertti, Kid Kash, and David Young. "The Alpha Male" Monty Brown made his TNA return, and cost Insane Clown Posse and 2 Tuff Tony the match. During their stint in TNA, Insane Clown Posse brought the company it's largest paying crowds in history. After the duo left, they remained close with the company.
On October 6, 2007, an unaired event entitled Evansville Invasion took place in Evansville, Indiana. The event marked the debut of the Juggalo World Order (JWO), consisting of Scott Hall, Violent J, and Corporal Robinson. On October 31, Shaggy 2 Dope was introduced as a member of the group. After the main event of the night, special guest referee Nosawa ripped off his referee shirt to reveal that he was the newest member of the JWO.