DJ Paul one of the funniest, nicest people to ever shape the course of modern pop music. Before you even read this article, add him on Facebook so you can be friends with him too. As a member of the legendary Memphis rap crew Three 6 Mafia, Paul’s sneakily innovative production and gruff bark of a rap style helped create a template for much of modern hip-hop. It’s his (and production partner Juicy J’s) pitter-pattering drum hits and murky sonic boom that were taken by guys such as Lex Luger, who interpreted the sound to end up creating beats for basically every popular rapper out right now.
The early Three 6 sound, a beyond-dank thump that sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie, has seen a revived interest amongst hip-hop tastemakers as well, with underground kids such as SpaceGhostPurrp and Lil’ Ugly Mane hitting paydirt by more or less ripping off an entire style.
This past Friday I met Paul, his publicist, and a couple associates at a fancy Thai restaurant on St. Mark’s. It was the day after Fashion’s Night Out, and he and Juicy J had united to play a Supreme party the night before. Paul was wearing a shirt with his own face on it. He explained that it was the result of a collaboration with Supreme, and it looked pretty sweet. Throughout the course of the dinner, we discussed Three 6’s history, Paul’s parenting philosophy, and what it’s like to win an Oscar. At one point, he made me pray with him over our beers.
Noisey: How did Three 6 Mafia get started? You were in high school, right?
DJ Paul: Yeah. Juicy J had just graduated, actually. We met because we both DJ'd. I was the hottest on the South side of Memphis, he was the hottest on the North side. We thought it'd be cool if we did a tape together, and we ended up combining our two crews. We started out as Triple Six Mafia, which turned into Three 6 Mafia.
How did that name come about?
My brother Lord Infamous was just rapping one day, and he said that our group was a "Triple Six Mafia." I said, "Oh, that's pretty cool," so I just started sampling it on our songs. And even to today, I still sample his original voice.
I told my mom that I was interviewing you—
Did she tell you not to go?
She hadn't heard of you. I said your name was DJ Paul and you were in a group called Three 6 Mafia, and she asked if you were a Satanist.
I get that from time to time. When people ask me if I'm into Satan, I usually hold them down and carve an upside-down five-point star into their chest. [silence, nervous laughter] Nah, I usually just laugh it off because we're far from that. I mean, Juicy’s daddy is a preacher for crying out loud. We grew up in the church. But don't most Satanists grow up in the church? Nah, I'm not into Satan. Matter of fact, I'm finna pray over this beverage right here if you don't mind. [more silence] Give me your hand. I want you to feel the power.
[DJ Paul grabs my hand. We pray.]
A lot of your early mixtapes had a very dark, murky sound.
This new one got that. I brought that back a little more this time. A lot of people these days are starting to do the dark sound like us. More than ever. I’m proud of that.
Tell me about growing up in Memphis.
It was rugged, man. It was a grimy town. It was fun, though. It was what helped create that sound, growing up in a ratchet environment. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up nowhere else. I wouldn't have been the same me if I'd grown up anywhere else.
You have a son. Are you happy he doesn't have to go through the same stuff that you did growing up?
Yes and no. It's not always good to grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth. That's why I don't always spoil him as much as I could. You gotta teach 'em the values of life. You got any kids?
You want a kid?
I don't know.
You want my son? You can have his bad ass.
I'm 23, man. I'm too young to have kids.
Not really. I know kids that are sixteen that have kids. You want their kids? I'm sure they'd give 'em to you.
DJ Paul also has a cooking channel. Here he is barbecuing a pizza.
What is your relationship with women like? Any platonic relationships?
Like, you don't have sex with them.
Do I have sex?
Do you just have friends that are women?
I better. I'm a rapper; it's kinda hard to turn 'em down.
What is your favorite song you've ever made?
Probably "Who Run It." When I made that beat, I made it a little different. I would let a whole two bars go past before I would even add a snare. It would be just a kick. I was trying to base it off the feel of a New York-sounding record, with an old-school sample thrown in. The beat was kind of different, especially for that time.
It seems like the idea of "regionalism" in hip-hop is breaking down. Do you think that's a good thing?
The Internet and the Dirty South took over hip-hop so strongly. It's good that our sound doesn't get canceled out by radio stations anymore. Back in the day, New York wouldn't play West Coast or Dirty South and stuff like that. It makes the sound more national, but it kills the fun of having East Coast rap, West Coast rap. Everybody sounds the same now.
What music do you listen to?
Eighties. Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, things of that nature.
What do you look for when you're sampling a song?
Bump. Shit's gotta be bumpin'. That's what we call something that sounds good.
How much production are you doing these days?
On my album, I didn't produce the whole thing but I oversaw everything. I have some of my own beats on there, but I also wanted to give some young producers a chance to do their thing, and I just took the tracks they gave me and added my own stuff to give them my own feel.
When I interviewed Gunplay, he told me about the secret world government. Do you have a comment on that?
Man, when it comes to a secret world government, there's no telling.
Are you going to vote this year?
Yeah, I'll do a little somethin'. Get in where I fit in.
I'm sure you get asked about your Oscar a lot. What do you do with it?
It's put up in a safe place. It's in Tennessee.
How did you end up making “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” for Hustle and Flow?
George Singleton is a good friend of ours, and he always was a fan of one of our old movies that we wrote and produced. It was called Choices. He always liked how it took place in Memphis and was real urban. He said he wanted to do something similar, so he made Hustle and Flow. Since it was based in Memphis, he and the writer/director Craig Brewer—who's from Memphis and grew up a fan of ours—felt it was only right to have Three 6 Mafia do a song for it. They had a lot of Memphis artists do songs for the soundtrack. They gave us a lot of love.
Were you surprised when you were nominated?
Yeah, man. Super surprised. I didn't even know what an Oscar was. They called me at like six in the morning and told us we were nominated, and I had to look it up. I knew what it looked like and I'd seen it on TV here and there, but I didn't know the name of it. It got so many names—Academy Award, Oscar, you know. When I looked it up, I was like, "Oh shit! The gold man!"
Tell me about Oscar Night.
It was fun, man. It wasn't like how you'd imagine it to be. We were still so nervous about walking around with those things, so we didn't really party a lot. We went to the Governor's Ball that's right after, and we left that and went to this party thrown by this big magazine, and after that we went back to the hotel and called it a night. I almost damaged my Oscar. I bumped mine up against Frayser Boy's. Mine got a little cut on his head now. I got nervous.
Three 6 Mafia made "Chop Me Up" with Justin Timberlake. What was that like?
It was fun. I'd always been a fan of Justin's, but I think on FutureSex/LoveSounds they outdid themselves. Every song on that album easily could have been a single. We got a call from our label being like, "Justin Timberlake wants you guy on a song with Timbaland." We was like, "What?" We went up there, did our raps and this and that, and boom. Pretty good song. Only thing I didn't like about it was we never did a video for it.
What would a video for that have been like?
Strip club, maybe? Good idea, right?
Honestly, I can't see Justin Timberlake in a strip club.
Me and Justin have been to a strip club together.
Can you tell me about that?
I can't. Can I tell you about my barbecue products?
Yeah, I meant to ask you about that.
It's the DJ Paul Barbecue Rub and DJ Paul Barbecue Sauce. I used to spend a lot of time on the West Coast, and I couldn't it down there, so I just started making my own. I let my friends and neighbors taste it, and they liked it, so I decided to sell it.