Juicy J, the Oscar-winning rapper and producer, was born thirty-eight years ago as Jordan Michael Houston. That makes he and I the same age. Judging from his latest solo album, “Stay Trippy,” our lifestyles are drastically different. I’m happily married and fine with the fact that my wife will be my one and only romantic partner for the rest of my life. Juicy J is having threesomes with strippers. I don’t do drugs and try to keep my alcohol consumption to a three drink maximum. Juicy J is smoking loud, getting drunk, and sipping syrup erry day. I’m in bed by ten and up by 6 every day, which means I go to bed when Juicy J is getting ready to go out, and get up when he’s getting ready to go to bed. My main focus in life is to be a good father and good provider for my family. Juicy J is more focused on making paper, spending paper, getting fucked up and having sex with as many women as possible. Juicy J’s hedonism and love of all things ratchet is not a lifestyle that I envy or would endorse, but it sure as hell makes for a fun album.
Juicy J lays out his statement of purpose on opening track “Stop It”:
“Make money, no vacation
Pay cash don’t make payments
Getting high like I’m eighteen
But I’ve been rich since the late 80s
Backstage, naked ladies
Popping pills and swallowing babies
Bad bitches ain’t come to play
She going give me head before I go on stage
New car, a couple, a hundred
Ain’t nothing I call it play money
Bugatti, Ferrari, the Benz, the Bentley
I’m a fuck me a model, I’m a fuck me a model
You only get to live one time, so I’m a fuck me a model
I make money all day then I ball with the profits”
Self-reflection isn’t big on Juicy J’s to-do list. On “Smokin’ Rollin'” he raps about sipping codeine while sharing verses with Pimp C, WHO DIED FROM DRINKING CODEINE:
“Codeine in my system, mane this life outstanding
Feel like I’m on another planet, I don’t plan on landing
My Audemar is iced out, ice cream soft served
Prescription pills, prescription weed, drink prescription cough syrup
My swag belong on the short bus, I’m smokin’ out in my tour bus
I’m chasing after that long money and I don’t take no short cuts
Where the hell is we headed, I don’t know but I’m high”
Let’s be straight:”Stay Trippy” is ignorant as hell. That doesn’t mean it’s stupid, though. Juicy J may be an expert at killing brain cells, but he’s no dummy. His lyrical content may not win any literary awards, but he’s a good rapper, and among the best doing this kind of music. Listening to the way Juicy J works with repetition in his songs makes you realize how well it can work when done right. On “Smoke A Nigga,” for example, he’s juxtaposing smoking as in getting high with smoking as in killing someone. It may not be Shakespeare, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Juicy J had been the ghostwriter behind Rick Ross’s recent winning streak. Most important, the man is the master of the one liner. He says a lot of offensive shit, but does in such a funny way that you can’t help but be on board. The man deserves another Oscar just for lines like “Your baby mama ain’t a ten/But when I’m drunk she’s close enough,” and “You say no to ratchet pussy, Juicy J can’t.” He’s sort of the hip-hop version of Motley Crue or AC/DC, artists that make incredibly dumb, incredibly good music about sex and drugs. Except Juicy J doesn’t have to limit himself to innuendo like “Sink the Pink.” He can go all out and be as graphic and vulgar as he wants to be, and STILL have a platinum single.
That platinum single is the centerpiece of the album. Most of the songs make some lyrical or musical reference to “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” The formula of melodic, trance-influenced trap music is copied throughout the album, and the line “Bandz A Make Her Dance” is uttered on almost every song, even those not explicitly about strippers. It’s a monster hit for a reason, and nails Juicy J’s ability to make music that is catchy without toning down the raunch factor at all. Even if you bleep out the curse words, it is still a song about paying strippers for sex. Hip-hop radio is full of songs about making it rain on strippers, but “Bandz A Make Her Dance” is a true masterpiece. Rappers should drop stripper rap altogether, because Juicy J has said all that needs to be said about it.
Paying strippers for sex is one of three themes of “Stay Trippy.” The other two are getting high and drunk, and shooting and robbing. Some songs combine two or more of those themes, while others keep it strictly about drugs, sex, or killing. The songs about shooting and robbing are the least interesting bunch on the album. “Stay Trippy” would have been stronger if “No Heart No Love” and “Gun Plus Mask” were left off. “No Heart No Love” has the same dead-eyed nihilism as Chief Keef, with a plodding beat provided by Keef’s beatmaker Young Chop. “Gun Plus A Mask” has a solid verse by Yelawolf, but the murderous vibe of the song is at odds with the free-wheeling partying of the rest of the album.
While “Stay Trippy” sounds slicker than Juicy J’s numerous mixtapes, it is by no means Juicy’s attempt to sell out. Juicy keeps things raw, working with Mike Will, Lex Luger, and Dr. Luke, three producers who do contemporary versions of the Southern rap sound that Juicy J and his former Three 6 Mafia bandmates pioneered. This isn’t a case of an older rapper trying desperately to be cool by working with younger producers, either. Juicy J owns the project from start to finish, out-rapping the guest stars (although I’m not sure if out rapping Wale or Wiz Khalifa is anything to brag about). There are two obvious attempts at crossover tracks: the Chris Brown-assisted “Talkin’ Bout,” and the Timberlake/Timbaland collabo “The Woods.” Those afraid of Juicy J getting sappy don’t need to worry: “Talking ‘Bout” is about getting high and spending money, “Woods” is about having sex in the woods, and Juicy J’s idea of romance is “She keep looking back at it/we keep grinding like jack rabbits/All she wants is this pipe/I turn her into a crack addict.”
The Justin Timberlake appearance points to Juicy J’s interesting place in mainstream pop culture. Juicy J is not an obvious choice of rapper to be embraced by polite society. He hasn’t rebranded himself as a bourgeoisie businessman like Jay Z or Diddy, he’s not trying to be an Artist with a capital “A” like Kanye, and he doesn’t share the progressive political leanings of Yasim Bey or Common. And yet he’s won an Oscar, worked with Miley Cyrus, and is rapping alongside one of the biggest pop stars of our era. And he’s done this without toning down his act at all. There are no bigger messages to his music, no attempts to show a sensitive side, and nothing beyond partying, making money, and occasionally acting like a goon.
“Stay Trippy” is not an album you should think too hard about. Juicy J’s idea of female empowerment is paying college girls to shake their lady parts at him, and his message to other young black men is basically “make money and fuck strippers.” Even if Juicy J’s brand of explicit hip-hop isn’t your cup of syrup, you have to admire the man for staying relevant and good as he nears his third decade in the game. It’s hard for an older rapper to rap about this kind of subject matter without coming off like a has-been trying to stay hip. There is no question that Juicy J means what he says and says what he means. At 38, he can run circles around the younger rappers, and can no doubt out-drink and out-drug them as well. “Stay Trippy” may not be the album you play for doubters to prove the artistic merits of hip-hop, and its subject matter wears thin after a while, but damn if it doesn’t sound good loud.