The city of Memphis, Tennessee has changed the direction19 of hip-hop many times in the last 25 years.
In the 1990s, Memphis brought lo-fi horrorcore group, Three 6 Mafia, to national prominence. At the time, the dance Memphis Jookin' was beginning to percolate at the local level. As the 2000s rolled in, early YouTubers introduced Jookin' to the nation. It is certainly one of the first viral dance crazes. The city later launched successful solo careers from Three 6 alums: Gangsta Boo and Juicy J.
After a lapse of almost 10 years, Memphis native Yo Gotti did the city proud, bringing home a nomination for BET Album of the Year* in 2014. Although Yo Gotti was not selected for the award, his nomination marked a renewed interest in his city and its storied rap scene.
n.b. This essay will survey the early history of Memphis rap, focusing on the music & interviews of Gangsta Boo and the continued success of Juicy J. The essay will then examine Memphis's continued influence on new trends within hip-hop, transforming the narrative of decline into one of (often uncredited) influence.
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The question, “where is Memphis hip-hop now?” has been asked numerous times in the music media. To answer that, we must go back to what Memphis hip-hop was.
Known primarily as a Blues and Rock&Roll town, Memphis also gave rise to an impressive list of local and nationally-recognized rap talent in the mid tolate '90s.
By far the most successful group to come out of the city is the infamous Three 6 Mafia.
Three 6 formed in 1991 but it took until 1995 for the group's lineup to stabilize. In '95, the group consisted of Juicy J, Lord Infamous, Gangsta Boo, DJ Paul, Koopsta Knicca and Crunchy Black (Ivey 2015). That year, Three 6 independently released their debut album, Mystic Stylez.
Complex Magazine's 20th birthday celebration of their debut record stated that, “Three 6 Mafia may not have invented horrorcore but they might have perfected it” (Ivey 2015). Three 6 Mafia went on to found Hypnotize Minds, a record label intended to release the group's solo projects and select Memphis luminaries such as Project Pat, Lil Wyte and La Chat.
Three 6 Mafia’s producer and defacto label head, DJ Paul, has continued his role as tastemaker in the Memphis rap community to the present day (Meara 2014). As the only real game in town, Hypnotize Minds is the ‘label of record’ for Memphis. I would argue that Hypnotize Minds is responsible for putting Memphis' trademark phonky sound on the map.
With its brooding basslines, trash-y snares and thumping kick drums, Mystic Stylez has served as a blueprint for the horrorcore-influenced work of many artists including LA horrorcore rapper Hopsin, NYC rapper A$AP Rocky and Miami producer/rapper SpaceGhostPurrp.
A$AP Rocky is especially well-known for adopting and popularizing southern rap tropes for the Big Apple. A$AP is upfront about his debt to the south, shouting out late Atlanta rapper, Pimp C in almost every rap (“Multiply”, “Waveybone”). A$AP has also collaborated frequently with Juicy J and Houston rapper Bun B.
In 2011, A$AP signed a major record deal with Sony Music (Battan 2015). A year later, Rocky would release “Pretty Flacko” produced by SpaceGhostPurrp which has over 7million views on YouTube, at the time of this writing. It would be an omission to talk about Memphis hip-hop and not mention the infamous dance craze, jookin'.
n.b. The history and impacts of Memphis Jookin' are extensive but unfortunately outside the scope of this paper. I encourage the reader to watch the following video, because it deals explicitly with the influence of the dance and importance of remembering its birthplace, Memphis, Tennessee: https://youtu.be/aaeHrymGC0Y?t=42s.
All the members of Three 6, except notably Gangsta Boo, appear on the album cover of Mystic Stylez. Gangsta Boo has claimed her absence was prompted by concerns from the others that her presence would make the cover too girly (Cipher Podcast 2014). This would not be the only instance of friction within the group. When asked in a 2013 interview with VladTV if she ever had relations with DJ Paul, Boo hedged with a revealing “maybe...maybe….”
In 2001, a year after the group scored a platinum record with When The Smoke Clears, Gangsta Boo left the group for undisclosed (inter-)personal reasons (Cipher Podcast 2014). Boo has continued a small but reasonably successful solo career, including recent collaborations with NYC rap group Run The Jewelz and experimental hip-hop act, Clipping.. Boo’s famous refrain “Yea Ho” has been and continues to be sampled ad infinitum in rap, club and electronic music.
