In the summer of 2011, VH1 aired an awful reality series called “Famous Food”. If you missed it, you’re not alone: It was the network’s lowest rated show of the season, an accomplishment among the walking dead of summer programming. The premise was to have “celebrities” with no experience in the service industry develop, staff, and open a restaurant, whilst competing with each other for a piece of ownership in said restaurant. The all-star cast included reality hangers-on (Heidi Montage of “The Hills”, Jake Pavelka of “The Bachelor”), tabloid flotsam (Elliot Spitzer call girl Ashley Dupree), and Big Pussy from “The Sopranos”. It also featured rapper Juicy J, along with his longtime collaborator DJ Paul, who together were what remained of legendary Memphis outfit Three 6 Mafia.
A half decade earlier, that group had been riding high, scoring its second platinum album with Most Known Unknown and a seemingly improbable win at the Academy Awards for a song titled, amazingly, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. Now they were on TV trying to win the approval of someone who “rose to fame after finishing eighth in the second season of Big Brother.” And while his very appearance would suggest a rock-bottoming of sorts, Juicy J would continue to jackhammer: He consistently showed up drunk, threatened fellow contestants, and, after trashing a furniture depot, got kicked off the show, which, it should be mentioned, was not an elimination competition.
But fast-forward just a few years to 2013, and Columbia Records is set to put its formidable muscle behind the release of a Juicy J solo LP, Stay Trippy, and, moreover, it’s one of the year’s most anticipated rap albums. Which begs a simple question: How the hell did this happen?
It certainly didn’t happen because Juicy J cleaned up his act. In fact, to the degree that there’s any one reason, it happened because Juicy J got really good at telling everyone about how he refused to clean up his act. “You say no to drugs / Juicy J can’t,” he chanted, over and over again, until it became less a chorus than a mantra, on late 2011 track “Juicy J Can’t”. It’s a hedonistic turn of phrase that’s become his calling card. And at a time when a lot of rappers trafficked in self-pity and the well-worn trope of mo’ money mo problems, something about the 38 year-old’s willingness to present himself as unapologetically fucked-up and pervy resonated again.
Soon enough, Juicy J would ink a deal with Taylor Gang Records, label of the marginally talented and disproportionately well-connected rapper Wiz Khalifia. Soon enough, artists like Future, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean would want Juicy J greasing up their tracks, and he would oblige, over fifty times in 2012. Soon enough, Juicy J would have a platinum single with “Bandz a Make Her Dance”, a song which found him espousing the simple joys of a strip club over a reliably sinister Mike Will beat. And, soon enough, Columbia Records, who had put Three 6 Mafia “on the shelf,” in Juicy J’s words, would come calling again, this time about “the Juicy J movement.”
When I ask him about how Three 6 Mafia was treated, Juicy J waffles between still feeling hurt and reminding me – and maybe himself – that “it’s a business.” Plus, it’s not wise to speak ill of future employees: “Hopefully, one day they’ll let me come over there and run that building. That’s my goal. I want to be the president at Columbia Records.”
Your resurgence over the past few years marks the second or third time you’ve dipped off and come back strong. Does it feel any different this time around?
Well, yeah, it definitely does, because I’m by myself. I’m a solo artist now, so everything feels different. But it’s pretty much same in so far as the shows and the fans. I got a lot of new fans, a lot of younger fans – which is surprising to me – and I have a few old school fans. I love them all, man, because they show me love. They come to the shows. They help them sell out. I do autographs and pictures for them – whatever. Right now, I’m at the point where we’re just having fun.
Is it odd meeting younger fans who may have no idea who Three 6 Mafia is?
It’s cool, man. I have no problem with it, because everyone is running around at the same time. Everyone wants to listen to the same thing at the same time. That was then, this is now. It’s a new year. It’s a new day. You know, 2013. Things are moving forward. I have no problem with it. If anyone wants to know what’s good with me or not, then keep listening to what I put out.
Did the way “Bandz A Make Her Dance” took off surprise you?
It definitely did. I didn’t know that song was going to do that. It definitely was a surprise, man. I mean, it’s a blessing for someone like me who’s been doing this for so many years to just still be rapping and doing it. It’s huge for me, man. I’m excited as I can be about this situation, how everything’s come out.
