DJ Paul explains the story behind Three 6 Mafia's “Who Run It”

The Memphis rap legend talks recording in 1999, when everybody thought the world was going to end, and the long-lost original version of the Triple 6 classic.

April 10, 2018

At this point, it doesn't feel controversial to enter Three 6 Mafia into the greatest rap group of all time discussion. The seminal Memphis collective pioneered the concept of the modern mixtape, established the horrorcore sound, and helped bring Southern rap to the forefront of the mainstream. But for the majority of the past decade, the group's influence has been particularly strong, birthing entire internet-based rap careers and sparking a resurgence in the triplet flow.

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Most recently, a slew of classic Three 6 songs have become the basis for huge records: Drake and BlocBoy JB borrowed from Project Pat's 1999 track “Out There (Blunt To My Lips)" for "Look Alive," Juicy J’s “Slop On My Knob" was sampled by A$AP Ferg and G-Eazy, DJ Paul co-produced Rae Sremmurd's recent single "Powerglide," adding in the ubiquitous "Yeah, hoe!" sample, and Three 6 Mafia's 1999 single "Who Run It" has inspired a new freestyle challenge with high-profile participants like A$AP Rocky, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, and more.

In a recent interview with The FADER, DJ Paul, who co-produced the majority of Three 6 Mafia's catalogue and made the beat for "Who Run It," remembered recording the classic track at the turn of the millennium and explained why the group's influence has spanned decades.

What do you remember about that time in your career when you were recording “Who Run It” and When The Smoke Clears?

It was back when everybody thought the world was gonna end in 2000 or whatever — the new millennium. We had a tub full of bottled waters because they were saying there wouldn’t be no water around. It was a weird time but it was cool though.

My father passed away right after we made that album. I had just bought my first big house. My daddy came by and seen and liked it. It was one of the first times he told me he liked anything that I bought. Then we went on the road and he passed away.

We had just moved into our own studio. We hadn’t had that before — that was the first album we recorded at the Hypnotize Minds studios and office in Memphis. 301 Washington Avenue, right behind the jailhouse.

Do you think the whole Y2K, end of the world thing affected the sound of the album?

It probably did, maybe without us even knowing it, but it probably did, yeah.

Do you have any specific memories about recording “Who Run It?”

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I’m gonna have to do some real digging, but I had an original version of “Who Run It” with a different beat. Now I really wanna hear it.

But, basically, how it happened was, I had a version of “Who Run It” that had keys and scary music in it. And everybody loved that version, but I remixed it and made a new version one night in the studio by myself. We were going to a show in Mississippi, and I came on the tour bus and played the new version for everybody from a cassette tape. They went ape shit on the bus.

When The Smoke Clears charted higher than any previous Three 6 Mafia album. Do you see that a turning point in your career?

We did, but we were also nervous about the single, “Sippin’ On Some Syrup,” because it was different for us — it was slow. This was the time when crunk was hotter than ever and we created crunk and then, all of a sudden went a total different direction with the singles. Coming off of “Tear da Club Up” and “Push Em Off” and stuff like that, we came out with something all the way left from crunk. We didn’t if it was gonna work but it worked like a muhfucka.

We've seen so much direct Three 6 Mafia influence in rap over the past six or seven years but it seems like even more high profile artists have taken on the duty of paying homage in 2018. Why do you think it's coming back around so strongly right now?

Everything comes back at some time. I've seen all of this happening because I've been trying to keep the sound alive forever. In 2016, I was doing the whole Year of the Six album and I thought that would be the time because I knew it was coming. But I knew it would come back because I've been so strong in the underground and saw the support and love that everybody had for it. I knew once somebody popular sampled it, like an A$AP member, then it would be on because they always talk about us in interviews and stuff like that.

The kind of music we made — we made horror music. That'll never leave, that'll never go nowhere. People always love music with feeling and we put the feeling in our music. It goes from the emo kids to the straight hip-hop kids. When we finished our albums, we always made sure there was something on there for everybody: the strippers, trappers, people that were going through shit, everybody.

Do you think Three 6 is the most influential rap group of all time?

I would say so. It look likes we probably gonna go down in history as the most sampled outside of James Brown. The thing about is like, there's a lot of groups that were influential in hip-hop but none of those other groups have done what we've done in terms having so many people copying our sound and our style — even in other genres like EDM. There's a lot of big rap groups that came before and after us but nobody's doing what we did.

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DJ Paul explains the story behind Three 6 Mafia's “Who Run It”