A summer without live concerts or festivals due to COVID-19 has meant that music fans have to get their fix through virtual experiences. Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’ Verzuz battle series has been a saving grace through these difficult times, putting together iconic match-ups like Alicia Keys vs. John Legend, DMX vs. Snoop Dogg, and Brandy vs. Monica to provide necessary entertainment and a brief escape to celebrate the culture’s architects. On July 27, when Timbaland asked his followers who the next Verzuz matchup should be, a confident Juicy J, who already wanted to challenge Dr. Dre, quote tweeted him with another unexpected request: Nas.
On that day, Rap Twitter exploded with divided opinions on who would win. “That was funny,” Juicy says by phone, chuckling.
“Nas is my favorite rapper,” he continues. “It’s not so much Nas, I consider whomever. I want people to understand that I’ll go against whomever. My catalogue speaks for itself. I got a solo catalogue that’s amazing and I got a catalogue with Three 6 Mafia that’s just as amazing. So it’s like I could really go up against anybody.”
Tweets by spirited fans were all across the board, ranging from “Juicy J bout to wash Nas with Blue Dream & Lean” to “Wait y’all think Juicy J is better than Nas? 2020 is different.” Juicy knows stylistically it doesn’t make sense, but no one should ever count him out.
“A lot of people don’t want to give me that juice ‘cause they so stuck on what they stuck on. But if anybody looks at my track record, you cannot deny [it]. It’s facts. I’ve sold hundreds and millions of records. C’mon. I’m a cold motherf*cker, man. I’m just as good as anybody else,” Juicy says. “I wouldn’t say I’m a lyricist or someone like a Nas. Nas got them bars. To me, Nas is one of the greatest. He’s like my No. 1. If someone says Juicy what’s your Top 5? I’ll probably say Nas is No. 1. I’ll give him that. But at the end of the day, Juicy J is definitely up there with the greats.”
Juicy J — rapper, producer, entrepreneur, music executive, mentor, and father to his daughter Kamai Houston — has accomplished a lot in his lifetime. He could be someone who announces his retirement tomorrow and you’d be perfectly fine celebrating his storied career and influence in pop culture — Shutdafukup! catchphrases and all. Well into his 40s, the living legend who stays “trippy, mane” refuses to slow down, gearing up to release his fifth studio album, The Hustle Continues, via eOne this fall. The title represents Juicy J moving forward with his life as a new father, proud owner of his masters, and independent musician after leaving Columbia Records, as well as brokering new business deals like launching LA-based cannabis brand Asterisk* with his partners Gary Vaynerchuk and Cody Hudson.
To have a hustler’s spirit means possessing passion and drive, which Juicy puts forth in everything he’s associated with. Take it back to 2010 when Juicy J first dropped Rubba Band Business with Lex Luger, the mixtape that solidified him as a solo rapper. He remembers having a lot of doubt that no one would take him seriously. “I never thought somebody would want to listen to me,” he says. “It just kind of happened by surprise. And it is still happening by surprise. I was always a grinder. I always kept working and kept hustling and kept moving forward. I was always trying to do this and produce this. Or help this artist out or help that artist out. I was helping a bunch of artists out. I was jumping on a bunch of features and people started looking at me and started to consider me as a solo artist. Things just started to get bigger.”
After DJ Paul and Juicy J released their solo albums, Scale-A-Ton and Hustle Till I Die, in 2009, the group’s tentatively titled Laws Of Power album was put on hold. Juicy J says work on new Three 6 Mafia music was sounding different and they needed to evolve because “the waves of music were sounding different.” But as Juicy started to grow his buzz, Wiz Khalifa saw an opportunity for him to be part-owner of Taylor Gang Entertainment where he signed as an artist and A&R in 2011. Juicy caught a second career wind under Wiz, but that left the future of Three 6 Mafia in limbo.
“I always felt like Three 6 Mafia could make a comeback,” he says. “But it always had me kind of nervous and scared to even do that. Because we’ve done so much in music that I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Aw, they’re not good enough.’ Or ‘Aw, they got old.’ Or they’re not creative like they used to be or things ain’t the way they were. We never really went down that road to bring the group back.”
“There always been thoughts,” he adds. “I even recorded a couple songs and I got Lord Infamous — rest in peace to him — with a couple of his verses on. I always thought about it, we just never really pursued to do it.”
Three six mafia we produced & wrote everything No outside producers or song writers everything was in house ,owned our own studio,our own marketing team ,radio promotion team , street team & owned our own label. & the music is still relevant #blackpower ✊🏿
— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) June 4, 2019
In 2020, before the coronavirus halted live entertainment indefinitely, Three 6 Mafia agreed to do a reunion tour. Juicy was able to rock a few shows with Triple Six, performing to tens of thousands of people and revisiting classics that are decades old. “Even though we are older and we’ve all been through different things in our lives, it felt like it was 1999 or ’92 or ’93 again,” Juicy says. The renewed energy has positioned him for The Hustle Continues, and allowed for some great synergy in terms of the label that will release it. Alan Grunblatt, eOne’s President of Urban Music, signed Three 6 Mafia to their first record deal.
While The Hustle Continues is a title that’s been floating around since 2014, Juicy J says he’s the type of person that just goes with the flow. Originally, the album was set to be mostly him with just one special feature, but he has since brought in a bevy of younger talent: ASAP Rocky, Lil Baby, Young Dolph, Key Glock, Logic (who he calls his best friend), NLE Choppa, Megan Thee Stallion (who he calls “the verse killer”), Ty Dolla Sign, Rico Nasty, and Jay Rock. The album is “98 percent” produced by him, but he collaborated with other producers such as Internet Money, Lex Luger, and 6ix.
As he explains using a basketball analogy, the veterans and the rookies need to coexist on the same court so they can grow with each other. “You need those people as coaches,” he says. “You know, people that stand over your shoulder and be like ‘let’s do it this way, let’s do it that way.’ I learned things from them and they learn things from me.”
Juicy J says you get a little bit of everything on this album: ‘90s Juicy, 2000s Juicy, and 2010s Juicy. The perfect example of this is “Take It” which features Rico Nasty and the late Lord Infamous, merging nostalgia with the next generation. Originally, Juicy’s idea was to make “Take It” a Three 6 Mafia reunion song.
“I had that song done,” he says. “I produced that with a friend of mine named 6ix, Logic’s producer. We did that and I had this Lord Infamous song just sitting in the vaults. And I was like, ‘Man, I got this song sitting up here.’ So I took them and I combined them. You will hear the beat change. It’s a combined type of record. It’s a dope song. I love the song. I was in the studio with Rico and I listened to it the other day. I was like, ‘Man.’ Every time I hear it I get chills. I feel like he’s in the studio with me.”
It’s not surprising that after The Hustle Continues drops, Juicy J is already thinking about his next album. On Twitter, he’s been teasing a Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa collaborative project that still needs a name. In a genre where your age means everything for your relevance, Juicy is arguably outworking everyone, proving hip-hop has no age limit. He’ll continue to work with up-and-coming artists and keep his ear to the streets, adding to a rolodex of who’s who in hip-hop that could be useful if he wants to run a major label as president or CEO.
With all that Juicy’s done in his career, it’s fair to wonder what he would want to leave his legacy on?
“I think it is still being written,” he says. “But I’m the Michael Jordan of rap music. I’m that guy. When they mention Jay-Z and Nas, they gonna have to mention Juicy J as far as being great.”
The Hustle Continues is out this fall via eOne.