Watch Andrew Barber’s in-depth conversation with Three 6 Mafia member DJ Paul, which tells the stories behind the rapper-producer-entrepreneur’s approaches, independence and ongoing vitality.
Emerging from Memphis, TN, in the early ‘90s, Three 6 Mafia built the foundation for most contemporary rap. From its distinct sonics to unique flow, the group pioneered what became known as crunk music and came of age just as southern rap began to break through on a national level.
Three 6 Mafia — originally comprised of DJ Paul, Juicy J, Gangsta Boo, Lord Infamous, Crunchy Black and Koopsta Knicca — also stood out thanks to its controversial name (originally, Triple 6 Mafia) and dark undertones. Were they devil worshippers? Part of the occult? No one could say for certain, but the mystery and controversy worked in their favor.
The group had another advantage in that visionary members DJ Paul and Juicy J acted like a two-person wrecking crew. Playing the roles of label executive, A&R scout and more, they produced every record released in their stable. They were prolific; they were originators; they were unlike anyone else in the industry.
Initially, their group’s music lit up the regional market. But after DJ Paul and Juicy J partnered with Relativity Records for national distribution of their indie label, Hypnotize Minds, Three 6 Mafia scored its first major hit with “Tear Da Club Up 97’.” Allegedly banned in 17 states due to igniting fights on dancefloors, the song helped the group catch fire from coast to coast. Meanwhile, Three 6 Mafia (and its in-house label) held its own against other southern juggernauts such as Cash Money Records, No Limit, Rap-A-Lot and Suave House by appealing to fans who purchased everything based on name recognition alone.
Relativity Records was eventually swallowed by Loud Records. The house that Steve Rifkind built soon catapulted Three 6 Mafia to platinum status with “When the Smoke Clears,” the album that includes the smash “Sippin’ on Some Syrup” featuring UGK. More hits, as well as breakout solo albums from the likes of Gangsta Boo and Project Pat, followed, cementing Hypnotize Minds as one of the most dominant and bankable brands in rap.
Even as its peers began to fade, Three 6 Mafia continued to drop platinum hits and albums throughout the 2000s. (The group’s 2005 release, “Most Known Unknown,” is its biggest-selling album to date.) In 2006, Three 6 Mafia became the first hip-hop group to win an Academy Award (Best Original Song) for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the “Hustle & Flow” soundtrack.
While the group largely dissolved by 2012, with DJ Paul and Juicy J going separate ways for solo projects and offshoot endeavors, Three 6 Mafia’s sound and influence remain as relevant as ever. G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” Rae Sremmurd’s “Power Glide” and Cardi B’s “Bickenhead” are just a few hit songs that borrow from DJ Paul’s arsenal. It’s a trend that doesn’t seem like it will be slowing any time soon — and one of the many topics addressed in this exclusive, in-depth conversation about Three 6 Mafia’s history, legacy and future.
Andrew Barber is the owner/creator of Fake Shore Drive, a Chicago-based media, management and events company founded in 2007. Andrew is also a playlist curator, published music journalist, artist manager, brand and record label consultant and media personality. Andrew currently sits as Governor of The Recording Academy’s Grammy board. His radio show, The Drive on Shade 45, airs weekly on SiriusXM, and has been on air for over six years. He has also hosted programming on MTV and one of Chicago’s top radio stations, 107.5 WGCI-FM. As a journalist, Andrew has been published in publications such as VICE, Complex, Fader, XXL, Mass Appeal and more. Andrew’s company, Fake Shore Drive, has been instrumental in the rise of Chicago’s hip-hop scene, having helped cultivate the careers of Chance the Rapper, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Vic Mensa and the many other gold- and platinum-selling artists.