If Beale Street Could Rap

Thaddeus Young and Juicy J

by Adam Figman / @afigman

Not too long ago, Memphis basketball revolved around the college and high school game, with the local University of Memphis Tigers standing as the city’s primary hoops option. But then in 2001 the Grizzlies moved to town, and after some rough years of toiling around the bottom of the NBA, the Grizzlies are now officially in the mix, having reached the Western Conference Finals this year and with a solid, postseason-tested core finally in place. We spoke with two Memphis mainstays—Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young, who moved to the Bluff City when he was in fourth grade and made a name for himself there as a high school star, and Three 6 Mafia rapper Juicy J, whose third solo album, Stay Trippy, is set to be released in August—at the same damn time to talk M-Town hoops, hip-hop and more.

SLAM: Do the worlds of basketball and rap intertwine much in Memphis?

Thaddeus Young: As far as basketball, all athletes in Memphis, that’s what we grew up on—Juicy J, DJ Paul, Three 6 Mafia, all those guys. Yo Gotti, of course. We grew up listening to those guys and that’s what we used to get hype before the games. When we’re running out before the game, we running out to Three 6 Mafia and Juicy J and a lot of different Memphis rappers—we’re not running out to Jay-Z and everybody else. I’d say the Memphis rappers had a big influence on high school basketball because we all listened to the same songs. You’d pull up to the stoplight [next to someone] and you both singing the same song, and you know it word for word. We transfer that over to games—we use that same music to get us hype for the game each and every night. I know I did. I didn’t listen to anybody else until I got into the NBA.

SLAM: Juicy, how cool is it to hear your music in NBA arenas?

Juicy J: Man, it’s exciting. The first time I heard my music in the FedExForum, I was, like, shocked! All those cuss words we have in our records, I didn’t think nobody would play ‘em in a building like that where there’s young kids. But they had the cuss words bleeped out, which was cool. But I was super-shocked. Even today, when I’m watching TV and hear my music playing in a stadium, man, I’m still shocked. They show a lot of love and I appreciate that. It’s always amazing to me. I’ve heard some of my mixtape records, my underground records that don’t even get played on the radio, I’ve heard some of them played at the FedExForum. That really shocked me, because I be wondering, like, who’s listening to the music? Like I got this song out “A Zip And a Double Cup”—

TY: Yup.

JJ: —I heard them play that in the stadium. I was like, Wow. They don’t even play that on the radio, it’s just an underground record I put out a few years ago. It’s always surprising.

SLAM: What do you think of Thad repping Memphis in the NBA?

JJ: I think it’s great, man. Anybody putting on for the hometown is cool with me. Drinks on me. Barbecue on me. Let’s go to the strip club—strippers on me! Everything on me, man.

TY: [Laughs] I appreciate that, man. Man, we used to always go to…what’s it called? Summer Jam?

JJ: Yeah, Summer Jam.

TY: Yeah, we used to always go to Summer Jam and always try to go all the little local shows and stuff like that. But at that time I was a little bit younger, and I had a name but club owners still weren’t trying to let me in to the concerts. I used to always try and sneak in and go see them. Those were some of my favorite rappers growing up. One of my favorite songs, I’d probably say right now, of all-time, is uh… man…. Matter fact, I grew up listening to everything from Hypnotize Minds. Everything from “Who Run It” to “Sippin’ On Some Syrup.” Everything, man. Everything y’all were doing at the time when I was growing up, I was listening to it. There are so many songs that I can’t even name one off the type of my head because I was so into listening to Three 6 Mafia and listening to all other local rappers. Growing up listening to you guys, that kind of helped me with my mentality approaching the game. You guys got me crunked up, amped up for the game. I was listening to Three 6 Mafia, then I’d go out and drop 30 [laughs].

SLAM: You both have jobs that take you across the country and world—do you try to represent Memphis wherever you go?

TY: Oh, all the time. All the time. That’s the main thing. I grew up in Walker Homes, in South Memphis, and it’s rough. It’s rough just being from Memphis. Everywhere I go, everyone always asks me, “Do you know Three 6 Mafia? Juicy J? DJ Paul? Crunchy Black? Project Pat? Gangsta Boo?” Everybody’s always saying the same thing. I’m like, “Yeah, I listen to ‘em all the time!” It’s just a blessing being able to be on the phone with [Juicy]—I listen to you all the time. I actually just got done listening to you and The Weeknd.

JJ: Oh, appreciate that, man. We just shot a video to that joint. That song’s gonna be crazy. Wait ‘til you see this video. It’s ignorant.

TY: Hey, I already know. I love listening to music, always been into it. Definitely listening to you before games. Some of the songs with titles that I can’t even say on the phone [laughs], I still listen to ‘em ‘til this day.

SLAM: Juicy, do you have any special basketball-related memories—cool experiences at All-Star Weekends or anything like that?

JJ: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been to a lot of All-Star Games. This is funny—I was at the All-Star Game and we went to this house party. All I can say is this: It was in Atlanta, and there were fights everywhere. It was crazy. I know it’s kind of crazy, but that’s one of my memorable moments. But on a good note, we went to this All-Star Game in Atlanta, and we came up with this song called “Ridin’ Spinners” because everyone was riding around in cars with rims that were spinning at the time in Atlanta at the All-Star Game. We came up with that song, and soon as we left we went back to Memphis and made “Ridin’ Spinners.”

SLAM: What effect did the Grizzlies moving to town have on the city?

JJ: I used to have season tickets to the Grizzlies—I’d go to every Grizzlies game, back in the day when Pau Gasol was playing for them. At first, [people in Memphis] were like, “Nah, it’s not gonna work.” But sometimes it takes time to kick in. Look what’s going on now. They’re doing a great job, man. I can’t wait to go to one of their games. I see them on TV—they be really turnt up. It’s crazy.

TY: They had The Pyramid [where the Grizz used to play before they moved  to the FedExForum in 2004] rocking. You’d sit down, and your feet and your knees were on the back of the seat [in front of you]. And everybody there was going crazy. Now it’s at the FedExForum and it’s a completely different team then when they first came in. At first they had Pau Gasol and Damon Stoudamire and Jason Williams—they had all those guys. They used to come to my high school games, and I used to look up to those guys, and now I’m playing against them each and every day. Like Juicy said, the city doubted it a little bit, but they saw what could happen and how fast it could grow, and then it just went from there.

JJ: The Grizzlies play like a team. It’s all about helping one another out, that’s why they [went to the Conference Finals]. They [beat up] them Clippers, man. Those guys were like, “Damn!” They was upset about that, man. I saw the looks on their faces. It was crazy. A lot of people doubted, like, “Those dudes aren’t gonna beat the Clippers.” I was like, “Don’t be surprised, man. Put all your money on the Clips. You gonna lose.” And they lost! At the end of the day it’s just a game, man. It’s a good sport, and people are doing what they love to do.

TY: That’s exactly what it is. I always tell kids, when they ask me, “How do you like being in the NBA?” that it’s the best job in the world. You get to travel and play basketball for money, so you can’t beat it. You’re going around the world and around the country, and you’re seeing all the cities and what they’re about. It’s the best job in the world.