Wiz [Khalifia] took a bet on you that seems to be paying off for him. How would you describe your relationship?
We’re like brothers, man. We work hard in the studio. We make great music. He made me a partner: I’m a third owner of Taylor Gang Records. We’re fixing to sign a whole bunch of new acts. We’re fixing to get this money. That’s what family members do: We get this money.
Since reestablishing your affiliation with Columbia Records, have you received any pressure to tone things down?
No. At the end of the day, this is me. I started my own movement, back in the day. From the 90s to now, this is my movement. And it’s been working. It would be stupid for them to try to tell me to change something up, because I’m winning. Nobody’s ever tried to tell me to change something up, because I wouldn’t do it. This is me. I built this. I went out here and shot my own video. I put my own money behind my own self. I paid for my own studio time. Right now, can’t nobody tell me shit. All they can do is agree with me and roll with me, because I got a plan. I put together the plan and I can execute it. I can’t be stopped. I could see if the plan wasn’t working, but the plan is definitely working. I’m a hard worker, man. I work 24 hours. 24/7.
Your productivity is mind-boggling for someone who smokes so much. What is your weed budget like?
I get weed for free, man. I can go to the dispensary and everyone’s a fan. I got a lot of fans, but I consider them friends. I got friends in that dispensary. I can walk up in there and get some shit for free. They show me love.
Is Stay Trippy still on track for a July release?
Right now, it’s still July 2nd, you know what I’m saying? I put a lot of work into this album, man. I put my heart in it. I think that it’s a great album. There’s something for everybody. It’s me, man. Me. My life. My situations.
What are some songs that you can tell us about?
I got a lot of records on there. I got a record with Yelawolf. I got a record with A$AP Rocky. I got a record with Chris Brown. Wiz [Khalifa] is on there. I can’t wait for the fans to hear them, because they go hard, man. They go hard.
Speaking of going hard, you worked with Lex Luger almost exclusively on the mixtapes leading up to this record. The early singles seem to indicate that you’re working with a broader stable of different producers on this.
I’m still working on Lex Luger on this one as well. I love his sound. He’s got a crazy sound. When me and him come together and do a song, it’s just amazing, man. People love it. They go nuts for all our records. But I’m working with Mike Will as well. And Crazy Mike. Me and Crazy Mike do a lot. Four of the tracks on the album we produced together, just me and him. Who else I got on there? I got a handful of producers on there – I just gotta get that list together. It’s great. [Yawns] I love working with new talent, man.
Your collaboration with the Weeknd – on his “Same Old Song”, on your “One of Those Nights” – was an unusual pairing on paper. How did you two link up?
I met the Weeknd on Twitter. We became great friends after that, man. We just shot a video for “One of Those Nights”. He’s like a little brother to me. I like his music. I think he’s super talented. He’s already sold lots of records, but he’s gonna sell more records and make history with the movement that he has going on. Be on the lookout. But, yeah, we make big records together. There’s good music there.
As someone who’s seen a lot over almost two decades in hip hop, what do make of the current confluence of rap and R&B and electronic dance music?
I mean, hip hop’s changed a lot, but I’m not mad, because music changes. Nothing stays the same. You just gotta be able to roll with the punches. When the music changes, it’s not that you gotta change too – it’s that you gotta be able to maintain and hold your ground. That’s what I’m able to do. It’s because I like music. I’m not old school, like, “Aw, man, I gotta do my music like I did in ’98.” I just go with the flow, you know what I’m saying? I don’t try to change anything. I just go with the flow. You listen to my music now and it sounds a little bit like my old stuff, but it has a little bit of a twist to it. I keep my ear to the streets – that’s how I know music. I live, breathe, eat, and sleep music. That’s it. Nothing else.
Your songs embrace and celebrate the excess. What do you make of rappers who’ve made their names bemoaning the trappings of fame and success?
I just mind my own business. I’m don’t want to try and be in a bunch of people’s business. If you’re gonna stay out here, then you gotta stay grinding. You gotta stay focused. It’s easy to get unfocused. You can make a hit song or a club record and get you some money, and then things go out of focus. I just try to be telling everybody, “ Whatever you do, stay focused.” Because this stuff is not going to last forever. Once you get a show at something, you gotta roll with it. You can’t sit on your ass. You better keep working. You better stay motivated.
