One of Three 6 Mafia's Best Albums Is a Y2K-Obsessed Crunk Side Project
DJ Paul looks back, twenty years after the release of the Tear Da Club Up Thugs' Southern hip-hop classic 'CrazyNDaLazDayz.'
“I hate writing raps.”
Given his lengthy career in hip-hop, that’s probably one of the last things one might expect to hear from DJ Paul. After all, as co-founder of the Academy Award winning Three 6 Mafia, the Memphis legend has lent his bars to many of the rap collective’s most infamous cuts, including underground lean anthem “Sippin On Some Syrup” and the Billboard Hot 100 hit “Stay Fly.”
“To write a rap you gotta sit down and think, what’s the newest word everybody’s sayin’, what’s the newest clothes, what kind of diamonds they wearing now,” he says with a somewhat trebly laugh. “It’s a full-time job to be a rapper!”
Paul Beauregard’s passion is and always has been beats. Starting out as a DJ, he’d originally operated as a counterpart to his rapper and half-brother Lord Infamous, doing their Tennessee thing. Subsequently, DJ Paul helped craft not just the sound of their inimitable group Three 6 Mafia, but that of its members’ solo efforts, as well as related projects by other Memphis artists. “With a beat, I just go in like, shit, this what grooves me,” he says obliquely of his technique. “Hopefully it will make everybody else move; if not, I got another one to back it up.”
Among his efforts was Tear Da Club Up Thugs, a spin-off trio comprised of himself, Lord Infamous, and Juicy J, the original Three 6 Mafia members. Released twenty years ago, their sole full-length CrazyNDaLazDayz captures some of the hallmarks of Paul’s production and features a number of notable guests. A seminal document of Memphis hip-hop history, its programmed drums and evocative lyrics embodies the crunk aesthetic that paved the way for today’s trap music superstars.
His extensive production discography, which includes frequent work as a duo with Juicy, whose relationship with Paul has been strained in the years since departing Three 6 Mafia, also spans hip-hop classics like UGK’s “International Player's Anthem (I Choose You)” as well as more recent tracks like Drake’s “Talk Up” with Jay-Z. “Ultimately it started out my single,” he says of the latter beat, which he’d shared previously with 2 Chainz, Berner, and Yelawolf. “I was supposed to put out a whole album last year and I gave my single to Drake!”
The bulk of Paul’s beats and rhymes appear via Hypnotize Minds, the imprint he and Juicy launched together after a falling out with their partner at Prophet Entertainment, the label under which some his early Lord Infamous joint projects and the first Three 6 Mafia album Mystic Stylez appeared. With the emergence of this new endeavor, he saw it primarily as a means to continue producing records. “We was already putting out other Memphis artists, even before Hypnotize Minds,” Paul says. “Me and Juicy was always into producing other artists, ‘cause that’s how it all came about.”
In running the label and pushing its releases, Paul drew influence from one of the South’s most formidable music businessmen, James Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records. “Lil J is like a mentor to me, watching him put that whole empire together,” he says. Among the things he gleaned from paying attention to the Houston-based label’s moves was how they leveraged more popular signees to push lesser known ones and up-and-comers there. Paul also admired Ruthless Records, a label whose releases regularly positioned co-owner Eazy-E in the executive producer position. “I got all that shit from them, watching them play artists off the big artists.”
In 1997, Hypnotize Minds dropped Three 6 Mafia’s Chapter 2: World Domination. Since the group’s inception just a few years prior, the lineup had expanded from the core trio of Infamous, Juicy, and Paul to include Crunchy Black, Koopsta Knicca, and Gangsta Boo. The album’s single “Tear Da Club Up '97" served as an update to Paul and Infamous’ emphatically grim song of the same name on 1995’s Come with Me 2 Hell II project. “I wrote that song at McDonalds eating a Quarter Pounder with mayonnaise on it,” he says of the original with a chortle. (It later served as apparent interpolative inspiration on Travis Scott’s Astroworld cut “No Bystanders.”)
While that album sold well enough to go gold less than nine months later, Chapter 2: World Domination peaked on the Billboard 200 album charts at No. 40. It would take a more streamlined version of the group and a strategic amount of guest features to give Hypnotize Minds a more significant chart showing, which occurred with 1999’s CrazyNDaLazDayz. Billed to the Tear Da Club Up Thugs, the album took a decidedly different tack than the themes previously employed by the main project. Co-producers Juicy and Paul joining Lord Infamous on the mic, where the subject matter took on real world interests such as getting crunk and preparing for a coming Y2K armageddon.
“We knew the world wasn’t going to end, but we thought some crazy shit was going to happen,” Paul says. “I went and bought a bunch of water, gallons of water, and filled my tub up with it.” Musically, he found inspiration for Tear Da Club Up Thugs’ album outside of the hip-hop world, listening regularly to alternative rock. He cites the solo piano lead on “Get Buck Get Wild“ and the beat switch on “Triple Six Clubhouse” as primary examples of how that manifested.
Despite how it sounded, CrazyNDaLazDayz looked like a lot like a No Limit record. Sporting cover art designed by none other than Pen & Pixel, that was no coincidence. “I followed the blueprint on this one from Master P,” Paul says, specifically citing the approach taken on the 1995 compilation Down South Hustlers: Bouncin' and Swingin'. “If you notice on the front of the album, I had the names of all these different features, like he used to do.”