Rapper and producer Juicy J stuck with Triple 6 until 2011, when he accepted a position as A&R rep and co-owner of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Records. That same year, the Pittsburgh rapper (Khalifa) found mainstream success, receiving BET’s Artist of The Year award (Lipshutz 2013).
Those who pine for the glory days of Memphis rap are participating in a destructive narrative. Gangsta Boo continues to make regular appearances on new records; DJ Paul consistently collaborates with big names NS Juicy J enjoys arguably more success now than with his former group, not to mention Yo Gotti’s recent success.
The people and articles which say Memphis hip-hop is dead are robbing the city of ownership of the sound that they invented and popularized. That damaging narrative focuses on the importance of coastal cities (NYC, LA) while ignoring continued Memphis’s contributions to the game. According to Gangsta Boo in an interview with The Cipher podcast, “people these days don’t even know Juicy J was part of Three 6.” I will admit...I did not know Juicy J was from Memphis at all, even when he entered the mainstream as a solo artist in 2011 with a feature on Wiz Khalifa’s “Black & Yellow Remix.”
Juicy J lives in L.A. now along with DJ Paul (VLADTV 2013). They have enjoyed success over the last few years, adjusting to coastal mainstream rap life. Gangsta Boo, back in Memphis, remains in relative obscurity, celebrated mostly be rap aficianados.
And yet, Gangsta Boo continues to speak up, claiming the genre of “horrorcore” for Memphis, in interviews and on social media. In the words of Gangsta Boo, “everyone does that spooky stuff now.” On her newest collaboration with La Chat entitled Witch II, Boo continues her work reminding the hip-hop community where that spooky sound came from.
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So. . .Can Memphis produce another hip-hop phenomenon like Three 6 Mafia? . . .I don’t know.
As I have argued above, the spooky production of horrorcore can be clearly traced back to the musically-fertile city of Memphis, Tennessee.
The question, “where is Memphis rap now?” might actually have some merit. After digging deeper into it's history, I might answer the question.
'Memphis hip-hop is in L.A with Juicy J and DJ Paul; it is in New York City, carried on by A$AP Rocky; It is in Miami with Yo Gotti and SpaceGhostPurrp and it is in Memphis, with Gangsta Boo.'
Memphis Rap may not be in Memphis anymore, but we know for sure it is definitely not dead.
Break Tha Law - Three 6 Mafia
I Thought You Knew - Gangsta Boo & Crunchy Black
Stay Fly - Three 6 Mafia
Bringing The Phonk - SpaceGhostPurrp
Battan, Carrie. "A$AP Rocky Talks $3 Million Record Deal, Mainstream Acceptance." Pitchfork. October 28, 2015. Accessed December 17, 2015. Http://pitchfork.com/news/44436-aap-rocky-talks-3-million-record-deal-mainstream-acceptance/.
Cipher Podcast "Gangsta Boo." In The Cipher Podcast. May 27, 2014.
Ivey, Justin. "Three 6 Mafia's 'Mystic Stylez' Is Still a Southern Hip-Hop Essential 20 Years Later." May 23, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2015. Http://www.complex.com/music/2015/05/three-6-mafia.
Lipshutz, Joseph. "Juicy J Stays Trippy: Inside The Rapper's Unlikely Comeback | Billboard." Billboard. August 12, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/5646763/juicy-j-stays-trippy-inside-the-rappers-unlikely-comeback.
Meara, Paul. "Come Back To Hell: The Resurgence Of Memphis Horrorcore." HipHopDX RSS. February 7, 2014. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://hiphopdx.com/editorials/id.2283/title.come-back-to-hell-the-resurgence-of-memphis-horrorcore.
Rocky, A$AP. "Multiply lyrics." Accessed December 15, 2015. http://genius.com/A-ap-rocky-multiply-lyrics.
VLADTV "Gangsta Boo on Leaving Three 6 & DJ Paul Relationship." YouTube. May 23, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBVGho2vYz4.