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 have their own 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 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 going through a number of line-up changes throughout 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 entirely by Juicy J and DJ Paul, Last 2 Walk contains the type of mesmerizing soundscapes that have made Juicy J and DJ Paul 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 "Doe Boy Fresh" features Chamillionaire and utilizes an intense keyboard progression to set the stage for Three 6 Mafia's street-centered rhymes about maximizing your financial resources to look your best. "It's about being fresh, whether you've got money or you don't have money," Juicy J says. "It's about coming straight from the hood and being ghetto fabulous. It's from the hood and it's for the hood."
Three 6 Mafia's hood status remains rock solid thanks 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. So, it makes perfect sense that King of Crunk Lil Jon appears with Three 6 on "Ready 4 Whatever," which also features vocal assistance from Project Pat. One of the best Last 2 Walk songs, it showcases Juicy J freaking a stuttery delivery and the crew discussing their formative years in Memphis.
"The song is a club banger," Juicy says with a bit of understatement. "Lil Jon did his thing on the hook. He's crunk and we're crunk. We put the Get Buck with the Get Crunk, and it's like Super Crunk."
Three 6 Mafia then revisits their patented, classic sound on a host of block-rocking selections: the confrontational "Bang, Bang," the muscular "Clane Clane," the hypnotic future smash "We Got Da Club," the dark "See Me" and the Crime Mob-assisted, male-female tug-of-war "Suga Dadddy."
The group then gets smooth on "You Know How We Ball," which features Paul Wall and Lil Keke, and addresses the risks of no-good friends on "See You Fall." "See You Fall" is about friends that hate on you, not the average hater," DJ Paul explains. "It's about how you have friends who play they have your back, that they want to see you come up and do good. But really, they don't. Before you know it, they'll be trying to hurt you in some kind of way." The introspective vibe continues on "Time And Time," with Project Pat, and "Hoodstar," with Lyfe Jennings.
Regardless of a song's mood or lyrical direction, Juicy J and DJ Paul rely on each other to bring out the best in their material. "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 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," "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 Three 6 Mafia 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 has lead to Adventures In Hollyhood, their Ashton Kutcher-produced reality show airing on MTV Spring 2007. But don't think the mainstream exposure is going to change Three 6 Mafia's musical output. "Everybody was coming at me like, '~What are you all going to do now? What are you going to sound like now?'" Juicy J says."We're going to keep on doing what we've been doing. We're not trying to change. Everybody thought we were going to change after the success, but we're the same old guys. We're blessed and we're just going to try to keep on doing what we've been doing. We go by the old saying: If it's not broke, don't fix it. So, we just keep bringing that gutter music."
And Last 2 Walk is proof positive.