In May 1995, Three 6 Mafia made their debut with Mystic Stylez. Although the album would not be the one to break them in mainstream hip-hop, Mystic Stylez was a groundbreaking rap record that eventually became a cult classic, impacting a generation of young rappers that came to represent the underbelly of the genre throughout the 2010s.
Mystic Stylez — and to a greater extent the Memphis rap scene — drew from a city that became notorious for its murder rate, robberies, and pimp culture, as well as the gang and project wars that terrorized Black Memphis. Horrorcore rap was starting out at the time, and DJ Paul and Lord Infamous were lovers of the occult, horror flicks, and real-life serial killers. These elements, infused with dirty, eerie lo-fi production, triplet flows, horror movie and soul samples, pulsating bass, and 808s, resulted in the southern horror classic that is Mystic Stylez.
“It spoke to a different generation of Memphis,” rapper 8Ball said of the album while appearing in the Netflix series Hip-Hop Evolution. “It was, like, this young, cocaine-snorting, gangsta-ass Memphis shit. There’s no God. It’s all debauchery.”
Compared to other notable horrorcore works, Mystic Stylez was able to stand the test of time because the content was an appropriate balance of gleefully macabre and vividly disturbing hood tales told with skilled lyricism and flows. From “Break Da Law ’95,” which samples music from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and features Paul menacingly rapping, “Fool it ain’t no game, you gotta die, the devil sent me / Six in yo chest, who’s next, no niceness in me,” to “Tear Da Club Up” and its many, many occult references — Lord Infamous’ verse alone is pure nightmare fuel — Mystic Stylez basked in its darkness, grounding its horror movie-inspired lyrics with memorable, angst-filled hooks.
But just as important as the lyrical content was Three 6’s distinct sound: a smoked-out, haunting, lo-fi quality that was the result of a low budget — $4,500 to be exact, as Paul explained in the same episode of Hip-Hop Evolution — something that the group wouldn’t have been able to achieve with a polished major-label release.
“Like, our songs sounded like a movie,” Gangsta Boo said in the same episode of Hip-Hop Evolution. “…We had the gangsta mixed with the sinister, mixed with the Memphis sound. It was just, like, we meshed everything together.”
For years after its 1995 release, Mystic Stylez was held as an underground gem that presented the foundation for the group’s core sound and identity, as their later, gold and platinum-selling albums would have more of an immediate impact on hip-hop, commercially, and culturally. However, an unexpected phenomenon happened for Three 6 Mafia during the mid-2000s thanks to the advent of YouTube.
Starting around 2005 or 2006, people took to the video streaming website to upload current and older music alike, including rare, underground deep cuts, mixtapes, and DJ blends that either were scarce at the time or “lost.” In turn, teenaged Millennials — and later, baby Gen-Zers — were exposed to the classic and influential regional sounds occurring in cities across the country, including Memphis.
Channels like JUNKYARD KIDS, Mississippi Hip-Hop, and SouljaFromTheNorth were popular for uploading classic solo and group mixtapes, independent albums, and rare footage of Three 6, as well as members of both Prophet Posse and the Hypnotize Camp Posse going as far back as 1991. As time went on, that material — including Three 6’s Mystic Stylez — regained its cult status after being reintroduced to a whole new generation of fans and aspiring rappers and producers.
The regional Memphis sound that Three 6 had invented in the late ’90s has since been adopted by rappers elsewhere in the 2010s: Harlem’s A$AP Mob, Atlanta’s Metro Boomin, Houston’s Travis Scott, Richmond’s Lil Ugly Mane and, of course, a handful of Florida rappers — from SpaceGhostPurrp and his Raider Klan collective to $uicideboy$, Xavier Wulf, Wifisfuneral, and Denzel Curry.
“It influenced me to a degree to where I wanted to rap like that. That’s how much that shit influenced me,” Curry said of Three 6’s brand of horrorcore in a 2014 HipHopDX story. “There’s all types of flows with that style, and then adding the fact that Southern niggas know how to flip already, that’s just more fuel to the fire. And that’s why it’s so raw to me. That’s why that whole Memphis shit was so raw to me.”
Paul and Juicy’s production undeniably influenced a wide net beyond hip-hop, but this wave of underground rappers picked up on their original menacing, dusty, and abrasive sound. Songs like Nell and Xavier Wulf’s “Pistol Grip” is reminiscent of Three 6’s gruesome “Sweet Robbery pt. 2“; SpaceGhostPurrp’s “The Black God” feels like a callback to “I Gotta Touch ‘Em pt. 2.” This generation has perfectly conjured the spirit of those beats, putting a modernized spin on them without tainting their twisted, smoked-out essence.
“One thing I can say about Memphis is that their underground scene definitely inspired my rap career — especially growing up as a child, ’cause we had the same type of scene down here in Miami,” SpaceGhostPurrp said in the same HipHopDX story. “People know Miami as Uncle Luke and shit, but niggas was on that same shit…Memphis took it to a whole ‘nother level, and nobody was fucking with Memphis back in the day. It had that sound that nobody could not fuck with.”
Despite not making an immediate national impact upon its release, the legacy and cultural impact of Mystic Stylez has become more significant. It provided a blueprint for the younger generation of rappers because of its do-it-yourself creativity and innovative sound, and it’s not far-fetched to say that more than a handful of rappers and producers wouldn’t exist — or would have a completely different sound — if it never existed.
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