Three 6 Mafia’s Oscar win was one of the most bizarre moments in hip-hop history. It will go down in the annals of history with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s bum rush of the Grammy stage during Shawn Colvin’s song-of-the-year acceptance speech to tell the audience that “Wu-Tang is for the children” and with Karl Rove’s “rapping” and jigging at the White House correspondence dinner. Most would have expected hip-hop’s first Oscar for best original song to have gone to a generic hard-knock-life-esque track by Jay-Z or a “conscious” song with a sped-up soul sample from Kanye West. Instead, the formerly regionally confined Three 6 Mafia inexplicably took the gold in 2006 for “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp,” from the movie Hustle & Flow. No one seemed more shocked than Three 6 Mafia themselves.
Three 6 Mafia may have become a household name that night, but a generation of southerners have grown up with the Memphis, Tennessee group’s menacing production and chant-inducing after-hours anthems. To capitalize on their newfound mainstream success, Three 6 Mafia, the subject of a new reality show on MTV, have relocated to Hollywood in the hopes of cashing in after all of those years toiling away in relative anonymity. Although their Oscar win may only result in a future Trivial Pursuit question, nobody can take away the impact Three 6 Mafia has had on the South’s recent domination of hip-hop. Juicy J and DJ Paul (the two mainstays in the group, which has been around since the early ’90s) give some advice on how to stop a two-way freak from blowing up your phone, talk about their new album, Last 2 Walk (due May 22 on Columbia), and discuss the one post-Oscars offer they refused to get down with.
Memphis has a long history with music, but not with hip-hop. When did you guys first hear hip-hop music? Were there any local artists at the time doing it Memphis?
Juicy J: Nah. Back in the day we used to listen primarily to East Coast records. Back then, that was what was hot. There wasn’t anybody really doing it out in Memphis.
DJ Paul: We also used to listen to a lot of West Coast shit — NWA and also the Ghetto Boys when they dropped.
Juicy J: Beyond some deejays out in Memphis, nobody was really doing it until much later.
As Southern artists doing it since the early ’90s, what do you think changed in hip-hop that moved the music from East Coast to the South?
Juicy J: I just think it is good music. I don’t really think anything has changed. This person gets to do it now and this person gets to do it later. Everybody gets their time to shine. When a New York rapper comes out he does his thing, and when a Southern rapper comes out he does his thing. Everybody gets their time to shine. That’s the way I see it.
It seems to me the new generation of Southern artists look up to you guys, UGK, and Outkast and looks to get you on their albums as a stamp of approval. Why is this? In the East Coast, nobody really looks to get with legends like Big Daddy Kane or Kool G Rap.
Juicy J: Down in the South, pretty much everybody is in one circle. This person lives down the street, this person lives right over there. Especially when you’re hometown is like Atlanta or Houston, a lot of rappers just stick together.
DJ Paul: The one thing about Three 6 Mafia and UGK is they been around so long and still doing good. UGK can come in like five years later with no video or promotion and still turn around and sell platinum. With some of the artist that you mentioned, like Big Daddy Kane, people don’t see them around any more, and some of the older East Coast artists aren’t making records. I think that’s why artists don’t go to them. But you see UGK all the time.
Now that you guys are nationally known, are you ready to take the brunt of criticism from the likes of Bill Cosby and Oprah?
DJ Paul: Man, we don’t pay attention to no negativity. As long as they cut the check, they can talk all they want. As long I keep getting paid, eat good and drink good, I am good.
You guys have worked with Project Pat for a long time and are currently working on a new album. He is another unrated artist that has never got his due. How do you plan on changing that?
Juicy J: How do we get Pat in the limelight? We constantly trying to promote him, put him on a lot of songs. He wrote a lot of songs on the new album. So he’s going to be around; he ain’t going nowhere. We’re coming out with my new album this year, and his new album is coming out. And we’re going to get him at the status that we are at right now. We just gotta keep working at it. It’s a hustle.
Three 6 Mafia’s membership has changed a bunch of times over the years, yet the core members have always stayed together. Why was it able to work between you guys and not the other former members of the group?
DJ Paul: We see eye to eye on everything. We got a lot of the same tastes. We like the same food, same women — sometimes we go with the same women! We pretty much like everything the same.
The club scene in the South is an important place to break records and keep up with your fan base. You had a hit back in the day called “Tear Da Club Up.” I couldn’t imagine what happens when you used to play a song like that in those small Southern clubs.
DJ Paul: “Tear Da Club Up” is what the South loves. That was always a big thing in Memphis. To tear the club up, man. We started out as deejays — before we was rappers we was deejays — so it was our job to cut the club up. But when we became rappers, it was the same mission.
You can tell; you guys have that deejay’s ear for catchy music.
Juicy J: Yeah, man. It’s them very catchy hooks that will get you a hit.
DJ Paul: That’s what Three 6 Mafia is all about: catchy hooks and hardcore beats. We like that shit as hard as we can get it — it’s in between rap and rock. Just crazy crank it up! Move you out yo’ seat.
Your track “Two-Way Freak” for me was ahead of its time. Now everybody uses text messages. How do you stop these freaks from abusing the phone?
Juicy J: Man, to get rid of a two-way freak, change yo’ number!
DJ Paul: Don’t ever text her back; just stop showing her attention, don’t text her “stop callin’ me, bitch” or “leave me da fuck alone!” Don’t do none of that. Jus stop responding, period. It might take a month, but she will eventually stop callin’ you.
Obviously things have changed drastically, but you have been doing your thing independently for a long time. How do you plan to keep your name bubbling in the mainstream?
DJ Paul: We have always handled our business on our own. Right now the business is just mo’ business that got to be handled. That ain’t no problem for us; we got a team and staff. We been doing this for years now, so it ain’t no problem.
You guys must have been offered a lot of different projects. Was there anything in particular that you refused to work on?
Juicy J: The only thing we turned down was some porn.
DJ Paul: That’s the only thing we have turned down so far. Would you do porn?
I can’t see myself doing porn, so probably not. I guess for the most part the offers have been up your alley?
Juicy J: Yeah, if they talking about the right money. We have turned down a bunch of shit where they weren’t talking the right money.
DJ Paul: Other than the porn shit, we turned plenty of shit that didn’t have the money right.
Juicy J: You got to have your money right!
You have the new show on MTV. During your time out in L.A. and away from Memphis, what did you miss the most?
DJ Paul: Food and family.
Juicy J, I remember you did a special with MTV where you drove around in your Bentley in the projects in Memphis. It seems like you guys have strong connection with home. Did you have any reservations about going out to Los Angeles?
Juicy J: Well, we still live in Memphis. We just came to L.A. to capitalize off the Oscar.
DJ Paul: Memphis will always be home, but we chasing money. If somebody told me there was treasure hidden in Yugoslavia, I am headed that way to get it. We tryin’ to go get the treasure man. Where it’s at? I don’t care how long I will have to be there, but I will return to Memphis with that treasure.
The new album, Last 2 Walk, is due on July 3. Do hardcore fans need to worry about Three 6 Mafia compromising their sound? And what can we expect from the album?
DJ Paul: Overall it is DJ Paul and Juicy J. We got Project Pat doing some writing and guest featuring on there. We got Game on the album, Lil Jon, Lil Keke, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, 8 Ball and MJG, the ladies of Crime Mob, some local heroes, Al Capone, Spanish Fly, Lil Whyte, and a feature from Akon.
Juicy J: The album is hot — our best album yet.
DJ Paul: People think that we moved to L.A. and the sound is going to be different, but the sound is the same. We are never going to disappoint our fans. The original Three 6 Mafia fans come first.