“If you stand on the corner you could see Elvis,” DJ Paul, one of the masterminds behind Memphis’ legendary rap troupe, Three 6 Mafia, says. He’s standing in front of the house where he spent a considerable amount of his childhood living with his grandmother.
“There wasn’t no black people here when Elvis lived down here,” Paul continues about his ‘hood, which he calls Black Haven. “It was just different back then when Elvis was doing his thing. They said that Elvis was riding his motorcycles all through here and all that.”
Undoubtedly Elvis is the most celebrated performer to hail from Memphis, but the city’s musical history is a rich and storied one, from the soulful sounds of Stax Records, thanks to artists like Isaac Hayes and the Bar-Kays (bassist James Alexander is the father of producer Jazze Pha), to today’s golden boy Justin Timberlake.
“It made me want to be the next king of Memphis,” Paul adds with a smile about living in the shadows of Graceland. “Elvis’ soul went through the country and hit me.”
Thirteen years after they began selling their mixtapes locally on TDK cassettes, Three Six Mafia have cemented themselves as important players in hip-hop. But Juicy J and DJ Paul are undoubtedly the foundation, the true bedrock when it comes to the Memphis hip-hop scene. As tenured as Three 6 are, it doesn’t look like they’re ready to gracefully bow out of the game anytime soon, either. In fact, the younger, up-and-coming MCs from their hometown have to work to keep up with them.
The trio (the group also includes Crunchy Black) are coming back with a new album, The Most Known Unknowns, with one of their strongest lead tracks ever, “Stay Fly.” They teamed with Nashville’s Young Buck and fellow Memphis-bred legends 8Ball and MJG for an all-Tennessee posse cut.
“Memphis is Hypnotized Minds,” Frayser Boy, an MC in Juicy and Paul’s Hypnotized Minds camp, said of his mentors. “There ain’t no questions about it, man. Hometown love, man. They’re born and raised here. They just keep it all the way real, and they never turned their back on their city. So they’re just loved here … this is their town.”
If you roll with Three 6, it’s going to be in style: Juicy has a Mercedes Mayback, DJ Paul pushes a Rolls-Royce Phantom. (You’ll probably find somebody who’s never heard of Elvis before you see another Mayback or Phantom in Memphis.) Right after Paul and J leave Paul’s old crib, where they recorded a bulk of their early work, the duo head to Juicy’s old neighborhood in North Memphis, an area dubbed Smoky City, a.k.a. “The North North!” Residents here throw up their thumbs like the Fonz and shake them when shouting out their ‘hood, almost like the Hawaiian “hang loose” hand signal.
In the middle of the work day, the blocks in North Memphis are crowded with residents. Cars are riding through blasting their music, car alarms are going off, dogs are running around without leashes. This is the grittier, grungier ‘hood you’d expect to serve as the inspiration for Three 6’s soil-covered ditties.
“Man, this ‘hood is so bad, there’s a precinct right here, at this corner, just for this neighborhood,” J says, pointing at the building that looks like a cross between a house and a small church. “You see the police car parked in front? When you walk into that office you will get greeted by police, and they may not have donuts, but they have handcuffs; they dip ’em in milk and put them on you.”
As Juicy and Paul literally stroll down memory lane, pointing out a Boys Club where Juicy used to play basketball and a house they once rented for $100 a month (“Not a ‘hundred,’ a ‘hunre,’ J says, ‘h-u-n-r-e’ “), all the kids on the block start to follow them.
The tour ends at the front porch of their childhood friend Big Treist, whom they say “drinks for a living.”
Treist, a tall, portly man with a loud voice, is every bit as wild as his friends proclaim. When his dog, Star