After almost two decades in rap, Three 6 Mafia's  Juicy J is making a grand entrance as a solo artist. With a handful of solo mixtapes and a pair of independent albums, the Memphis native took off from his longtime crew to sign a joint deal with Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records and Columbia, putting his major-label debut into motion.
The signing comes in the wake of Juicy J's breakout hit, "Bandz A Make Her Dance," featuring 2 Chainz  and Lil Wayne . The solo version of the song was released in May, and the 37-year-old rapper tweeted a link to download the remix version of the Mike WiLL Made It-produced anthem in June. The track exploded on the club circuit and soon became a hit at R&B/hip-hop radio. This week the track is No. 14 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 11 on Rap Songs. It has sold 39,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The song caught Dr. Luke's attention in the months that followed its debut. The producer had worked with Three 6 Mafia four years ago and reconnected with Juicy J to sign him to Kemosabe, which he brought to Sony in November 2011. Juicy J, already signed to Wiz Khalifa's  Taylor Gang imprint and Columbia under his Three 6 Mafia deal, seized the opportunity to go into business with Luke by forming a mutually beneficial partnership.
"I call us 'the Powerhouse 3,' and we're going to get in the studio and make hits," Juicy J says, referring to Taylor Gang, Kemosabe and Columbia. He's recording his first album as part of the deal and has already banked roughly 60 songs for the untitled project. Though Luke's official involvement with the album is currently undetermined, Juicy J hopes to knock out an additional 15-20 songs with him. "I've been in the game for a while, and I do my shows now and sell out venues -- 3,000, 4,000 people at a time," he says. "It's going to be something big."
Luke, whose recent credits include Rihanna's  "Where Have You Been," Ke$ha's  "We R Who We R" and B.o.B's  "Strange Clouds," notes that Juicy J's relationships in the industry prove his ability as a businessman and praises his drive.
"Juicy was already signed to Columbia, and they were gracious enough to say, 'Hey, let's do this together,'" says Luke, who executed the deal in less than two weeks. "I don't look at it as just this record. I look at it as a long-term relationship with an artist that I have a ton of respect for and believe in. I'd love to be involved."
With the record now a top 20 hit, Columbia sees Juicy J's success as "traditional," yet bolstered by his passionate work ethic. "It's a great story of an artist who's found his own renaissance," Columbia senior VP of marketing Scott Greer says. Senior director of A&R JR Lindsey adds, "He's got something that separates him from other artists. He's definitely focused on making this one of the best albums he's ever made, and that's one of the most inspiring things, especially as an A&R."
Juicy J is finishing up his Kemosabe debut and will hit the road as part of Khalifa's 2050 tour through the fall. Another Three 6 Mafia album is up to Columbia, but he's focused on keeping his solo buzz sustained. "I'm not going to go out without a fight," Juicy J says. "I'm the guy who's always going to hustle to the end. It was unexpected to me -- I didn't expect to be a solo artist. I was just promoting and it happened to come back to me. You can't argue with that."
- Hip-Hop