Hip-hop is no stranger to unfair stigmas.
The genre has been criticized for its seemingly vulgar lyrics gloating about misogyny, violence and sex. Some pundits have claimed sampling is flat out stealing. And some even argue hip-hop isn’t even “real” music.
But condemnation is a two-way street. As much as fans defend the genre, there are just as many people who are quick to judge less traditional hip-hop artists like the horrorcore rap group Insane Clown Posse. Fans of the band, known as juggalos, have created their own kind of subculture, which has also seen its fair share of scrutiny.
These aforementioned stigmas not only affect mainstream artists, they can affect local acts as well. Michael Carlton and Rich Leavitt, both of Sioux City, are both juggalos. They also go by the names “HeKillz” (pronounced “heckles”) and “PeraSyte” performing as the hip-hop duo Infl1kt3d, a group with an unconventional style of rap.
“Back then we were pretty much all blood and murder -- cut-your-head-off-and-play-kickball-with-it kind of thing,” said Leavitt of Infl1kt3d’s earlier years. “But it’s evolved for sure.”
The group has been performing around Siouxland for the past 10 years, although it’s been awhile since the two performed a show. Preconceived notions about the band may have stunted its growth and exposure.
“I think that’s one thing that kind of holds us back – we’re juggalos and we’re rappers, but we’re not juggalo rappers,” said Leavitt. “There are a lot of juggalo rappers that talk about drinking Faygo, axes and carnivals. We talk about axes but that’s about it.”
But Carlton and Leavitt are adamant that Infl1kt3d has changed a lot since it was first formed and purely emulated Insane Clown Posse.
“We grew as people and we grew as artists,” said Carlton. “Now we have different problems [to write about]. A lot of our older sh** just sucked. As juggalos, we didn’t want to come out and be a carbon copy of ICP or anything like that.”
He added that a lot of artists were hesitant to work with Infl1kt3d because of the duo’s penchant for Insane Clown Posse music. Carlton credits local emcee and DJ Jason “Eboli” Reinert, currently of the rap hip-hop duo DAD, for giving the group its first break in the local scene.
Infl1kt3d is currently working with the Northern Iowa-based independent record label Diamond District Entertianment and has been dormant for nearly half a year, biding its time. In addition to the band's upcoming album, Carlton has also been writing for a solo project.
Despite the alterations Carlton and Leavitt have made in the group, one thing that hasn’t changed is their energy. The two artists delve into vibrant horrorcore lyrics and feed off each other’s performances, as well as the audience’s involvement.
“Sometimes it’s exhausting,” said Leavitt. “We’ll go a 20-minute set and it feels like I’ve been running for an hour-and-a-half. We go song after song after song after song. We don’t stop.”
Carlton added, “There are a lot of great lyricists around here and we’ve worked with a lot of them. One thing they’ve all said about us is that our energy- they’ve never seen anybody do that like we do.”
And while Infl1kt3d loves to feed off the audience's energy, the duo's performance will not falter even in smaller crowds.
"Whether it's 10 people or 500 people, we're always going to play like it's a huge stadium," said Carlton. "It's about bringing that energy."