Juicy J, Oscar-Winning Former Three 6 Mafia Rapper, on His Triumphant Return
Juicy J is high as fuck.
We’re seated next to one another inside Irving Plaza, a midsize music venue in lower Manhattan. It’s three in the afternoon, and stagehands can be seen scurrying about hauling various rigging in preparation for Juicy J’s sold-out show later that night. The rapper and I are aglow in red light—fitting, given the similar lighting in the music video for his solo hit “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” which has seemingly supplanted Tyga’s “Rack City” as the de facto strip-club anthem.
A nervous-looking assistant approaches Juicy J, brandishes his cellphone, and shows him a picture of a ridiculously blinged-out pair of Louis Vuitton black, silver, and gold sunglasses from what appears to be a secondhand vendor.
Are these the ones you wanted?
Those joints are hot. Fuck the prices.
You sure? They’re $1,200.
Yeah, get it. Those are the Louis’s? I’ll fuck with those. Those are weird as hell.
“Bandz a Make Her Dance” was the first single released from Juicy J’s upcoming third studio album, Stay Trippy, which will come out sometime in July. The song, which features Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, as well as a ridiculously catchy chorus, has already sold close to 1 million copies and, despite being released on June 18 of last year, is still getting radio play. The Washington Post even named it the third best song of 2012.
It’s the first hit of his new solo career—not that he’s unfamiliar with success. Seven years ago, $1,200 wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning to Juicy J. His crunk rap group Three 6 Mafia, which he started with DJ Paul, had just released the platinum-selling album Most Known Unknown that included the smash hit “Stay Fly.” And they became one of the most talked-about stories in Hollywood after winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the 2005 film Hustle & Flow. After a shocked Queen Latifah presented them the award, the crew bum-rushed the stage and were so elated they could barely get their “thank you”s out. When they scurried off, host Jon Stewart came back on and couldn’t contain his laughter.
“You know what? I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp,” joked Stewart. “That’s how you accept an Oscar!”
The following year, the group moved from their native North Memphis out to Los Angeles and starred in the short-lived MTV reality series Adventures in Hollyhood, produced by Ashton Kutcher.
“I was just really, really going in,” says Juicy J. I bought a house out there and we had limo services picking us up every night to go to the club. Money was rolling in fast.”
Three 6 Mafia released one more album, 2008’s Last 2 Walk, and then had a falling out with their label, Sony imprint Columbia Records, over the group’s future. Juicy J claims the label wanted them to tweak their sound, transitioning from their crunk roots to more pop-oriented material. The group disbanded shortly after, and now DJ Paul is back in Memphis selling Award Winner DJ Paul’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning.
“The group [members] just went their own ways,” says Juicy J. “They felt like they could do it better on their own, so I just wished them good luck. Everything’s all good.”
Juicy J, 38, was born Jordan Michael Houston and grew up in North Memphis. He has two sisters and one brother, Project Pat, who’s also a rapper. Juicy J first started rapping when he was 13, mimicking acts like Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow. At 17, he formed a rap group with a friend, the name of which he “can’t even remember.”
“Really, I wanted to be a producer and a DJ,” he says. “I never wanted to be a front guy. Me and my partner had a group and he would be the rapper and I’d be behind scratching. He was going to jail so much I figured dammit, then I tried to find another rapper to work with where I could just do the background stuff, but no one had the urge and hustle like I did, so I started doing it myself.”
At 19, he formed the rap group Backyard Posse with DJ Paul, who later changed their name to Three 6 Mafia. The group sold “tapes out the trunk” and finally became a household name with their fourth album, When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1, released in 2000. The album went platinum, buoyed by the hit “Sippin’ on Some Syrup”—an ode to the codeine-infused drink called “sizzurp.” The beverage, a mixture of cough syrup and Sprite or Mountain Dew, has made headlines recently thanks to rapper Lil Wayne—who is featured on Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance”—with some speculating that his addiction to the drink is the cause of his string of recent hospital visits.
“A lot of people say I promote drugs, but I’m just talking about what I do. Everything ain’t for everybody,” says Juicy J. “I’m an OG and I’m going crazy on these verses. I put my whole heart into it.”
As far as Three 6 Mafia is concerned, Juicy J says he has no regrets about the L.A. experiment and reality show that seemed to derail the group, except that he didn’t get to sleep with The Hills star Kristin Cavallari, whom he took out on a date in one of the show’s more memorable episodes (“I tried, man. I tried. On-and-off camera. I was like, ‘You’re gorgeous, let’s go. Today.’”) And the future of the group, he says, is all up to the Columbia Records, since they’re still signed to the label.
“They put the group on the shelf—they set the group there,” he says. “They’ve got the red button and the checkbook, and it would take like $15 million. And it would be something legendary—something classic.”
But he’s in no rush.
Juicy J says his solo career is flourishing. He says he was even commissioned by Warner Bros. to work on a track for the star-studded soundtrack to The Great Gatsby (Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”) but they didn’t use his verse.
“Phones are ringin’ every day, man,” he says. “The shows are sold out everywhere. People are showing love and coming out everywhere… I’m shocked.”