One of my favorite interviews from this entire series of Made In America was with Project Pat. But in all honesty, initially I did not have high hopes for our chat. Pat has been upfront about getting in the game for the money rather than the artistry and the snob in me was a bit sniffy at such motivations. This compounded with hits like “Pills, Weed, Pussy”—catchy as hell and fantastically base with it—did not up my expectations. (Sample lyric: “I get these hoes wet like a tsunami.”) But my snap judgment was way off. He’s articulate, insightful, gentlemanly, and utterly fascinating.
For our meet up Pat instructed the crew to wait for him in the parking lot of a Walmart on the outskirts of Memphis. All six foot six inches of him eventually rolled up in a blacked out Escalade with a big gold-grill smile. He invited me into the passenger’s seat and over the next hour and half we cruised around Pat’s old neighborhood as he pointed to where grew up, where he used to sell drugs, where he went to school, where a junkie burned his grandma’s house to the ground. Ask him anything and he had an informed, no holds-barred response, candidly discussing coming up in Memphis, his stint in jail, and the influence of his brother Juicy J. He revealed a comprehensive knowledge of the city’s scene and what really makes the people of Memphis tick. Ohm and it turns out he's a self-confessed Donald Trump groupie. Thanks Project Pat. You were truly awesome.
What was it like growing up in Memphis? What was your neighborhood?
Like any other inner urban city, just like Baltimore, just like St. Louis or DC or Detroit is—drug infested. The project I grew up in is abandoned. I just stayed focused and got a blessing. It was the ghetto so you know how that goes—not to put the same old sob story out there because everybody always do. In the ghetto you got schools, you got everything, you got all the opportunities to make it out. There’s negativity too though and when I say negativity I mean there’s so many people that you see that’s older than you that didn’t make it and its like, “Aw man, I’m probably going to end up being like that guy.” I had a lot of that too, but you know my father, he’s a minister, I did have a daddy in my house, a real father.
Which is lucky.
I’m blessed. So since I had a real father in my house he taught me real things: pull your pants up, get a wallet, keep your ID on you, keep a watch. Simple stuff that normal society be like, “That’s simple,” but man you go right down here and ain’t nobody got no ID on him.
If your dad was a minister was your first exposure to music every Sunday gospel?
It was but it wasn’t. I used to stay with my grandmother because when we was growing up, we didn’t have a place, our places would be off and on. We would stay with my mother’s mother and my cousin stayed there and he was always bumping Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire. He was older than me, that was really my first exposure to urban music.
Did you start making music to get out?
No, my brother, Juicy J—it was mainly his dream—and he pulled me into it. I knew he had some talent but not me. I didn’t care about no rap. I used to listen to NWA, Scarface, and Too Short. He was rapping about how he was living and I used to be like, “Man, I want to live like that.” We down south and you got to think, back in them days, we don’t got a voice so it was like, “Man, that’s unheard of. That’s not going to happen.”
Three 6 Mafia came out and it was unreal. People took to the music and they brought me out and here I am. The second album I came out with I sold a million records. I think I shot like one video and I got locked up on some gun charges. When Tupac died I was in prison and my brother had just signed a deal with Relativity Records. It was sad because I was like, “I can’t believe this man is dead.” They used to play “Dear Mama” video a million times—that must have been the most played video in the world.
When it came to Tupac I could relate to everything he was saying, every word. He had one song where he was talking about being locked up, “Eating jack mac, staring at the walls of silence,” and he said, “In this cage where they’ve captured all my rage.” I was like, “God, how can he know that?” Seriously, Tupac, hands down, he’s the man.
So he spoke to you.
Ah, man, I’m being real, I promise you. When I was locked up the day he died I said to myself, “I’m not going to go out like Tupac. I’m not going to get out here, I’m not going to do that.” Respecting him for real, I hate that happened to him. What if Tupac was still alive, what if Biggie was still alive? That would be crazy because hands down that dude was the greatest of them all. Tupac was the only person I knew that could rap over a slow beat and still be hard as hell. No offence to Biggie, I love him—Biggie Smalls was a good dude, he was cold.
What about Memphis rappers, were you into anyone from round here?
Aw yeah! I used to bump 8Ball, I grew up on 8Ball, MJG, DJ Squeeky. Pretty Tony—he’s one of the first dudes that really got a major record deal out of Memphis.
So were those the people you were kind of looking up to when you were a kid?
What really made me started rapping was J used to be a DJ, he used to do mixtapes and I used to drop them off on the south side of Memphis which was so dangerous that I used to ride around with him with two guns.
It was so dangerous. Literally. One time the police pulled Juicy over, this was when he was not Juicy J, but just a local DJ and they found a gun on him. They gave him the gun back and said, “We’re not looking for you.” They asked him why he had his gun, he said, “It’s so dangerous,” they gave him his gun back. No permit—it was a gun he bought on the street and the police didn’t even care. It was just that dangerous. In Memphis right now, the thing with the young dudes now is that everybody is a shooter. You could be seeing a dude just walking down the street, he could pull up and be like, “Hey man, I need you to go shoot this house right quick. OK who in it? Don’t worry about it, I’ll give you $200.” Give him a gun and he’ll go do it, it’s just that crazy.
