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Three 6 Mafia: A Post-Oscar Progress Report

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Once upon a time, this title was actually sort of true

Let me make something clear. The Three 6 Mafia’s ridiculous, unexpected Oscar win earlier this month is still maybe the most inexplicable, euphoric pop music story of the decade thus far, an underdog triumph in its purest form. These dudes had been skulking around pop music’s margins for a decade, forging their own unmistakable aesthetic in their own little cultural bubble, getting late-night BET play and Ludacris production jobs every once in a while, doing fine (like driving-a-Phantom fine) but never able to break the regional-star ceiling. A couple of years ago, they saw that aesthetic pillaged and dumbed down and turned into global pop music by one Lil Jon (who, to be fair, has pillaged plenty of sources and made a lot of great music), and still nothing changed for them; they kept bringing up new proteges and feuding with old ones and cranking out truly shitty straight-to-video movies. Hustle & Flow may have been the dying gasp of the whole crunk wave (before the movie dropped, there were big paste-up posters everywhere that screamed GET CRUNK about six months after everyone got sick of looking at that word), and they managed to slip through the door with this movie, somehow riding it to the motherfucking Academy Awards and walking away with statues in their hands. Shortly after the ceremony, reports started circulating of DJ Paul and Juicy J using their statues to get into nightclubs in LA (like, actually taking the statues out of their bags and showing them to bouncers), of Frayser Boy falling asleep on a plane with the award still clutched between his fingers. I’m getting amped-up just typing this; it’s still an amazing thing. But. Then there’s this. And this is not a good look.

The Oscar should be opening doors for Paul and Juicy; they should be getting to do things that never would’ve been possible for them. They could be sitting courtside with Jay-Z at Nets games. They could be contributing bangers to the T.I. album, where they would’ve fit beautifully. They could be inviting Gangsta Boo and La Chat and all the other ex-Mafia people back to the fold, burying silly beefs in the blinding light of this unexpected success. They could be scoring movies like the RZA. They could be co-headlining Coachella with Tool. They could be strutting around like motherfucking stars, which is what they are, especially now that the rest of the world finally has some inkling of who they are. Instead, they’re playing video games on MTV2 and yelling “Charlie Murphy!,” and we’re hearing rumors of a Juicy J reality show (I’ll watch it, but fuck that). They’re constantly doing pointless interviews like this one. And then, again, there’s this; the greatest underground rap producers in the South working for this pathetic excuse for a celebrity, a walking symbol for everything lame in the world. Does anyone even like or admire or even tolerate her? I mean, she’s famous just because people think she’s an idiot and hate her, right? Juicy J: “It will be a blast working with Paris Hilton. I mean, it is Paris Hilton.” What the fuck is that?

But there’s also the new remix to “Poppin’ My Collar,” which features DMX and which I think is the first actual post-Oscar music we’ve heard from the group. Other than maybe Ludacris, DMX is the biggest star that the group has ever worked with, and this is the first time an East Coast heavyweight (even a past-his-prime, certifiably crazy one) has jumped on one of their tracks (mixtape freestyles don’t count). DMX makes a perfect fit for the group; with his short-fuse beat-you-up snarl and his fondness for dark and stormy almost-metal bangers, he should’ve hooked up with them years ago (plus there’s the easy pun; dogs wear collars hurr hurr). And the track is a monster, replacing the sad-tired Willie Hutch horns-and-strings sweep of the original with terse, urgent horn stabs and Pac-Man-dying synth gurgles and bear-trap drums; it’s harsher and less forgiving than virtually anything on Most Known Unknowns. Project Pat’s freaky, playfully menacing squeaky-voiced verse sounds much better here than it did in the video version of the song. It’s hard to tell what DMX is saying in the edited-for-radio version of the remix, but he’s heated as fuck. “I eat life and shit death”; what could that even possibly mean? If they can keep doing high-profile busted-lip shit like this, the group’s newfound fame will be a great thing. But they really, really need to leave Paris Hilton alone.

Voice review: Kelefa Sanneh on Three 6 Mafia

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