Joseph Bruce (Violent J) and Joseph Utsler (Shaggy 2 Dope) met in Oak Park, a suburb on the North border of Detroit, Michigan. Along with Utsler's brother, John, and friend, Lacy, they wrestled in backyard rings that they had built themselves.
In 1989, Joseph Bruce, as Jagged Joe, Joseph Utsler, as Kangol Joe, and John Utsler, as Master J, released the single titled "Party at the Top of the Hill" under the name of JJ Boys, but the group did not pursue a serious career in music. Poverty and a difficult home life drove Bruce to move in with Rudy "The Rude Boy" Hill in River Rouge, a city near the industrial southwest side of Detroit.
Feeling a sense of home and belonging, Bruce formed a gang called Inner City Posse, which was composed 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 emcees 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.[
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