It wasn’t like that in my day. Back in the days when I was growing up, you would have people kidnapping drug dealers’ whole families, mommas and everything. It was dangerous then, that’s why I kept two guns.
Just jumping back to Juicy J—he was really your conduit into music…
Yeah, he was the one who formed me, my whole style. Juicy was the one who told me, “You don’t want to sound like nobody else. Every time you come on a record you want everybody to know it’s you so you got to come up with a whole different style all the time.” If it wasn’t for him I would have probably never went that way. I was going to say that what made me want to do it was when we dropped those CDs in one day and he had made over $24,000. When I seen all that money I said, “Wait a minute, there’s some money in this.” That’s what got me into it.
I had heard you say you were motivated by the money.
I’m sorry if people in other places are taking offense. I heard New York people say before that, “Down south, people just be about money, they don’t be on nothing else, they ain’t really on hip-hop.” I got into it for the money. All that other stuff, that’s cool if you like what I’m saying. Whatever they want to hear is what I’m going to give to them because I just want some money. I’m just keeping it real. It was my best motivator.
At least you’re honest.
That’s what I’m saying, at least I’m honest.
It’s important for you to also keep your finger on the pulse in terms of young producers and what’s going on. Who are you into at the moment locally?
A lot of the producers that produce hits come from Memphis like Drumma Boy. I work with him a lot and he got the flyest tracks of them all. Producer-wise, K.E. on the Track and DJ Spinz, but they come out of Atlanta. I mess with them. You gotta deal with young producers now because that’s all they want to hear. There’s Nasty Man, he’s more on the freaky girls college, like a Kendrick Lamar type, he got a lot of metaphors because that’s what’s in right now, the metaphors. Young Dolph, OG Boo Dirty, you got a lot of younger dudes that’s coming up here, they own the street scene. This is a hood called Highland Heights, it’s on the northside. Excuse my French when I say this is a garbage neighborhood. As you can see, Superman discount mall, dude standing out there selling tacos.
So you’re taking me back to where you grew up?
We’re going into the inner. This is north Memphis. You’re going to see it in a minute, we ain’t in the hood hood hood, we don’t want to go too far in because you get too far in, somebody gonna throw a sign and it might not go so well. But we’re going to be cool because I know what to do.
You’re going to keep me safe?
I’m going to keep me safe too now sweetheart. We gotta stay safe. One thing about me… oh there’s guns and ammo.
What? This is crazy.
Yeah, you know.
I’m not used to being around places where it just says: guns! Come buy them!
Deep south. We’re going to have to do a little maneuver around here, it’s getting ugly.
Is this not nice around here?
No, it’s not nice at all around here. It’s not the worst part. This is Mitchell Heights, when I make this right it’s going to be bad, but this ain’t the bad, bad, bad. It’s north Memphis, it’s not where when I was growing up, this was a sucker neighborhood.
It’s a what neighborhood?
We used to call it a sucker neighborhood, it’s north Memphis, north Memphis got like 40 neighborhoods and this is one of the soft ones, to us, when I was growing up. That’s 15-20 years ago, not right now, ain’t no telling what they’re doing out here. See back there, they standing out. I’m going to try to go a little slower so you can see how they standing out on these little streets.
So I went to Ardent Studios and we had a little chat about you guys actually.
We made a lot of money at Ardent Studios, made them a lot of money.
Well they said, “They were a bunch of kids, but they were really smart.”
We was real young, I might have been 19, I think Juicy was 20, maybe 21.
But already you guys had a very specific vision; you had a business plan.
When Juicy was 23-years-old he was a multimillionaire because Juicy and Paul owned everything. This is the hood right here, this is National. It’s very bad over here, it’s poverty stricken.
What keeps you in Memphis?
I got sons here. I used to live in LA but I was mainly out there for work. My family's out here. I really want to move to Florida to be honest but I’m good, I’m good.
What do you like about Memphis?
Well, Memphis got good food, it’s got cheap living. A $100,000 down here is going to stand for like $300,000, take $100,000 up north and it’s going to stand for like $50,000. You can stay on the outskirts of Memphis, get you about $200,000, you got land, you got an eight bedroom house, you got two stories, you good. You ain’t got no worries.
So where are we going now?
This is north Memphis, Hollywood. This is where I grew up. As far as the music scene here, it’s all influenced by Stax, back in the day. I was always into history when I was in school. Memphis is gonna always have something to do with the music scene in the south because we just got soul. Everybody knows that when Three 6 Mafia came out, nobody had heard that sound before. “Sippin on Some Syrup"—everybody that knew about syrup was people in Mississippi, people here, and people in Texas. Everybody else didn’t know nothing about it. That song was huge. One thing about us, we keep the club popping. I used to operate on this street…
What does that mean, operate?
We used to stand out right here, between those two houses.
Drugs, holla at girls all day. See that white house there? We used to sell drugs there. Used to be a house over here but a junkie, the first junkie I ever seen in my life, burnt my grandmother’s house down.
