You haters shaking like booties up in the strip club / He’ll cut your head off like Al Qaeda in this bitch, WHAT!
This little news-bite got lost in all the P&J noise yesterday, but something pretty incredible happened on Monday afternoon when the Three 6 Mafia, my favorite rap group, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category. The group wrote and produced “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” one of the songs that Terrence Howard’s character records in Hustle & Flow. From the Allhiphop.com news story:
“We [are] just happy as hell,” DJ Paul told Allhiphop.com. “We knew they said it might be nominated, but we didn’t think it would be. It’s good to find out it’s true.”
To put all this in perspective, a year ago it would’ve been virtually impossible to imagine Three 6 even getting nominated for a Grammy. They have more than ten years of regional hits behind them, and their slow-churning horror-movie production is unquestionably a huge influence on more famous guys like Lil Jon. But they’ve only occasionally crossed over enough to have a minor national hit: “Sippin’ on Some Syrup” in 2000 and “Stay Fly” last year (#10 on P&J!) are the closest they’ve come to fame outside the South. The fact that they were even involved with Hustle & Flow is pretty incredible; the filmmakers were making a movie about crunk and everything, but they went with the grizzly paleolithic Memphis style instead of the more commercial, amped-up Atlanta strain. And now we’re going to see the guys who made the truly unwatchable straight-to-DVD crime howler Choices II: The Set-Up walk up the red carpet, possibly in tuxes, next to Harrison Ford or someone. Needless to say, this made my afternoon.
There’s precedent, I guess. Eminem actually won a Best Original Song Oscar for “Lose Yourself,” and you can find parallels if you look for them. Both “Lose Yourself” and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” are heavy, guttural, emotional rap songs with sweeping, cinematic live instrumentation and hard-won triumph-through-struggle snarls. Both songs were written and produced by guys famous for making violent music. But Eminem was probably America’s biggest pop star when he was nominated; Three 6 are anything but. Also, Eminem can rap; Terrence Howard can’t. But if the Three 6 guys get to perform the song or at least act as hypemen for Terrence Howard on the Oscar telecast (please God), it’ll make for the most euphorically weird Oscar moment since Elliott Smith stood next to Celine Dion. If they actually win, it’ll be a bigger upset than Isaac Hayes winning for “Theme From Shaft” in 1971. (And in what can only be a sign from above, Isaac Hayes, along with DJ Paul and Juicy J, acted in Hustle & Flow.)
What’s more, Three 6 actually has a decent chance of winning this thing. Only three songs were nominated this year: “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” Bird York’s “In the Deep” (from Crash), and Dolly Parton’s “Travelin’ Thru” (from Transamerica). All of these would’ve been longshots to win in any other year, but with no histrionic Diane Warren ballads in contention, the field is wide open. “In the Deep” is a pretty-enough slice of wispy, understated singer-songwriter fluff, all subtle string washes and glistening guitar-shivers, restrained vocals buried in the mix. I’m not mad at it. “Travelin’ Thru” is a sparkling little country jam with gorgeous weeping fiddles and rippling congas and a typically perfect Parton vocal. I actively like it. If either of these songs wins, it won’t exactly be reason to kick in your TV screen. But if Three 6 wins, they’ll instantly become one of the greatest American-dream stories in music. Someone should make a movie about it.