Music

Duke Deuce Resurrected Crunk. Now He’s Trying to Keep the Sound of Memphis Rap Alive

Okayplayer spoke to Duke Deuce about falling in love with Linkin Park and Korn, Memphis horrorcore, working with producer Hitkidd and more.

The Memphis resurgence has been a dominating factor in hip-hop for 2022. Artists like GloRilla and Glossup have offered a stark difference in women in rap. Yo Gotti’s roster of acts underneath his label CMG (which Glo is signed to) has become the modern-day Cash Money of the city, even inspiring label signee Moneybagg Yo to create his own trademark with Bread Gang. And then there’s Duke Deuce, the self-proclaimed “King of Crunk” who’s become one of the city’s most promising talents.

Since gaining nationwide attention back in 2019 with his song “Crunk Ain’t Dead,” Duke has become known for his aggressive delivery and combustible energy, his signature rap style (and that instantly-memorable “What the fuck?” adlib of his), and love of jookin separating him from his Memphis contemporaries and forebears. But behind the animated persona and dark lyrical themes is a slightly quiet and self-composed man. 

“I feel like a lot of people already know that I’m funny. Well, some people know from things I’ve done on social media, but it’s a lot worse than what I show. I’m laid back,” Duke said during an afternoon Zoom chat. The polarity in his personality is present throughout his newest project MEMPHIS MASSACRE III, which finds him exploring thoughts of paranoia, animosity, and dominance, over a blend of hardcore rap and metal sounds. The album is an ambitious endeavor for Duke, with the artist employing homegrown talent like Opera Memphis, rising stars Big Moochie Grape and Glockianna, and legends DJ Paul to help bring his sonically dark world to life. The end result is something that could’ve served as the soundtrack to Tales From The Hood, all grounded by Duke’s ear for great production and catchy hooks.

“Bro, I can do anything and everything. I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist,” he said. “So, I just kind of wanted to put that out there just to show people what I could really do, and bring in a newer crowd. I showed them I can do this. I got moves. You already know I’m gangster walking, doing all that. So boom, I’m fixing to hit y’all with some alternative to bring in another crowd.”

It’s because of his distinctive style that he’s been able to work with everyone from Rico Nasty and Isaiah Rashad to Juicy J and Lil Jon, and become a star in today’s burgeoning rap scene emerging from the South. 

In our conversation with Duke Deuce, Okayplayer spoke with the rising artist about Memphis horrorcore, being influenced by rock music, and his newest album MEMPHIS MASSACRE III

Duke Deuce performs onstage during AXR+EXP Live Concert Experience featuring Offset & Friends at Coda rooftop on October 16, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Okayplayer: When it comes to Memphis, instantly what comes to mind when I hear your music is Tommy Wright, Gangsta Boo, and Three 6 Mafia. We know the influence they’ve had on your music, but could you speak more about your love for rock music and how that came about?

Duke Deuce: The rock music part came from my pops. He kind of influenced that on me by just really listening to it. After school, he’d pick me up in that Lincoln — I forgot the name of the fucking radio station — but it was just all alternative, and we used to be in that motherfucker singing word-for-word. So, I kind of fell in love with rock music then, especially with Linkin Park. I fell in love with Korn when Queen of the Damned came out because the soundtrack is so hard. Their sound is the sound we like, you feel me? As far as the sound I like it, it’s dark and eerie but it’s hard at the same time. 

Let’s talk about Hitkidd. When did that relationship begin for you?

I think me and Hitkidd linked up right after I dropped this song called “Whole Lotta,” and then motherfuckers started going crazy locally. I think we started talking on Instagram and shit like that about him sending me beats. It went from sending beats to linking up and becoming partners. That’s like my brother-type shit. We be having the same ideas because we’ve both got that mastermind, and we’re both different and think outside the box.

You have a lot of acts that are coming out of Memphis right now. How do you feel about it? 

It’s a perfect time and it’s about time. I’m excited about it, honestly. I ain’t going to lie, I’m happy for everybody doing their thing in the city. I’ve been waiting on this shit, you feel me? I feel like it’s been so hard for that to happen without social media because everybody knows Memphis. It’s like we just kind of don’t stick together as we should. But with social media, it is almost as if that doesn’t really matter, because it’s like the talent is just speaking for itself now. 

There are a lot of folks who will say that trap originated in Atlanta. They always mention T.I., Jeezy. So, from your point of view —

The word trap originated in Atlanta. The way they use trap, the word, they titled it. But that shit been going on — you can go all the way back to Playa Fly, Tommy Wright III. A lot of the Atlanta pioneers always give their credit, their flowers, to the Memphis artists. Gucci Mane tells you where he gets it from. Metro Boomin, Memphis. It just all goes back to Memphis. And there’s no disrespect, you know what I’m saying? It’s just what it is.

Because it’s Memphis horrorcore and a lot of it is centered around death or the supernatural, are you spiritual? Do you have this spiritual connection when it comes to the process of making music or how you digest music? You even have a line on the album where you say, “I talked to my witch and she said I’m going to blow up.”

I’m very spiritual, in a good way though. When I’m making music I feel like I’m just making music, but there’s always some spiritual shit going on. I don’t understand everything yet. But definitely spiritual, for sure. A lot of people be looking at this shit — “What the fuck? What he got going on?” You know what I’m saying? And a witch ain’t got to be evil, bro. It’s a lot. I think you know where I’m coming from though.

Let’s Talk about MEMPHIS MASSACRE III.

I would say my top three are “Deucifer,” “Mr. Memphis Massacre,” and “Buck the System.” “Deucifer,” I put a lot of work into that song and actually got a real choir, an opera choir out of Memphis. I kept everything homegrown. I actually sang the song to them and told them how I wanted it and shit like that. The production — man, I did it all. That shit is important. “Mr. Memphis Massacre,” the way I sound, I just was in my bag. Especially that second verse, it’s my favorite verse. I feel like it’s controversial. A lot of people have questions and shit like that about what I’m saying, and it’s just a lot. I’m really talking that shit on there.

How does it feel to be a part of this new generation that’s coming out? Do you feel pressure? 

I feel pressure but at the time I feel good about it, bro. I feel like I’m important, as far as when it comes to this Memphis music. I know so much, I know my history, and I’m keeping the sound alive. I just feel like the game needs me, and not only am I keeping the Memphis sound alive, I’ve got my own style, too.

Kia Turner

Kia Turner is a freelance journalist and music historian from Newark, New Jersey. Managing her album-based series Deconstructing or talking about Pussy Rap, you can find the Hoodaville princess at @ChasingKia on all platforms. 

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