Three 6 Mafia: “We changed music – we created a whole new sound for hip-hop”

The Memphis rap group are back together after an 11-year hiatus. Co-founder DJ Paul reflects on their enormous legacy

For years, Three 6 Mafia, consisting of co-founders DJ Paul and Juicy J, have been telling us that they are responsible for a lot of what’s been going on in hip-hop. They formed in the early ’90s and on 2000’s ‘Jus Like Us’, Paul boldly rapped: “They wanna dress like / Wanna sound like / Wanna be like / Ride like / Get high like / Make cheese like / The motherfukin’ Three-6, bitch you got a problem wit ‘em?” That was 20 years ago and artists today are still being influenced by the Memphis rap group.

Three 6 Mafia have been sampled by Rae Sremmurd (‘Powerglide’) and James Blake (‘200 Press’), produced hits for Drake (‘Talk Up’) and Megan Thee Stallion (‘Simon Says’) and appeared on tracks with Katy Perry (‘Dark Horse’) and Justin Timberlake (‘Chop Me Up’), not to mention the fact that they were the first rap group to win an Oscar in 2006 (“It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp”, from Hustle & Flow). Now they’re back together after an 11-year hiatus – and it’s time DJ Paul and Juicy J received their dues.

We sat down with Paul on a Zoom call from his LA home to talk about what brought Three 6 Mafia back together, what the group’s lasting legacy will be and whether or not he and Juicy will ever release their long sought-after ’Cashing Checks’ album.

What prompted Three 6 Mafia to reunite after all this time?

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“It was all about timing and it felt right for everybody. On top of that, with what’s going on with the music scene right now, with everybody redoing old Three 6 Mafia songs we’re more popular now than we were when we were putting out music. So we just felt that this was probably the best time to come back.”

What was it exactly that caused you guys to split?

“It really was just down to the label not being together. At that time Sony was going, Columbia and Island was going through a lot of transitioning, and they brought in some guys from the UK. We weren’t comfortable with bringing out any new Three 6 Mafia stuff with the label in the position it was in. They wanted us to go pop and they wanted to turn us into a UK group because it was ran by UK people at the time. We weren’t feeling the situation and ended up not putting out another album. Our last album was called ‘Laws Of Power’. We actually made that album.”

That was the label situation, but why did you and Juicy J to go your separate ways?

“With us not doing anything with the label we decided it would just be best to make solo stuff to keep the money rolling. So we didn’t fall out or anything we just made solo music. We still appeared on each others stuff here and there, although not that much, but we were still cool. We were alright.”

The group has had various line-ups over the years. Who is officially in Three 6 Mafia today?

“It’s just me and Juicy.”

Was there ever a conversation to bring back Gangsta Boo or Crunchy Black?

“No. They left the group, so they’ll never be back in it. You know what, I’m not even gonna say never, to be honest. Who knows? They’re still down with us, we are all still family, but as far as the group, Three 6 Mafia is just me and Juicy.”

Have you talked about doing a new Three 6 Mafia album?

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“We’ve not talked about that yet. We’ve actually not had a single conversation about it.”

Would you like to do one?

“When the time is right, yeah. I’m sure we will at some point.”

Three 6 Mafia
DJ Paul. CREDIT: Press

Is there anything in particular stopping it from happening?

“Well, Juicy was working on his solo album. I’m working on a solo album and there’s also the producing I’ve been doing for other people, like Lil Baby and Trippie Redd. So between both of us working on stuff and the prepping for the tour, that was in the way. But now his project is out and mine will be out of the way soon we might be able to talk about it.”

Will we ever see the release of yours and Juicy’s ‘Cashing Checks’ album?

“You know what? To be honest with you, if me and Juicy do release something then that’s what it should be. People would go crazy! I think a lot of people would be more excited about that than a Three 6 Mafia album.”

How far did you get with the album?

“We didn’t record anything for it, we were just talking shit at the end of our albums when we were shouting about it. But we did make some ‘Cashing Checks’ artwork.”

Do you have any other unreleased gems sitting on a shelf somewhere?

“We did a whole album with Young D that we never brought out. It’s hard as fuck too. But as far as me and Juicy goes, it’s just ‘Laws Of Power’ really.”

Are you ever going to release that?

“I doubt it. But I do have some underground Lord Infamous that I’m gonna put out.”

 

Before the release of Three 6 Mafia’s debut album ‘Mystic Stylez’, you put out a lot of underground mixtapes on cassette. Will they ever be made available on streaming services?

“I might just leave them where they are. Let some underground stuff stay underground, man. You gotta save something for the underground.”

You mentioned how a lot of new artists are redoing old Three 6 Mafia songs, but do you think the group gets the respect it deserves?

“No, of course not.”

Why do you think that is?

“There’s a lot of people out here that don’t get the credit they deserve. It’s because when you’re great at something and other people become great off something that you’ve done they’re not going to give you credit because they don’t want anyone to know where that greatness came from. They want everybody to think that they’re the greatest to ever do it. So a lot of greats never get the credit they deserve.”

Do you think that’s what’s been happening with Three 6 Mafia?

“There’s so many people out here making money off the Three 6 Mafia sound and it’s totally changed their lives. Probably 90-odd per cent of the rappers out right now wouldn’t be out if it wasn’t for Three 6 Mafia. But they’re not gonna come out and say that. I’ve tried to get a couple of ‘em to say it, that they grew up on Three 6 Mafia, but they won’t do it, not on camera.

“There’s still a million people out here the say they created crunk music and that they created trap music. You know we created trap music. It’s evident. The people that are out here saying that they created it aren’t even old enough to have been able to create it. I was doing trap music in ninth grade and they weren’t even alive yet. Whatever, it’s all good. I ain’t trippin’.”

Juciy J
Juciy J. CREDIT: Press

Besides the music, you were trailblazers in so many other ways, including being the first rap group to win an Oscar and you were also one of the first to do a reality TV show, right?

“Yeah, we did a reality show when people were embarrassed to do them. They called us sell-outs for doing that. But now it’s regular TV, it’s like watching Sanford And Son or Three’s Company. We were ahead of our time with everything we did.”

There are some that say you’re the most influential group since The Beatles. Would you agree with that statement?

“Yeah, for sure. We changed music. We got country bands out here doing hi-hats and drum patterns. We influenced EDM records when they started going into trap. We created a whole new sound for hip-hop. Crunk made way for a whole new wave, a whole new sound. It’s crazy, man.”

– Three 6 Mafia play America’s first indoor arena concert since the pandemic started on January 16 at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Get tickets here.

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