What? Was she OK?
Nah, she was already gone, she already had passed. And it was a junkie I knew, first junkie I ever really served, and it’s so crazy, they were saying he was the one that burned the house down and I was like “What? Clown.”
How do you feel when you ride around these streets now? I guess you don’t come around here often, huh?
I never go back here, this will never be me again. I feel sorry for the people, I do. These dudes right here, if I got out and talked to them I’d probably know them.
What made you stop dealing drugs and carrying guns?
I went to jail for robbery, then when I got out my brother had the deal with Relativity. I was still selling drugs but I stopped. See that store right there? I used to steal so much it was unreal. Me and my partner lived off this store. We ain’t have no money so we used to steal to live. One day there was a girl in there, she looked like a junkie and she was the police, we couldn’t believe it. She was undercover. She didn’t arrest us though, she tried to tell us to stop stealing, we was like 15 and 16. We were gonna whoop her like, “Bitch, get out of our face you junkie” and she pulled a badge out and we were like, “Damn.” It messed us up. Memphis is just one of those cities—I guess it’s like the blues. As you can see, there’s so much poverty.
Do you think the Memphis hip-hop community is supportive of each other or do you think people have some competition?
It’s a more urban city than anything. We’re like 98% black. Everybody think they’re Marvin Johnson.
What does that mean?
They think they tough, they gonna bump heads, they gonna get into it. You got your Frank Lucases and they get into it with each other. First it start out with some street dudes, then they try to make rap cliques and so they get into it with each other. This is North Memphis, I used to be over here.
Cliques that are making music?
They making music, they selling drugs and they robbing people. That’s what they do. The number one crime in the city is robbery.
What are Memphis music fans like, are they enthusiastic?
They cool. Don’t get it twisted, I just did Memphis in May, every came out it was like 40,000 people. It’s all good, the fans are love. I used to be in this gas station right here.
I can’t keep track of all the places you used to be in.
See, I’d be in a car like this, riding around and we called it scavenging, just nickle and diming. You’re riding around trying to put your hooks out, see what you reel in. I’d be posted up, acting like I’m on my phone, somebody that might see me and say, “I’m looking for some weed.” Bam bam I made a sale. When you’re selling drugs you got to move around. See one thing about police, they’re not tripping on you if you’re moving. As long as you’re keeping it moving, you’re not standing around like vagrants, they be cool with that.
So I interviewed Chris from his band Ex-Cult and he grew up in Memphis and he said that as a teenager your music and Juicy J and Three 6 Mafia was the soundtrack to all the house parties. Everybody’s getting busy to your music.
I used to always rap about stuff for girls to keep the girls twerking. As long as you do that, you’re gonna always be good. Music now is a free for fall, it’s fun. You got people doing whatever they want to do, rapping, singing. It’s so wide open now. No offence when I say this to people that are bisexual, gay or whatever—they getting their chance. They singing, rapping and it’s cool. People just like what they like. I like that now—that way it gives everybody an opportunity.
What’s on your arm?
“The blessings of the Lord make a man rich and have no sorrows.” It’s Proverbs 10-22. It means when you get a blessing from God you don’t gotta worry about looking over your shoulder or thinking somebody gonna take it away from you. I’m going to tell you a story about a Hugh Hefner situation. Hugh Hefner had a birthday party and when I say this I’m not proud of this, this was a period in my life where I had made a mistake, I had gotten incarcerated and I just got out. When I got out maybe a month later I was at the Hugh Hefner birthday party and all the actors, I’m talking Vin Diesel, every last one of them. A lot of stuff don’t impress me, what impresses me is a dude that’s smart, somebody with brains. If you’re an actor or whatever, I don’t know how you do what you do and I’m going to say, “Oh that dude’s smart,” that impresses me. I’m not really a groupie towards nobody, but there’s one dude that I was like, “I can’t believe he here.” When I saw him, I was like a giddy bitch. Donald Trump was there. I’m a Donald Trump groupie.
You got starstruck by Donald Trump?
Why? Because he’s just printing, printing, printing?
Because he got that money, man! He had is security with him, I couldn’t get to him so I was just looking like, “God. If I could just get five minutes of his time, he could tell me what to invest in so that I could be rich for the rest of my life.” I saw this man in person and it was crazy because I was just in a 4 by 9 cell. Music and talent can take you in front of great people that you just never know. I’m sitting here with you right now.
What’s unique about Memphis hip-hop?
One thing about Memphis, we got soul so we gonna make the music that’s going to move a person. to it, you’re going to feel it. We’re gonna get them booties moving. As long as you get them booties moving, you’re gonna pack the club. That’s what we do. The thing about Memphis music, it’s gritty so it brings out the street aspect of it, but it also brings in the party and the getting high, the drugs. The song “Pills Weed Pussy”—it’s funny, it brings a humorous side to kicking it.
Kim is the host on Made In America and an Editor at Noisey. She's on Twitter - @theKTB
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Made in Memphis - Featuring Project Pat, Big Star's Jody Stephens, and Ex-Cult