Back in 2005, I went to a Jay-Z show in New Jersey, and one of my favorite music critics gave me a ride back to New York in his Mercedes, a car that would give me radically unrealistic ideas about the monetary potential of my young career. During the drive, said critic mentioned that the Lox’s barker Sheek Louche, who’d guested at the show, was his “favorite untalented rapper.” I loved the idea of that distinction, and I spent maybe five nanoseconds thinking about it before offering up my own favorite: DJ Paul, one of the two sonic architects and compulsive bellowers behind Three 6 Mafia. Seven years later, I’m delighted to report that this was absolutely the right pick.
Over the years, plenty of strong, talented rappers have floated through Triple Six’s chaotic Memphis circle: Project Pat, Gangsta Boo, Koopsta Knicca, Paul’s own brother Lord Infamous. But they all eventually left or got kicked out, and these days, the only two remaining members are Paul and Juicy J. Of the two, Juicy’s delivery has way more tricks to it. He plays around with pitch and meter, jumping in and out of the pocket and launching into moments of dizzy singsong. Paul, on the other hand, just lets his hoarse voice bulldoze its way through tracks, sometimes ratcheting it up into a clumsy double-time but never really changing anything. But I love Paul. He’s a dizzy, perma-drunk libertine who makes some of the worst puns in the history of humanity, and he always seems to be having more fun than anyone else on any track. Juicy’s coming off a great year, reinventing himself as rap’s proudly ignorant drunk uncle over the course of his two Rubba Band Business mixtapes with Lex Luger and signing with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang label. Paul faded into the background while that was happening. But on his new For I Have Sinned tape, Paul seems like he’s trying to show Juicy what proud ignorance really sounds like.
On the For I Have Sinned intro, Paul shouts along with a sample of Kiefer Sutherland talking about killing people in the TV show The Confession, and it’s both ominous and overwhelmingly goofy. That pretty much sets the tone for the entire mixtape, a bit of classic-style Three 6 Mafia hammerhead murder-music, Paul grunting about murking people in just about every way he can think of: “You don’t wanna bang! I got goons like Platoon / They’ll paint your animated ass like a cartoon!” But throughout, Paul shows off a genial and complete lack of seriousness. Consider, for example, the moment where he says, “I don’t read a lot but my house ’bout three stories,” a pun so dumb it took me a minute to figure out what he was even talking about. And it stomps on like that. On For I Have Sinned, Paul’s idea of a mellow, reflective moment is the song where he says, “I done even seen a UFO / But I never seen a ho that wouldn’t go” — or maybe the one where he makes the romantic threat to “make your juicebox explode.” Two thirds of the way through, you might find yourself thinking that this tape could only be more absurdly, violently fun if the Insane Clown Posse showed up — and then the Insane Clown Posse show up: “Oh my god! Holy shit! What the fuck! Help me, Lord! / I’m kicking down somebody door waving a bloody ninja sword!” (I think that’s Violent J, but I’m not good at telling the Clowns apart.)
None of this would work, of course, if the music didn’t equal Paul’s level of all-out aggression, but that’s never been a problem for this guy. Paul and various understudies (including the awesomely named DJ Doink) produce the entire tape, which sticks heavily with the gothic horror-movie stomp that’s always made Three 6 work. Sometimes, track outros slide into squiggling bro-step, an unexpected stylistic leap that turns out to make total sense. On “Da Money,” Paul manages to make a Flock Of Seagulls sample sound hard as fuck, which can’t be easy. There’s just enough variety in these jackhammer slaps to keep things interesting. In the past, Paul solo releases have trudged into monotony, but that doesn’t happen here. Most of the songs end long before the three-minute mark, and even though the tape is more than an hour long, it always rockets by way faster than I expect. All in all, it works as a glorious return to Paul’s unabated punch-you-in-the-neck style. After a few years of unbearable post-Oscar pop-cultural omnipresence, its heartening to see that both members of the Three 6 braintrust have returned to their hardass cult-hero roots. The world needs them sounding like this.
Download For I Have Sinned for free here.