Juicy J gears up for his Feb. 24 House of Blues show

By Alan Sculley

Veteran hip-hop artist Juicy J enjoyed a major resurgence in his career, first when his 2012 album, “Stay Trippy,” produced a trio of hit singles, “Bandz A Maker Dance,” “Show Out” and “Bounce It,” and then in 2014 when he did a guest spot on Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse,” which topped “Billboard” magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart and was nominated for a Grammy.

After that, Juicy J’s momentum stalled, as singles came and went and he decided to shelve the album (“Pure THC: The Hustle Continues”) that was meant to be the follow-up to “Stay Trippy.”

But recently there have been a few signs of life. “TGOD Mafia: Rude Awakening,” the 2016 album Juicy J made with Wiz Khalifa and TM 88, opened at No. 2 on “Billboard’s” U.S. Rap album chart and No. 3 on the U.S. R&B chart. It seems that even though his highest charting single since “Bandz a Make Her Dance” was “Shell Shocked” (a tune that came from 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” soundtrack), fans haven’t forgotten about Juicy J.

And now Juicy J (Jordan Michael Houston is his real name) has another album, “Rubba Band Business,” ready for release and a tour under way that’s meant to coincide with the new album.

The slump he experienced didn’t happen for any lack of effort. One of hip-hop’s most prolific artists, Juicy J released three mixtapes leading up to “TGOD Mafia: “Rude Awakening” and has dropped another pair of mixtapes (“Lit In Ceylon” and “Must Be Nice”) since then.

Had he come up with a successful advance single from “Pure THC: The Hustle Continues,” that album would have been released as well.

“You know, things didn’t go right,” Juicy J said when asked about “Pure THC: The Hustle Continues” during a mid-January phone interview. “The singles that I put out didn’t pop like I wanted them to pop. I just left it (the album) alone. I walked away from it. I was like ‘Nah,’ I wasn’t feeling it anymore.’ I just gave up on it. I’ve still got a lot of those tracks. I don’t know, it may still see the light of day.”

Juicy J said the songs on a mixtape or album have to fit what is happening in his life at the time in order him to release them. And while he still likes some of the songs he did for “Pure THC: The Hustle Continues,” they simply ceased to feel relevant to him. So he moved on and made the trio of mixtapes – “Blue Dream & Lean 2,” “100% Juice” and “O’s To Oscars” — that preceded the release of “TGOD Mafia: Rude Awakening.”

Perhaps Juicy J has kept up the pace of releasing his mixtapes and albums over the past couple of years because he knows that most artists will have ups and downs over the course of their careers – and just one song can put an artist back in the forefront of the hip-hop game.

That’s been the case for Juicy J. He came up on the Memphis rap scene and was a founding member of Three 6 Mafia. For several years, the going was slow for the group, which came together in 1991.

Over the course of the group’s first three albums – 1995’s “Mystic Stylez,” 1996’s “Chaper 1: The End” and 1997’s “Chapter 2: World Domination” – Three 6 Mafia gradually saw its album sales grow as the group established itself on the hip-hop scene.

Then after a three-year gap, the group scored a first breakthrough with the 2000 album, “When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1.” Even though that album’s biggest single, “Sippin’ on Some Syrup,” only reached No. 30 on “Billboard’s” U.S. R&B chart, the album took off, eventually topping one million copies sold.

Three 6 Mafia continued to have decent success over the next four years, as its next three albums each debuted in the top five on the R&B album chart (with 2003’s “Da Unbreakables” going gold).

Then came the album that cemented Three 6 Mafia’s place in hip-hop annals, 2005’s “Most Known Unknown.” The million-selling album went No. 1 on the R&B album chart and cracked the top five on “Billboard’s” all-genre Top 200 album chart, while a song originally written for the film “Hustle & Flow” made history. That track, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song – becoming the second hip-hop song to receive that honor (after Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” from the film “8 Mile”).

But following that achievement, Three 6 Mafia started to pull apart, and Juicy J went solo in 2009. For several years, it looked like his time in the spotlight might have been fading. He did stay busy, doing some collaborations with fellow Taylor Gang member Khalifa and self-releasing a string of mixtapes and singles, but nothing really took and his career seemed stuck in neutral.

That changed when he released the original version of “Bandz a Make Her Dance” on Twitter in 2012, a track he recorded in an apartment in Washington, D.C. on 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 Kemosabe/Columbia Records and the release of “Stay Trippy,” with “Bandz a Make Her Dance” as the lead single.

“TGOD Mafia: Rude Awakening” grew out of a collaboration between Juicy J and TM88 after the latter artist had signed on with Juicy J’s publishing company.

“I was working on this for a long time,” Juicy J said. “Even when I don’t have an idea of when I’m going to drop stuff, I work on mixtapes. And I had everything together. Me and TM88, we had put together (the tracks), me and TM88. I was like why don’t we drop this as a mixtape? I called Wiz up to see if there were tracks he wanted to jump on. I called him up with the songs and he did verses to every one of them. Then we were like this is sounding so good, it was like, man, let’s put this on iTunes.”

Juicy J hinted that “Rubba Band Business” will be different from “TGOD Mafia: “Rude Awakening,” whose lyrics (mostly about three subjects – making money, women and partying) are often set to understated, but taut beats, with synthy hooks adding a bit of a
pop element to the sound.

“The lyrics (on “Rubba Band Business”) are super crazy,” Juicy J said. “I’m doing some of my Three 6 Mafia flows…A lot of people ain’t heard those flows, so I kind of brought that back. You know, this album has a heavy Three 6 Mafia influence.

“That’s what I was feeling at the time and it came out great,” he said. “I’m satisfied with everything on the album.”

Juicy J said he’ll perform some of his newest songs along with the hits fans expect on his winter tour. But he didn’t spell out too many details of what he has planned for his show.

“It’s going to be fun. I have a lot of surprises,” Juicy J said. “I can’t tell you everything, but I definitely have a lot of surprises.”

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