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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

For Juicy J, The Hustle Continues

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After several fallow years, Juicy J enjoyed a banner 2013. The venerable Three 6 Mafia rapper’s third solo album Stay Trippy was a critical and commercial hit, yielding a pair of big singles—“Bandz A Make Her Dance” and “Bounce It”—that plastered the radio. All that, however, may have been a mere prelude to what’s happening now.

Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse,” which features a guest rap from Juicy J, spent more than a week at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart this winter. What’s more, Juicy J joined Perry at February’s Grammy ceremony to perform the song live.

It’s been a lot for the rapper/songwriter/producer to wrap his head around.

“It’s my first number one,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d ever see my name that high up on the charts, you know what I’m saying. I’ve seen it on there, but I’ve never seen it up that high. To be part of a record with a big artist like Katy Perry and to be number one in the country, I never would have thought that [could happen]. My first time going to the Grammys, I performed. The first time walking the red carpet and being on the stage, I performed, my first time. So I never thought the first time I walked in that building I’d be onstage performing with Katy Perry. I never thought that. It’s like unbelievable, man. It’s like crazy. It’s such a blessing, man.”

But if you think Juicy J now has nothing left to pursue and achieve, that would very much be a mistake. Topping the singles chart is great, but Juicy J wants to be a power player in the music industry itself.

“My dream is to be like a CEO or president of a major label, like Columbia Records,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, all my life.

“I know the business over there,” he continued. “I’d like to just be able to link up some other artists and help some other artists out. I’ve run into so many talented people, I can’t sign them all, you know what I’m saying, [but] I would like to be able to actually do that.”

Such ambitions might seem far-fetched if Juicy J were a big-talking newcomer, but he’s been around the block. He’s a 20-year industry veteran who has seen some major ups and a few serious downs along the way.

Coming up in the Memphis rap scene as a founding member of Three 6 Mafia, he helped coin the term “crunk” to describe their gritty hip-hop style. That group had a pair of platinum albums (2000’s When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 and 2005’s Most Known Unknown) before Juicy J went solo in 2009.

He went three years, though, without gaining much traction with his music. That changed in 2012 when he released the original version of “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” a track he recorded in an apartment in Washington, D.C., using a $100 microphone.

The song immediately took off on the web and in clubs (especially strip clubs), and a month later, a new version of “Bandz A Make Her Dance” was recorded with guest spots from Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. That version led to a deal with Kemosabe/Columbia Records and paved the way for Stay Trippy.

And although Juicy J is talking about a future as a label executive, he’s staying busy for now with his own music. He hopes to have a new studio album The Hustle Continues out later this year, and where Stay Trippy was all about living the good life—cashing checks, partying with beautiful women and hanging with friends—the next album should reflect Juicy J’s business ambitions.

“The album is going to be me at a CEO level, achieving in the game, a legend in the game,” the rapper said. “I do pop some champagne and kick it a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s going to be educational to the people. For anybody that wants to be in the music business, there are going to be some pointers on how to survive.”

In advance of the next album, Juicy J is still promoting Stay Trippy with a run of shows he’s dubbed the “Never Sober Tour.” He said he’ll perform a track or two from The Hustle Continues, but will focus mostly on material from Stay Trippy. The rapper is a bit vague about other particulars of his show, promising only that it will be crazy.

“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “A lot of times I don’t even too much plan out what my shows are going to be and they end up being crazy, super wild parties.”

Juicy J headlines the Rave on Saturday, March 29, at 8 p.m. with openers Travis Scott and Project Pat.