They have a string of gold and platinum singles and albums. They were the first rap group to win an Oscar and to perform at the prestigious Academy Awards ceremony. They had their own hit MTV reality TV show. But for Three 6 Mafia, it has always been about the music.
So it’s fitting that the Memphis rap powerhouse’s fifth major-label release, the astonishing The Last 2 Walk, extends its flawless track record and demonstrates that the group remains among rap’s premier outfits. Three 6 Mafia masterminds Juicy J and DJ Paul drench the high-octane collection with the type of bone-crushing lyricism and searing, addictive production that have become hallmarks of their material for the last decade-plus.
After experiencing a number of line-up changes through the years, the group is finally pared down to only its essential members. “We’re the last two dudes to walk, DJ Paul and Juicy J,” Juicy J explains, hence the album title. “We’ve been putting it down since day one. In this business, you’ve got to be focused and a lot of people aren’t focused. A lot of rappers come and go, because it isn’t easy. I understand what all artists go through, and that’s the main thing that keeps us going -- the grind and staying focused.”
Produced primarily by Juicy J and DJ Paul, The Last 2 Walk contains the type of mesmerizing soundscapes that have made them in-demand producers for such platinum acts as Ludacris, Chingy and Young Buck, as well as their own artists Project Pat and Lil Wyte.
Lead single “I’d Rather” kicks the campaign off with a sexually-charged vibe as Juicy J and DJ Paul flow over raucous drums and frantic keyboards about their sexual desires. “You’ve got spring break and summertime coming up,” DJ Paul says. “Spring break is a highly sexual time of year. It’s a good song to be played at the spring break and into the summer because it’s something everybody can relate to, except virgins -- and even then, they’re curious.”
Three 6 Mafia keeps the focus on the ladies with a high-powered “Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body).” This fast-paced future club anthem features Project Pat and Hypnotize Minds’ new artist Yung D. The song’s aim: to get women dancing. “On Three 6 Mafia albums, we always try to put at least one song on there for the girls,” DJ Paul says. “It’s something they can dance to and shake their booties to. You want the girls to be happy.”
That is certainly true, but Three 6 Mafia’s earned their stripes and hood status in large part to the “get buck” style of rap that they helped popularize. It’s a crunk-like style of music that hits hard in the clubs and features rowdy chants and frenetic beats that is on full display with The Last 2 Walk songs “Weed Blow Pills,” “Trap Boom” and “Get Ya Robbed.”
The group then gets smooth on “That’s Right,” which features Akon, and “Hood Star,” with Lyfe Jennings. Three 6 Mafia adds a new wrinkle to its music with “My Own Way,” which features rock group Good Charlotte and is dedicated to living life by your own rules.
But some rules come back to haunt you when broken. Knowing this, Three 6 Mafia takes an introspective look at the damned if you do, damned if you don’t life of a small-time criminal on “Corner Man.” “I was talking about how you might be young and you might get yourself into a situation where you stole a car or selling some rocks,” DJ Paul says. “It could follow you for the rest of your life, but if you clean up, it’s still hard to get jobs. It’s hard for people to trust someone when they’re like, ‘Oh, you went to jail for stealing, but you want to work at my grocery store?’”
Regardless of a song’s mood or lyrical direction, Juicy J and DJ Paul know that they’re in each other’s corner. “It’s about teamwork,” Juicy J reveals. “You’ve got to work together. We don’t let egos get involved. We’re both on the same page. We have the same goals, as far as grinding and trying to make good music.”
Truth be told, Three 6 Mafia has been making good music since the mid 1990s. The group’s early underground albums -- 1995’s Mystic Stylez, 1996’s The End -- spawned such Southern hits as “Break Da Law” and “Tear Da Club Up.” Since then, their four major label albums (1997’s Chapter 2: World Domination, 2000’s When The Smoke Clears - Sixty 6, Sixty 1, 2003’s Da Unbreakables, 2005’s Most Known Unknown) have all gone gold or platinum and have included such smash hits as “Sippin’ On Syrup,” “Ridin Spinners,” “Stay Fly” and “Poppin’ My Collar.”
Consistency allows Three 6 Mafia to remain potent. “You’ve got to keep your ear to the streets and you’ve got to be on top of your game,” Juicy J reveals. “Music changes, man. Three 6 Mafia’s been out for over 10 years. Different musicians do different things to get their motivation. We get our inspiration from our hometown, Memphis, the home of blues and rock and roll. It’s a musical city, so we get our ideas from our culture.”
Beyond their own albums, those ideas included releasing the platinum direct-to-video movie Choices in 2001; releasing smash, independent albums from Hypnotize Minds artists Lil Wyte, Frayser Boy and Chrome; and composing their Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” from the acclaimed 2005 film Hustle & Flow.
All of this success led to Adventures In Hollyhood, their Ashton Kutcher-produced reality show that debuted on MTV in 2007. But don’t think the mainstream exposure is going to change Three 6 Mafia’s musical output. They’ve been in the game too long to lose focus on what made them successful. “This is our eighteenth year making music and albums,” DJ Paul says. “We’ve see it all and been through it all. A lot of people can’t say that they’ve been around and are still being successful after 18 years.”