I met legendary Memphis rap producer and Academy Award winner Juicy J once, about three years ago. It was one of the last days I was working at the Village Voice, and I’d gone across to the pizza place on St. Mark’s and Astor Place, where I kept buying pizza even though the pizza was pretty bad. Juicy was in there, apparently with the same idea. He was wearing a T-shirt with “I LOVE HAVING SEX” on the front and “BUT I’D RATHER GET SOME HEAD” on the back; this was the chorus to Three 6 Mafia’s then-current single. I asked to take a picture with him, and he was cool with it, but I got all nervous trying to get the iPhone picture, and I only got like the left half of my face and the top third of Juicy’s head in the frame. (This was after I’d already done two horrifically awkward phone interviews with him; I didn’t mention those.) I was nervous because Three 6 Mafia had been one of my favorite rap groups for years and because he was one of the last people I would’ve expected to see in the pizza place that day. But I shouldn’t have been nervous. If Juicy’s new mixtape Blue Dream & Lean is any indication, he had basically no idea where he was anyway.
As part of Three 6 Mafia, Juicy’s always played a knucklehead among knuckleheads, even though he was half of the production team that defined the group’s murky, venomous pound. With production partner DJ Paul, Juicy masterminded a sound that drew on John Carpenter-style horror-movie synth-soundtracks and thundering 808-heavy Rick Rubin-style old-school rap production, in equal measures. Three 6 Mafia have had a weird story over the years, with occasional pop successes and a deeply irritating burst of shrill omnipresence immediately following their random-ass Oscar win. But throughout, Paul and Juicy have been nothing if not consistent, playing everyday corndog types who somehow became rap moguls, even though the uncanny sound they pioneered had way more to do with that moguldom than their personas ever did. On the long, spoken outro of just about every Three 6-associated album, while Paul hypes all the forthcoming projects, Juicy plays the fool, burping and singing to himself and giving high-pitched “shutthefuckuuuuup!” interjections at random intervals. He does not carry himself like someone with a 20-year career in the music business, but that’s what he’s got.
In the past year, Juicy has released two mixtapes with the fiery crunk-revivalist producer of the moment Lex Luger, and the second of those, Rubba Band Business 2, is an absolute head-busting monster. The new solo tape Blue Dream & Lean is very much in the same vein; Luger even produces or co-produces about half of its 28 full songs. It’s the first tape Juicy has released since signing, as a solo artist, with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang crew, but it’s substantively no different from what Juicy’s been doing for the past two decades. Over the tape’s 80 minutes (seriously), Juicy plays an unreconstructed death-dealing walking id. There’s violence; he seems especially into the idea of cutting people’s fingers off lately. There’s sex; at one point, he rhymes “throw that ass back like a majorette baton” with “I like these white girls, but I’m not no Uncle Tom.” And most of all, there’s drugs; the tape details, at great length, all the different ways Juicy has found to eradicate his own brain cells. If even half of what he says is true, it’s a wonder he can still stand upright.
As befitting Juicy’s new home in the Taylor Gang crew, plenty of internet-favorite young rappers stop by to give guest verses. Collaborators include Wiz, ASAP Rocky, Kreayshawn, and 2 Chainz; Spaceghostpurrp, the one guy who carries the most obvious Three 6 influence, is unsurprisingly the younger guest who shines the brightest. But Juicy’s older brother, longtime Three 6 affiliate Project Pat (easily the best rapper in the group’s extended crew) who just lights shit on fire on the three tracks where he comes through. And that tells you something. Even if Juicy has somehow figured out how to stay relevant, we are in well-trod Triple-Six territory here. And the gigantic stomp-hard beats and wildly ignorant and catchy hooks are the reason to give this thing 80 minutes. The single lamest song on the tape is “Lucky Charm,” a quasi-love song with a Beach House sample, since it’s the only one where Juicy appears to be switching up his style even the slightest bit. For this most part, we get to hear a still-strong veteran doing exactly what he’s always done, his energy somehow undiminished. It’s pretty inspirational.
Download Blue Dream & Lean here.