Evolving slowly but steadily over the years, Three 6 Mafia began as an exploitative, horror-themed underground hardcore rap sensation ("666 Mafia," get it?) yet went on to enjoy relatively mainstream success years later, eventually winning an Oscar and scoring some major hits. The Memphis, TN, group's membership varied from album to album, with the one constant being the duo of Juicy J and DJ Paul, who are producers as well as rappers. Other notable Mafia affiliates at one time or another include Crunchy Black, Gangsta Boo, Lord Infamous, Koopsta Knicca, La' Chat, Project Pat, Killa Klan Kaze, and Indo G. The production acumen of Juicy and Paul also brought about a number of side projects (Tear da Club Up Thugs, Hypnotize Camp Posse, Da Headbussaz) and independent label ventures; the guys initially did business as Prophet Entertainment, later as Hypnotize Minds, working out deals with Relativity Records, Loud Records, and Columbia — all in turn.
Three 6 Mafia's beginnings date back to the early '90s, when they were known as Triple Six Mafia; these recordings are well compiled on such latter-day compilations as Underground, Vol. 1: 1991-1994. Three 6 made their proper debut in 1995 with Mystic Stylez, a fairly groundbreaking if rudimentary effort that lent itself well to the "horrorcore" tag tossed about in the years to follow. Following another independently released album, Da End (1996), Three 6 signed a distribution deal with Relativity, resulting in Chapter 2: World Domination (1997) and a rash of hasty releases to follow, including solo albums as well as side projects. There were some underground hits from this era that helped further the group's fan base: "Tear da Club Up '97" and "Sippin' on Some Syrup," most notably. Three 6 eventually signed to Columbia, though the group's label debut, Da Unbreakables (2003), didn't break into mainstream consciousness. That would happen with Most Known Unknown (2005), thanks to "Stay Fly," the first major hit for the group. Many doors opened for Three 6 thereafter, including an unlikely Oscar win in early 2006 (for "Hard out There for a Pimp," from the film Hustle & Flow). Capitalizing on the success, Sony reissued Most Known Unknown in 2006 with some new tracks, including a remix of "Side 2 Side," that featured Kanye West.
Given the longevity of Three 6 and the group's longtime status as cult sensations within the hardcore rap underground, there are all kinds of stories and rumors that surfaced over the years. Keeping tabs on the group membership alone is a challenge. For one reason or another, Juicy and Paul rarely kept a consistent stable of rappers, and with each departing member came some sort of drama; for instance, Gangsta Boo allegedly left after finding the Lord whereas Project Pat spent time behind bars. There was also a short-lived beef with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony that inspired a one-off EP, Live by Yo Rep. And there were cinematic ambitions, too — albeit direct-to-video in nature (Choices). That such a group would ever cross over as Three 6 did in the wake of "Stay Fly" could never have been imagined early on, when they were among the most notorious rap acts out there. ~ Jason Birchmeier