Nearly three decades into his career, we examine how Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J remains as vital as ever.
On the whole, hip-hop has always been regarded as a young man’s game. At the tender age of 45-- its birthday is widely accepted as 11th August 1973-- hip-hop is only reaching its middle age while other genres are edging towards geriatric milestones, and this is widely reflected in the sprightly youthfulness of its leading lights. With the culture spawning more pubescent chart-toppers than any other, artists born in the millennial & Gen-Z brackets are now in the driver’s seat and racking up the hits while most of its elder statesmen are largely content to carry on in the same vein as they always have. Or at least that is the case for the less enterprising and perceptive members of the old guard that refuse to heed the sterling example of Juicy J.
Although casual fans wouldn’t regard him with the same widespread reverence that moguls such as Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Diddy command, the 44-year-old southern rap pioneer and unlikely Academy Award winner has become a bastion of creativity in the hip-hop sphere and shows no signs of departing from its fertile grounds. In fact, his persistent dalliances with a generation that was raised on the sinister drawl of Three 6 Mafia have only served to enhance his status beyond that of your average inspiration.
Juicy J with DJ Paul and Frayser Boy at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon, 2006 - Vince Bucci/Getty Images
Over the past few years, a lot has been made of how the flows and soundscapes that Juicy, DJ Paul, Lord Infamous, Gangsta Boo and their laundry list of affiliates brought to the table has permeated into the mainstream zeitgeist. Built on a combustible energy that still packs a hefty punch to this day, their output’s grimy hooks and their rough-around-the-edges productions are now being faithfully replicated in state-of-the-art studios the world over. Detectable in the work of T.I, Migos, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane and 21 Savage to name a few, the widespread acknowledgment of their contributions was made more pronounced than ever by the "Who Run It" challenge from early 2018. Tasked with taking on the 18-year-old classic, countless MC’s stepped up to the mantle, paying homage to the legends by proxy and even coaxing Juicy and Paul into the booth to deliver two reinterpretations. Aside from those pioneering beats and ad-libs, their occultist imagery and misanthropic outlook on the world also laid the blueprint for crews of the future including Raider Klan, ASAP Mob, Flatbush Zombies and City Morgue among others. So, while the incantations of their aptly-named Hypnotize Minds label have yet to wear off as a whole, none of Juicy J’s Triple Six cohorts maintain the sort of high profile that he does. With their legacy enshrined, each member would be forgiven for retreating from the frontlines in favour of the well-earned position as a grandee. Yet in Juicy’s case, he is unwilling to bask in the glow of his former glories.
In an interview with Fuse from 2018, the “Trippy King”-- real name Michael Houston-- gave a revelatory insight into his psyche and why he strives to keep himself abreast of all new developments:
“I feel like everybody should evolve. I mean, nobody’s gonna stay the same. You know, if you staying the same then you crazy as hell.”
Rather than just a PR move, this statement of intent is one that Juicy clearly abides by on a day-to-day basis. Just like it did when the young high-schooler first penned “Slob On My Knob” between two periods of History class, hip-hop and its construction continues to serve as the lifeblood of Juicy J. Unlike most of his peers, what sets Juicy apart is his keen awareness that collaborating with the new wave is pivotal to remaining at the top of his game. For an embodiment of this belief, you’d need only look as far as his last major project, Rubba Band Business: The Album. Juicy J retooled his boisterous compositions for a new generation with the help of A$AP Rocky, Offset, Wiz Khalifa, Denzel Curry, Tory Lanez, Ty Dolla Sign, Metro Boomin, TM88, Lex Luger and others. Complete with the obligatory guest-spot from his older brother Project Pat, it proved that he could occupy the same space as his younger counterparts without being eclipsed.
Two years on, Juicy’s love of inter-generational collaboration is only increasing in fervour. Bookended by two loosies in “Neighbour” featuring Travis Scott and the Tay Keith-produced “Let Me See” with Kevin Gates and Lil Skies, the latter stages of 2018 and the beginning of this year has seen him take up semi-permanent residence in the studio. Aside from these high-profile team-ups, his recent social media posts contain a veritable who’s who of artists that have either solidified their status in the upper echelons or are rising stars that are making their way up the ladder. In the span of the past six months, Juicy has teased extensive work with A$AP Rocky, Jay Rock and $uicideboy$ before hopping on tracks with Yung Bleu, Young Dolph and OVO’s Baka Not Nice. Amid recent sessions with Taylor Gang, Anitta, Logic, Ghostmane and Meg Thee Stallion, he’s also been operating a talent search since January which any artist, producer or song-writer can enter via contacting @email@example.com. Plucked from across all strands of the hip-hop spectrum, it’s clear that Juicy doesn’t discriminate and is simply interested in putting his own stamp on the new wave. As to how he maintains this frenetic pace, Juicy cleared things up when a fan asked if he ever takes time to rest:
“NO. Sleep Is For Suckas I’m in the Studio Bakin a Club Banger Cake.”
Murda Beatz and Juicy J at 2018 GQ Men of the Year Party - Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
For the young artists that link up with him, the benefits were lovingly summarised by A$AP Rocky during his CRWN Interview with Elliot Wilson: “Working with Juicy J like… Come on man! That’s just a no-brainer right there. Juicy J is like working with Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony and he actually produces so it’s just a win-win situation. Working with Juicy is easy, he’s all for it. Juice is a trippy mother****r man.”
A ringing endorsement from one of his disciples turned regular collaborators, the key to Juicy’s longevity comes from his commitment to innovation. Whether on the peripherals as a trusted advisor or as a featured artist, an appearance from the Memphis native never feels out of place or anachronistic no matter where the artist may land on the map. Ultimately, this boils down to the fact that Juicy possesses none of that cantankerous bitterness that some of his fellow ‘old heads’ exude and instead, acts as an ambassador for hip-hop at large. If J. Cole is the genre’s self-appointed "Middle Child," Juicy J takes pride of place as the wizened sensei that never lost sight of hip-hop’s cyclical nature. As he barrels towards his 50’s, there’s no reason for Juicy’s influence to ever falter or refuse to regenerate provided that the love of his craft remains intact.