The list of guests laid out plainly on that CD sleeve reads like a who’s-who of hip-hop, from Memphis familiars to then-already known quantities like Spice 1 and Too $hort. Represented by way of the iconic twin posse collaboration “Player Why Ya Hatin,” Cash Money Records’ seminal signees B.G., Juvenile, and Lil Wayne also appeared on the register. “I love Birdman,” says Paul. “He did a lot for me; he taught me a lot.” Also known as “Hypnotize Cash Money,” the Mannie Fresh-produced track made an impact at rap radio, ultimately reaching No. 74 during a 15 week run on what was then called the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
“I brought in all of those people’s audiences,” Paul says of the numerous features across CrazyNDaLazDayz. “We’d never did it before, so I got all these different audiences instead of just the Memphis and down South one I already had.” In light of its strong showing on the Billboard 200 chart, where it debuted at No. 18 as part of a thirteen week run, he credits the record’s success to the decision to load up on such diverse guests, something Three 6 Mafia had previously shied away from. At that time it was Hypnotize Minds’ best chart showing, peaking higher than anything else released previously via the imprint.
Unfortunately, there were some unintended consequences. The presence of the self-described Cash Money Clique (not to be mistaken for Ja Rule’s short-lived 1990s group Cash Money Click) on “Player Why Ya Hatin” caused some confusion among listeners. During a promotional St. Louis, MO radio appearance while touring in support of the album, Paul came face to face with the issue. “The station was like, we love that Cash Money song featuring y’all," he recalls. “My head dropped to the floor.”
Even with the song’s chart performance, Hypnotize Minds’ label partners at Relativity expressed frustration to the group. “I remember the label hit us up like, ‘this song is doing better for Cash Money than it is for you guys,’” Paul says. While he concedes that “Player Why Ya Hatin” really didn’t sound much like a Three 6 Mafia song, insofar that it lacked either his or Juicy J’s production styles, he harbors no ill will in the matter. “I didn’t care in the long run, because it was on our album.”
While the features may have helped CrazyNDaLazDayz triumph back in 1999, the album’s legacy has far more to do with one of its Juicy J showcases, the brazenly titled “Slob On My Knob.” While its origins date back years earlier, with one notable instance of its trademark bars appearing on a 1997 Three 6 Mafia track called “Watcha Do,” the definitive solo version exists on this album. “That song was already big underground, even from the mixtape days, long long long before the album ever came out,” Paul says.
In the age of hip-hop interpolation, Juicy’s punchy cadence made “Slob On My Knob” ripe for reuse. For his 2017 Still Striving single “Plain Jane,” A$AP Ferg switched up the lyrics but kept the signature verse flow as the basis for its hook. That December, the official remix found Nicki Minaj putting her own spin on it, which boosted the track to No. 26 on the Hot 100 at the start of 2018. The track earned both Paul and Juicy songwriter credits.
Similarly, “Slob On My Knob” looms large over G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” a single off his 2017 RIAA gold-certified The Beautiful & The Damned album. Both he and guest Cardi B draw from the original’s chorus, again with a different set of words in place of the even more explicit source material. In a fitting act of homage, Juicy himself appeared with his own verse on its remix, while fellow featured rapper French Montana also proffers his own Tear Da Club Up Thugs inspired take.
While Paul obviously recognized how catchy and iconic “Slob On My Knob” was, he had little-to-no viable options for promoting it in tandem with CrazyNDaLazDayz by 1999 standards. “It was impossible to release that as a single,” he laughs, though a clean version did make its way to certain Memphis DJs and stations. “But shit, these days you could put that motherfucker on the radio!” Proving his point, Future literally utters that offending titular phrase on Jay Rock’s 2018 hit “King’s Dead,” which made it to No. 13 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart.
Yet while Juicy’s snappy bars define CrazyNDaLazDayz for some listeners, Paul can’t help but dwell on the contributions made by his sibling, who passed away suddenly back in December of 2013. “Lord Infamous was really spiritual,” he says. “From the words he chose, names he chose, everything about him.” One of the departed rapper’s most poignant Tear Da Club Up Thugs tracks, “When God Calls Time Out” initially masquerades as a musing on the apocalypse. Yet before long it betrays his horrorcore reputation and reveals a genuine preacherly point of clarity. Over skittering programmed drums and swelling synth pads, Infamous seems determined to save a few souls in the hood while he still can.
After Infamous parted ways with Hypnotize Minds around 2003’s Three 6 Mafia full-length Da Unbreakables, making a Tear Da Club Up Thugs follow-up seemed a non-starter. “Everything happens for a reason,” Paul says. The more he dwells on it, however, the more he comes to realize, in real time, how that departure made way for 2005’s Most Known Unknown, the album that brought the main group fully into the national hip-hop conversation, with hit singles like “Poppin’ My Collar” and the aforementioned “Stay Fly.”
“When I named that album, I was basically opening up a box that I don’t know if I should’ve even opened up, to be honest,” he says, growing increasingly more pensive. Mere months before the release of Most Known Unknown, the movie Hustle And Flow debuted in American theaters. Depicting the story of a Memphis hustler attempting to break into the music business as a rapper and escape his life of criminality, the film also featured a soundtrack full of Southern rappers. But its main single "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp,” which plays a critical role within the actual narrative, came via Three 6 Mafia. Nominated for an Oscar, it won for Best Original Song the following year, seriously elevating Juicy and Paul’s profiles.
“You gotta watch what you wish for,” Paul says reflectively. “I wanted us to be more famous and look what happened: it was too much and it broke the group up.” Their final album together, Last 2 Walk came out in 2008. Juicy J soon began to pursue a solo career, while DJ Paul reunited with Lord Infamous on 2009’s Scale-A-Ton. Though some of the group’s membership would reassemble in 2013 as Da Mafia 6ix, the three original originals, as Paul calls them, never got back together again for a proper CrazyNDaLazDayz sequel.
“If we would’ve made a Tear Da Club Up Thugs album, that would’ve changed the whole history of Three 6 Mafia.”