Still the best TV moment ever (Photo by Nina Lalli)
Three 6 Mafia, my favorite rap group, has been churning out dark, gothic bangers for well over a decade now. For most of that time, they’ve been primarily a local phenomenon; they’ve run the Memphis scene, and they’ve made enough money off Southern rap to drive Phantoms, but the mainstream media wasn’t giving them the time of day. In the past year, things have become considerably bigger and weirder. My favorite one of the group’s albums was 2003’s Da Unbreakables, where the once-sprawling collective winnowed its membership down to four guys (DJ Paul, Juicy J, Crunchy Black, and Lord Infamous), all of whom understood the slow-and-hard impact of their florid stomp perfectly. But last fall, Lord Infamous was missing from their newest album, Most Known Unknowns, and it’s still not entirely clear why. Still, the group had its biggest hit yet with “Stay Fly.” Just before the album’s release, Project Pat, Juicy J’s older brother and the greatest of the solo rappers affiliated with the group, was released from prison after serving a four-year prison sentence for firearm possession. The group also had one of pop music’s all-time Cinderella stories when they unexpectedly won an Oscar for a song they’d written and produced for Hustle & Flow; they performed it at the ceremony and gave the best acceptance speech ever. But when the group was in town to perform at Summer Jam a couple of months back, they announced that Crunchy Black had left the group for whatever reason, leaving Paul and Juicy, the group’s frontmen and producers, as its only members. But their diminished numbers haven’t stopped Paul and Juicy from working. Since winning the Oscar, they’ve been enjoying their newfound media profiles, showing up on damn near every show on TV and working with unlikely collaborators like Paris Hilton and Justin Timberlake. Project Pat has a new album coming in October, and he’s also apparently written a book, which will come our around the same time. And all three of them talked to me on the phone earlier this afternoon. It’s a bit of a chaotic interview. People rarely get introspective on phone interviews, and it’s not helped by me being all nervous to be talking to these guys and everyone else yelling to each other in the background. So don’t expect the guys to explore their feelings of the Israel-Lebanon conflict or anything here; it’s more of a check-in.
My first question is for Paul and Juicy. Is Three 6 Mafia just the two of you now?
So Lord Infamous still isn’t part of the group?
Paul: Lord Infamous, he’s going through some stuff. We haven’t kicked Lord Infamous out of the group or anything like that. He didn’t leave the group, but he’s going through some personal issues right now.
What about Crunchy Black? He’s left the group, right?
Do you guys have any idea why he did that?
Juicy: No, we still really don’t know why he did that. Crunchy just left. The only thing we’ve heard is in interviews he said he wanted to do his own thing, so we wish him the best of luck in whatever he do.
So he left? He wasn’t kicked out?
Juicy: No, he left on his own.
Infamous and Crunchy, do they have an open-door policy if they were to want to return to the group?
Juicy: You never know what might could happen, man. You never know what the future holds. My door has always been open to people that left the group and tried to get back and are still trying to get back.
There’s been a lot of former members who you don’t have such a good relationship with.
Juicy: I would say that, on my end, I’m cool. Whatever somebody wants to do with their career, I give my blessing. I really don’t have no problem with it. I’m mainly trying to focus on what we doing, so I really don’t have no problem with anybody that’s been in the group, left the group, trying to get back in the group or want to be back in the group. I wish them all the best of luck.
You just signed this big production deal with Warner Brothers. What does that mean, exactly? Is it a label deal for Hypnotize Minds?
Paul: Yeah, it’s a label deal for us to bring out some artists that we have other than the ones that are signed to Sony, other than Project Pat and Three 6 Mafia. Other artists that we have like Lil Wyte, Frayser Boy, and Chrome, and other artists that we will sign or are in the process of signing, they can be distributed through Warner Brothers.
So these guys have been called up to the majors?
Juicy: Well, the idea is that we got a major distribution deal. They staying under our wing; we taking them through our independent label. We’re going through a major distributor, and we going to put them out major.
So you’re still running the label completely?
Juicy: Yup, me and Paul.
You guys have started to do an outside production now. But I wanted to ask you about the Paris Hilton thing and the Justin Timberlake thing. You guys have always had the reputation for being the hardest, fiercest group in the South. Are you worried about this changing that reputation?
Paul: No, it ain’t changing anything. We can do everything. We can do pop, we can do rock, we can do gangsta rap, all kinds of stuff. We ain’t never going to do one solid thing. But Three 6 Mafia, our albums will always sound the same. We ain’t going to turn into a pop or a rock group or nothing. We just producing other things on the side, but we got the talent to do that. We want to expand our production and let people know that. But you don’t have to worry about Three 6 Mafia or any Hypnotize Minds artist that you heard so far changing they style to anything different than you already heard.
