It may have taken over a decade, but Three 6 Mafia finally crossed over. Following their contributions to the indie film “Hustle & Flow,” the Memphis monarchs not only won the Academy Award for Best Song, for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” in 2006, but earned their first platinum plaque with their seventh LP, Most Known Unknowns. Sometimes, though, you gotta take the good with the bad. Shortly after breaking into the mainstream, DJ Paul and Juicy J lost longtime group member Crunchy Black, who opted for greener pastures as a solo act. Continuing to press on, the reconfigured duo finessed their California dreams into a 2007 MTV reality show, “Adventures in Hollyhood.” Now, after three years with hardly a flicker of musical buzz (last year’s “Dope Boy Fresh” fizzled out quickly), Three 6 Mafia return with their long-delayed follow-up, Last 2 Walk.
Determined to prove their success was no fluke, the duo spend a chunk of the disc trying to convince listeners they haven’t gone pop. “Corner Man” finds them insisting that they’re still No. 1 dope suppliers, while, on “Trap Boom,” Paul kicks more of the same (“See, I ain’t the nigga that was up at 5 o’clock to sell no rocks/I’m that nigga that was out at midnight to drop off a block”). Unfortunately, their street boasts seem a tad far-fetched and overdone.
Paul and Juicy do succeed, however, when they loosen up the ice grills and just have fun. Check the get-high anthem “Weed Blow Pills” and “I’d Rather,” their raunchy ode to oral sex. The album’s best moments, though, come courtesy of two UGK features. First there’s “I Got,” a Southern flip of Zombie Nation’s 1999 techno smash “Kernkraft 400,” which finds Paul and Juicy bragging about the finer things in life, alongside a posthumous Pimp C hook. Then there’s the bouncy, 808-driven “On Some Chrome,” complete with stellar verses from Bun B and Sweet James.
It wouldn’t be a Three 6 Mafia album without some crude and disorderly material, so the pair tap into their tear-the-club-up roots on the crunkdafied “I Told ’Em” and appeal to less-desirable chicks on the comical “Dirty Bitch.” But Paul and Juicy take a loss on “Playstation,” thanks to an outdated and childish hook (“Play with your PlayStation/Don’t play with me, boy”). While most of the album’s subject matter is just as frivolous, the Good Charlotte–assisted “My Own Way” offers a rare moment of introspection. Over a somber, piano-laden track, Paul contemplates the overall effect of the group’s Oscar win on their career, as he spits, “One night in March ’06, my life changed in a sec/Whether for better or for worse, I can’t answer that yet.”
In the time that’s passed since their last LP, Juicy J and DJ Paul have become certifiable stars. Problem is, their latest offering doesn’t quite live up to the musical magic of their past body of work. While Last 2 Walk isn’t perfect, it still offers fans remnants of Three 6 Mafia’s celebrated past. Whether mainstream America is ready for another dose of Paul and Juicy remains to be seen. But even if they never win another award, it doesn’t matter, because they were too hood for Hollywood, anyway. –Paul Cantor