"Yo, you know what they saying on 'Stay Fly?'" Someone—I no longer remember who—had stopped me in my high school hallway to ask about one of my favorite rap groups, Three 6 Mafia. It was 2005, the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, and I'd already built a reputation as a die hard fan. "Yeah, what you mean?" I answered, slightly offended that someone would question my knowledge of the lyrics. Not only was this my favorite group, but they played the song on the radio every 20 minutes, and it was regularly included on the music video countdown shows.
"Naw yo, did you hear what they saying in the background of the chorus?" The part he was talking about is still slightly indecipherable to me: the harmonizing that starts the song and continues in its hook throughout. "They saying 'Lucifer, you're my king. You're my father!' Listen to that shit again," he declared.
I brushed him off as crazy. But later that day, on my way home from school, I booted up the iPod Nano—which only had shuffle capabilities so I had to keep pressing the next button—and listened intently to "Stay Fly." The syllables of those backing vocals matched perfectly with the incantation my homie had filled me in on: "Lu-ci-fer, you're my king. You're my fath-ah." My mind was good as blown. I ran it back a few times to make sure I wasn't tripping. After a few plays, it seemed like he was right. I was stuck.
I was 15 and admittedly a bit fragile on the subject of religion. It was around the time I started questioning what I'd learned in church up to that point. One day, I'd think it was all bullshit and the next, I'd feel guilty for such thoughts. Not long before I had gotten the news about the track, I watched Passion of the Christ with my older sister. Seeing Jesus have his flesh yanked out by a cat o' nine tails whip properly fucked my head up. Soon after, my grandmother convinced me to watch some DVD, which, for its two-hour entirety, linked rap music to the satisfaction of Satan. It was a low budget movie, and for the most part I took it as a joke. The guy hosting the film, a self-described musician, went in about how Bone Thugs-n-Harmony worshipped the devil because the liner notes of one of their albums was written backwards like witchcraft. He also spent a good 20 minutes on how DMX and Marilyn Manson's 1998 collaboration "The Omen" was clearly the workings of Satan because a chord in its instrumental couldn't be found anywhere on the piano or in any production program he'd ever seen. His justification and "Ah hah" moment was that, in the Bible, Satan was God's minister of music, so he could manipulate sound any way he pleased.
Three 6, the more I thought about it, fit into this line of thinking, even though I didn't need this guy to point that out to me. I was already very aware of the fact that their content and imagery was tied to the devil. I mean, they were fucking called Triple 6 Mafia in their early days. The logo for their Hypnotized Camp Posse was the grim reaper and they routinely rapped about Satan. None of that was enough for me to stop listening. But something about hearing them actually praise Lucifer was too much for me. That combination of fear-baiting and my being an impressionable teenager left me feeling like I only had one option left: to get rid of their Most Known Unknown album (which I recently spoke about on the Vinyl Me Please Podcast).
Later in the week of me accepting that the group was calling on Satan in "Stay Fly," I gave the song one last spin. At this point, I couldn't unhear the words. This time I was listening on a portable CD player to avoid shuffling through my Nano. I turned the song off, popped open the player and looked at the CD one last time. I shook my head, then snapped it in half and threw it in the trashcan. It was one of the hardest departures I'd ever made in my life up to that point.
After that, I gave myself a set of rules for my musical intake. I promised myself that I would not listen to any songs that were listed under Three 6 Mafia. If they happened to pop up as featured artists on another person's song, that was permissible. I also still listened to Project Pat everyday; his music was solely produced by Three 6's DJ Paul and Juicy J (his younger brother) and the group regularly showed up on his albums. I was full of shit the whole time but making that promise to myself felt like it gave me a reliable excuse to make to God just in case I died and faced judgement if he was real.
Obviously, this was all an extreme overreaction. A simple search of the samples used for "Stay Fly" will show you that the song's backing vocals were taken from popular 70s RnB singer Willie Hutch's "Tell Me Why Has Your Love Turned Cold." He was a favorite of the group. Another one of his songs, "I Choose You," was sampled for Project Pat's "Choose U," then later for UGK and Outkast's "International Players Anthem." But in "Tell Me Why Has Your Love Turned Cold," the song starts with the same indecipherable vocals that sound like "Lucifer, you're my king. You're my father." As the song progresses and the vocals become clearer, you'll hear that it repeatedly says "Tell me why."
Even still, people in the comments section of website Who Sampled argue that Three 6 did change the lyrics to fit their demonic aesthetic. So, looking back, I basically stressed myself out for no reason. Either way, my Three 6 Mafia ban lasted all of two weeks if not less. Their music provided me with so much joy that I decided I'd rather chance being melted for eternity than to not bump them on the regular. And honestly, if God didn't want me to listen to them, he shouldn't have blessed them with the ability to make so much fire.
Lawrence Burney will argue with you about anything Three 6 Mafia-related. Follow him on Twitter