Pat, you’ve said you’re working on a book that’s going to come out the same time as the album.
Pat: Well, no, it’s not going to come out the same time as the album, but we think it’ll come out around the time. I’m really finished with it; I’m just getting it all together.
Are you working on the book by yourself?
Pat: I did everything myself.
So no ghostwriters?
Pat: No. I’ll probably get it edited right, but that’s about it. The book’s finished.
Is it about the time you spent in prison, then?
Pat: It’s not a biography even though it’s got some stuff about my life. It’s just about the time when I was locked up in jail.
So it’s a memoir, then?
Pat: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I just want to put people up on what’s going on in the feds and my point of view on it, what I seen, and stuff like that.
You were in prison while Three 6 Mafia was having some of its greatest success ever. Has it been weird coming out and seeing things different?
Pat: It’s not weird, but I mean I’m glad. I’m happy for it. It’s been good; it’s been blessed. I got out and they won an Oscar; that was major.
Were you able to go to LA for the Oscars?
Pat: I was in LA, but I was recording the album; I was working. I kicked it with them afterwards, but I wasn’t sitting in the audience with them. I saw it on TV.
The new album you got coming out, is it going to be all Paul and Juicy beats again.
Pat: Of course.
How do you think music has changed since you’ve been away?
Pat: As far as the rap game, I noticed that the hooks are shorter and straight to the point. I like that. And I see that people from the South are breaking in on things, and that’s real good. Other than that, though, it’s basically the same; you just got to pick the right hook and give the people what they want. It’s on fire for the South, though; I know that.
I heard the track you did with Young Jeezy on it. Are you working with anyone else from outside the camp?
Pat: I did a song with Pimp C and Beanie Sigel, but the only thing about it, we just trying to figure out whether the record companies are going to clear it. But I did a few other things with some other folks.
There was a song that leaked to the internet a little while ago that you did with the Roots a few years back. How did that come about?
Pat: Yeah, I remember that song. They came down and they wanted me to get on something. That song real old, too. I jumped on it with them, and it bumped. I want to work with them again; I like the Roots.
It was cool to hear. For the longest time, it seemed like outside Three 6 Mafia a lot of the rest of the rap world seemed to underrate you. You haven’t worked with a lot of the big artists out, and you haven’t been in the guest-appearance carousel. Is that changing for you now?
Pat: Oh yeah. I did a song for Jeezy’s album, I did a song on Lyfe Jennings’ new album, I did a song with 8Ball, a few other folks. It starting to come up, especially as far as guest appearances.
I wanted to ask Paul and Juicy about the Oscar. I talked to Juicy a few days after you won the Oscar, and you were saying how all these opportunities have started to open for you. What’s it been like since then?
Paul: Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff. We’ve been doing a lot of TV show appearances and a lot of music for movies and things like that. We got a rock song that we produced and rapped on on the Jackass 2 movie, with Johnny Knoxville and all them, and we got a small appearance in the movie. We got two songs that are most likely going to be in Rocky 6, the new Rocky. And we been doing TV show appearances. We did The Girls Next Door at the Playboy Mansion. We did The Simple Life with Paris Hilton. We did Entourage. We did a show called Studio 60: Live on the Sunset Strip. A lot more movie stuff and a lot of production for different people. Outside the Warner Brothers distribution deal, we signed a lot of song deals with different labels. We did a song deal with Warner Brothers and Sony Records to produce a bunch of artists on their label that ain’t signed to us. We’ve been doing all kind of stuff.
What are you doing in the Jackass 2 movie? Are you involved with one of the stunts?
Paul: I ain’t doing no stunt. We just playing tricks on the Jackass guys. I can’t tell what we doing, but we playing tricks, some funny stuff. But no, I ain’t doing nothing dangerous on my part.
All the film and TV stuff, do you think that’s a direct result of the Oscar?
Paul: Some of it is. Some of it ain’t. I’ve been cool with the whole Jackass crew for the longest. I was actually on Wildboyz. We already had a relationship. But a lot of stuff came through after the Oscars.
There were stories coming out after you won the Oscar that you were taking the statue to clubs.
Juicy: Yeah, I took it to a few spots. Had to bring it to the hood, let them see it.
What’s the reaction been back in Memphis since you won it?
Juicy: Aw man, we got the Key to the City. We got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in Memphis. We got a music note in concrete downtown on Beale Street.
So you’ve all been really busy lately. But this has been the first six months I can remember without a Hypnotize Camp album coming out. Is there going to be a Three 6 Mafia album after the Project Pat one?
Paul: Yep, directly after that. We got Pat on that one doing some stuff, too.
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