Is now the biggest window of opportunity that you’ve had?
As far as being a solo [artist], yeah. I’ve never thought of myself as a solo artist. I never thought people would go buy records from me as a solo artist. Now, “Bandz A Make Her Dance” is platinum, so it’s amazing. It shocks me every day. I’ve never felt that way. I was nervous when people started calling me to do shows. I was like, “Man, I’ve never really performed by myself like this.” I was nervous about going on tours by myself, because it’s something that I never did before. But I’m a hard worker and a hustler, and I’m doing it. I went out there and did it.
Is there a part of you that regrets not doing it sooner?
No. I don’t feel that way, because it was different time, man. I was doing the Three 6 Mafia thing, producing records with the group, and I did a lot of other stuff with the artists that we signed to our label. So, nah. Never. It just so happened that when I did decide to do solo stuff that it popped off. I didn’t know what I was doing – I was just working with it, and it became big.
Have you given any thought to what your success as a solo artist could mean for Three 6 Mafia? Would you put that capital towards reviving the group?
Columbia Records put that group on the shelf. That’s where that group is sitting right now, and that’s probably where that group is going to stay until they figure out what they want to do with it. Columbia Records called me into a meeting and they didn’t even mention Three 6 Mafia. They were only interested in the Juicy J movement. The major labels see what they want to see. They want to put their money behind what they think is hot and selling. The group is still strong. Everything is just great with the group. But it’s up to Columbia Records to figure out what they want to do with the group. It’s really not my decision. It’s not my decision at all.
Is there still any sort of ill will towards Columbia Records for the decisions it made?
I was upset about it at the time. I wasn’t serious about it though, because I’m a hustler. I’m blessed to have been in the game this long and not be broke. I got plenty of money. I save. I don’t need anything. But for a group that won an Academy Award, had a lot of accomplishments, and sold a lot of records, I did feel like they slept on us after we decided that we didn’t want to make pop music anymore. They were trying to push us towards pop music.
But, like I said, it’s all good – they apologized for that. I’m not worried about it. I don’t live in the past. I don’t hold grudges. At the end of the day, it’s all business. It’s not personal – it’s all about business. They thought, in their minds, that being a pop group was where we were headed. But I had to prove them wrong. I’m not a pop rapper. That’s nothing against pop music – I love pop music. I’ve jumped on pop records for people and still will, now and in the future, but I’m not a pop artist. I didn’t start from there. I started in underground music. I consider myself an underground artist, as well as a producer.
But, everything’s cool, man. All I got to say is that it’s business – I got no problem with nobody. Actually, I love everybody over at Columbia. Hopefully, one day they’ll let me come over there and run that building. That’s my goal. I want to be the president at Columbia Records. I want to be the president and sign all the new talent. I want to show people that I can run a major label, because I know I can do it. That’s my dream – to run a major label.
You don’t want to be touring at 50.
Nah, I’m doing this now, and it’s cool and I’m having fun, but sooner or later, there’s always a next step. I just feel like running a major label would be my next step. That would be a big accomplishment for me. I know I would come in there and work hard. I would make sure that the budgets are right. I’ll make sure that the artists are happy. I’ll make sure that the records are promoted right. I’m waiting for Columbia to give me a chance. I’ve been signed with Columbia pretty much all of my life – since I was 23. I’m hoping that they give me a chance – soon – to let me run the place.
You are always giving out your manager Ray’s number – on Twitter, on your mixtapes, everywhere. How many calls a day does that poor guy get?
Man, that’s the money line. He gets a lot of calls a day. He books a lot of shows for me. That’s my cousin, man. He’s smart. He knows how to get that money. That means he’s the right person for that job.
Are you of the mentality that if the price is right, you’ll play anywhere or guest on any track?
I mean, if I like the song, you know what I’m saying? Money is important, but I gotta like the song. I won’t just jump on anything because someone asked me to jump on it. I’m a musican. I love music. I gotta like it and feel comfortable with it.
Additional contributions to this piece were made by Rec-Room Therapy.