When people achieve greatness beyond their wildest dreams, they typically say they had no idea it was possible. But in reality, virtually every successful person has some sort of strategy for success; one they followed as if it were law. It’s just that the plan worked.
Three 6 Mafia had a plan, too. They set out to be kings of their native Memphis, Tennessee. Now, nearly 20 years into their professional careers, DJ Paul and Juicy “J” have become one of music’s biggest success stories. They have a host of gold and platinum singles and albums, have produced for such platinum rappers as Ludacris and UGK, and have released albums under their own independent Hypnotize Minds imprint that have combined to sell several million units.
Perhaps most impressively, though, Three 6 Mafia is the only rap group to win an Oscar and perform at the prestigious award ceremony; they won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2006 for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the film Hustle & Flow at the 78th Annual Academy Awards.
With their latest sonic masterpiece, Laws Of Power, Three 6 Mafia adds another notch in their already impeccable resume. The high powered collection rolls out like an aural rollercoaster that travels between the highs and lows of life. Of course, DJ Paul and Juicy “J” serve as tour guides imparting their signature insight, gruffness and humor. “Every song on here is a law,” DJ Paul says. “We’re explaining the different laws -- the laws of drinking, partying and snitching.”
Best known for their chaotic soundscapes, DJ Paul and Juicy “J” deliver powerful cinematic sounds on Laws Of Power’s “Go And Kill,” making the accompanying raps about murder all the more menacing. An angry beat accented by swirling sound effects makes “You Da Police” a macabre indictment of double-timing friends.
Three 6 Mafia takes their storytelling to a chilling place on “Hell Of A Drug.” Here, Juicy “J” details the brutal impact drugs take on people’s worlds. It’s a realistic portrayal of life, a sometimes brutal existence filled with shady characters -- and a select few who have become elder statesmen in the game.
A favorite in the streets will certainly be “Trunk Got Wang.” Like their previous car classic “Ridin Spinners,” this auto tune celebrates rides. But this cut is custom-built for showcasing the potency of your car -- and its stereo. “Everybody in the streets, once they’ve got a little money and they’re doing their thing, the first thing you do in the hood is buy a gun,” DJ Paul says. “Then you get a car. You’re going to get an old school, throw some rims on it and get some bump.
A car can also serve as a mobile homebase, a place where laughs are common. Even though much of Three 6 Mafia’s music oozes force, humor is also a regular component. On the sly “Nothings For Free,” DJ Paul and Juicy “J” explain that, yes, they’re going to spoil their lady, but they will expect something in return. “You’ve got to give a little bit to get a little bit,” Juicy “J” says with a wry smile. “We have gangster music, but it’s always had some humor in it. When you’re in the hood, there’s probably more funny stuff that goes on than gangster stuff. People in the hood are funny as hell.”
That type of humor and fun typically leads to celebration -- one of Three 6 Mafia’s favorite pastimes. A substantial portion of Laws Of Power centers on partying and enjoying a wide array of intoxicants. “Let’s Get High,” “Bar Juice,” “Purple Kush” and the “Pop A Pill” remix gloriously tout the bliss that accompanies an evening shared in the company of equally inebriated companions.
Though drug and alcohol use remains taboo in certain societal circles, Three 6 Mafia has a different perspective. “It’s a recession,” DJ Paul says. “I was studying the Great Depression and they said that the only things people still spent money on were music and alcohol. Music soothes the brain, so if you’ve got yourself a good record and a good old bottle of whiskey, you’ll forget any problem you’ve got in the world.”
Given Three 6 Mafia’s emerging global empire (a nod to their foresight: Three 6 Mafia’s 1997 album was titled Chpt. 2: “World Domination”), DJ Paul and Juicy “J” have a section of Laws Of Power dedicated to its signature brand of party music with a hardcore bent. Produced by Rodney Jerkins (Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige), the catchy single “Shake My” features Kaleena (Diddy’s Dirty Money) and celebrates a festive night of club-hopping. On the Three 6 Mafia produced “Lil’ Freak (Ugh Ugh Ugh)” the duo continues the lively partying with a certain kind of lady. Guest rapper Tech N9ne adds manic rhymes about drinking on “Shots,” while techno maven Tiesto provides a stadium ready song with “Feel It.” The latter also features cameos from Flo Rida and Sean Kingston and signals yet another visionary artistic turn for Three 6 Mafia.
“We know that it sounds different,” Juicy “J” says. “But since we’ve got a bigger fan base now -- it’s not just the old school Three 6 Mafia people -- we’ve got to expand everything. That’s why the album has a couple of songs on there that are like pop music. We’ve got a wider fan base now. Three 6 Mafia isn’t just what it used to be. It’s bigger. It’s global now, so we can’t just stick to one kind of music.”
Being able to deliver quality music year after year has enabled Three 6 Mafia to emerge as one of rap’s most successful and enduring groups. On the ultra-intense Laws Of Power standout “It’s In Me,” DJ Paul reflects upon a career that is approaching its second decade, a period filled with tremendous artistic growth and an uncanny ability to create art (music, film, television programming [Adventures In Hollyhood]) that is both landmark and innovative.
“We always try to do the best music that we can and stay up to date,” DJ Paul says. “We try stuff that a lot of other artists won’t try. When we did the reality show, everybody was like, ‘They’re crazy. I wouldn’t do that.’ Now everybody wants a reality show. When we first did ‘Lolli Lolli,’ everybody was like, ‘They’re crazy.’ We went on to sell close to 2 million units on ‘Lolli,’ so it worked for us and got us European tours, and to Japan and Thailand. We play it smart.”
Three 6 Mafia has gone from modest Memphis beginnings to Oscar winners. Along the way, the group has never lost its integrity and remains rooted in producing the best product possible.
“For a group that’s been around so long, who started by just passing out CDs out of the trunk of our cars,” Juicy “J” says, “to be on a global level is just a blessing.”
It’s what happens when you follow the Laws Of Power.