Three 6 Mafia Last 2 Walk

[Columbia; 2008]

Styles: that same symphonic jeep beat hood sound with a dash of Hollywood
Others: Project Pat, 8Ball & MJ, UGK

On the cusp of the 21st century, rappers Eminem and Nelly released The Marshall Mathers LP and Country Grammar, respectively, and hip-hop became pop music. 15 million cumulative album sales and a string of hit singles will do that to an art form. The reverberations were varied, with certain artists better able to take advantage of the more tolerant, less prejudiced consumer market. For instance, southern rap outfit Three 6 Mafia serve as an interesting case study. Although they have been crafting the same unique style of hip-hop in the Memphis underground rap scene since 1991, it is only during the past few years that they have been able to achieve significant critical and commercial success. Most notably was their illustrious Best Song Academy Award for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” from the film Hustle & Flow. But more exemplary was their MTV reality show, Adventures in Hollyhood, in which the members of Three 6 Mafia struggled to adapt to their yuppie, bourgie (hell) environment. The familiar premise being: you can spit hustlin’ and flowin’ plebs into Hollywood, but you can’t take the hood outta them. With Last 2 Walk being Three 6 Mafia’s first release since this success, the group’s aspiration to remain both, if not equally, Holly and hood pulsates through it.

Much of the album finds the group remaining true to their Memphis, Ten-a-key musical roots. The classic Three 6 Mafia sound features a Southern sonic landscape that descends into the valley of fast jeep beats, while concurrently reaching up towards the epic heights of majestic symphonic samples. It is when the group puts new twists on this tried-and-true formula that Three 6 Mafia shines. Take “On Some Chrome,” featuring an on-point and intact UGK, which contains a digitized sample of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” that weaves with a profound, reverbed bass line and an Eastern-styled vocal sample in striking ways. Also exemplary is the offbeat posse cut, “First 48,” on which chopped and screwed Rachmaninoff-sampled organs enliven the track, creating an ominous gothic ambiance that perfectly complements typically threatening, violent narratives. Just like their beats, the flow and lyrics of the group — which has been relegated to a duo — are best at their most classic: Juicy J laconically slurring and DJ Paul fiercely growling grave hood tales.

Although Juicy J and DJ Paul do sound best when performing the sound they invented, at times it can become monotonous on this release — not only because the tracks have a tendency to blend together, but because Last 2 Walk continues a trend of releasing similar-minded music with modest invention or progression. “Playstation” and “I’d Rather,” for instance, drag amidst dumbed-down lyrics and tedious synths and chants. This is Three 6 Mafia taking no steps forward and two steps back.

Furthermore, Three 6 Mafia demonstrate an increasing Hollywood influence, as the most significant change on this release is the appearance of glitzy peers that they have decided to work with. Although the presence of Project Pat, 8Ball, and MJG have obvious chemistry with the group — and as a result are able to enliven and improve the group’s trademark sound — other guest stars either seem out of place or uncomfortable. Akon (“That’s Right”), for instance, creates a Top-40 vibe that clashes with the gloomy Three 6 Mafia aesthetic, as he is not able to adapt his well-known, calcified persona to unfamiliar sonic surroundings. Even worse is Good Charlotte (“My Own Way”), whose appearance on the album seems too unnatural and contrived to succeed. And, although near the end of the album, hit-maker T-Pain does work his sugary magic on the “Stay Fly”-invoking “Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body),” giving the group another sure-fire commercial success, the damage has already been done.

Another important, concurrent theme that courses through the pores of the album is that of repetition. “Intro” becomes frozen, jarringly repeating in place. Later, on “Outro,” DJ Paul becomes conscious of his lack of novel expressions, while Juicy J references the presidential election on “Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)”: “Like Barack Obama said, ‘It's time for a change.’” Three 6 Mafia’s aspiration to evolve seems to have manifested itself on Last 2 Walk, from production to sound to lyrics. Having taken their novel sound to its lofty limits, it is time for the group to change and progress towards another musical frontier. However, their aspirations of progressing by melding Hollywood and the hood have largely failed. Juicy J and DJ Paul should use their next album as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, or else they take the risk of going the way of those other, less fortunate rappers at the turn of this past century.

Most Read