Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J Explores His Solo Side
Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J Explores His Solo Side

Juicy J is back, for the first time. The rapper/producer renowned for his work with Memphis collective Three 6 Mafia -- the group debuted on Billboard's Top R&B Albums chart in 1995 with Mystic Stylez and won the Academy Award for best original song in 2006 for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" -- is breaking out as a chart-topping solo force.

In the past five months, Juicy J has appeared on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with four releases: his own "Bandz a Make Her Dance," which peaked at No. 6; as a featured guest on Wiz Khalifa's "Medicated," which hit No. 44; on B.o.B's "We Still in This Bitch," which reached No. 26 on March 23; and his new single, "Show Out," which is No. 29 this week. Juicy J's last footing on that chart dates back to Project Pat's "Good Googly Moogly," which peaked at No. 7 in 2006.

He also helmed three tracks on Lil Wayne's newly released "I Am Not a Human Being II" and is featured on the album's "Trippy." Cumulatively, Juicy J's solo singles have sold more than 1.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, led by strip-club homage "Bandz a Make Her Dance," which has moved 912,000 units.

Juicy J approaches his resurgence more as a neophyte than a veteran. "I feel like it's brand-new for me," he says. He's stewarding his ship this time around and enjoying the autonomy of going solo. "I'm calling all my own shots. My singles, anything I drop, it's all me. It's my decision."

One of those decisions was to link up with Khalifa's Taylor Gang Entertainment and Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records (through Columbia) to release his forthcoming "Stay Trippy," slated for mid-summer.

Taylor Gang's Will Dzombak points to Juicy J's years of relationship-building in the music industry and DIY work ethic as attributing to the great success of "Bandz." "He really put the fire behind that record and put the fire under Wiz and me to really get it out there," Dzombak says. "With Juicy working it with all the DJs, he pretty much did it damn near himself."

Mark McCray, PD of KBFB Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, remembers the song as an instant hit. "'Bandz a Make Her Dance' was a smash for us. That record, from the minute we put it on the air, really resonated with our audience." He cites Juicy J's "Down South vibe" as appealing to Three 6 Mafia loyalists and a new, younger generation that Juicy J has engaged due to his affiliation with Khalifa.

DJ Sour Milk, a radio personality at KPWR Los Angeles, further explains that the Mike WiLL Made It-produced "Bandz" proved to be a radio breakthrough because it ushered in a slew of sonically similar hits including Rihanna's "Pour It Up" (also produced by Mike WiLL). "That song made it a lot easier for half the songs to make it on the radio," Sour Milk says. He points to Juicy J spearheading the "ratchet" subgenre, known for its melodic synths, rattling drums, high-energy machismo and often ignorant or silly lyrics, which others like Tyga and YG have adopted. "It's just speaking your mind," Juicy J says of the genre's name. "It's straight raw."

He may lead the pack, but don't expect Juicy J to strictly adhere to this signature in 2013. The rapper has plenty of surprises planned, including an upcoming tour with buzzy newcomer A$AP Ferg, a remix of Baauer's "Harlem Shake," impending TV and liquor projects and what he promises will be a "crazy" secret feature on "Stay Trippy." After nearly two decades in hip-hop, Juicy J's firmly in control and what he wants, goes. "I want to do it the way I want to do it," he says.