He's Juicy J's brother. He's the star behind the classic single "Chickenhead." He's released seven LPs, five mixtapes, and appeared on countless Three 6 Mafia records. He's the legendary Project Pat.
While Juicy J and DJ Paul's Hypnotized Minds crew have lost members since their peak in the late 1990s, Project Pat remains loyal to Juicy J, who he credits as the visionary behind the movement. He also clearly admires his success, and seems on the verge of pushing for a renewal of his own career.
In preparation for the release of Mista Don't Play 2 later this year, Project Pat came to New York to perform his very first show in the city as a solo headliner. To a capacity crowd at Santos Party House, the Memphis icon ran through music both old ("Red Rum" was crazy) and new (including a Mike Will-produced standout from his latest tape, Cheez N Dope). And yes, he killed "Chickenhead."
We spoke with Pat a day later, about performing in New York, staying relevant, the album with Pimp C that never was, and a surprising revelation about his 2001 arrest.
Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Have you performed in New York before?
In 2002, Around the time [when "Chickenhead" was out], I had got locked up on a gun charge, so really, the time that all that was going on—I got out on bond from the feds, stayed out like six months, and then when the album dropped, I was doing a lot of shows. What ended up happening was I got locked up so I couldn’t do anything. I probably would have [performed in New York], but I’ve never done a solo show. I’ve done shows in New York back in the day with Three 6 [Mafia] but I’ve never done a solo show by myself.
What’s the difference between last night's audience and an audience you might play for in Memphis?
I’ll be honest with you, the shows in Memphis are kind of wild and way more urban. Last night they reminded me of how it used to be a long time ago, it was cool, I liked it. I was really shocked.
Did you like doing live shows?
Yeah man, you always like doing live shows. I mean that’s the best thing going. That’s where most of the money is. You’ve got to think—say you sell a platinum album, and you got a good deal but nowadays people are mainly selling singles. Which is still good money verses, say, you sell a good single in eight months and you go platinum. You going to see some money, not like you would [from] an album, but in those eight months while your song is hot, every week you could be getting $20,000 or $30,000 a show.
So you could be getting $20,000 a show for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, that $60,000 in three days. That’s almost like selling drugs on a big time scale, so it’s crazy. And if you can do that for four months... In half the time you go platinum on the single you’ve made way more money than just the sales off the single. So yeah, that’s where the money is at.
Do you still see royalties from your old records?
Yeah. I got a joint I brought out in 1998 and I’m still, to this day, getting money off of it. That was the first—it was an underground CD and I’m still getting money off that CD. To me that’s just crazy, because people are buying it. It’s not as much as it was, but it’s still a check. Back then, I would have never thought that I’d still be getting paid [from it now]. But the thing about music is that you just have to be putting material out there. Not flood the industry, but give them good songs—as long as you can give them good songs you can stay afloat. It don’t have to be as hard as your classic songs, but as long as it’s something that they can relate to.
You keep up with the music trends, are you targeting clubs when you make music? Do you even think about that?
When it comes to the music and making the beats you want to be up to date, that’s how you stay afloat. The things people rap about are basically the same. It’s different little slangs here and there. But the main ingredients of a song is the beat. One point in time it was a west coast sound, it was a New York sound, now it’s not even that anymore; it’s a producer. It’s like are you on a such-and-such beat, are you on a Drumma beat? They’re always on somebody’s beats.
So you want to stay in that circle, that loop, because that’s what’s setting the tone and the trend. Right now it’s Mike Will and Young Chop, that’s whats going right now, that’s what you need. If a person is rapping, they’ve got to stay up with the younger producers because everybody is looking for something new.
People like older stuff, don’t get it twisted. But you’re not going to want to hear the same stuff everyday, music-wise, and I think that’s got a lot to do with—getting a little deeper into the situation—music is what moves your soul. Everybody ain’t in the same mood. Sometimes you can just make a good song, and regardless of what mood you’re in, you can just play that because it’s a good song. You make them every now and then. I can’t explain it.
Pimp was like, "We’ve got to get some money, we need to do a whole album together." He was talking some real business.
Tell me how your Pimp C collaboration "Cause I'm a Playa" came about.
I wanted Pimp on a song and I just made the hook up when I heard the music. It just sounded like a club song, like happy, good times in the club. And Pimp had just got out of jail, and I had just got out, and Pimp was like, "We’ve got to get some money, we need to do a whole album together." He was talking some real business. He just didn’t get a chance to execute it because he passed. But I don’t know, man. When it comes to me, I just need to hear the music. When I hear the beat, that’s what’s going to make me go in the flow.
How did you develop that flow early on? What were you trying to do when you first started rapping?
Juicy was the main brain behind Three 6 Mafia. So he was the one telling me that I need to sound different than anybody else. And since they were already rapping—you know when you hear other musicians you try and stay on the level they’re on. But Juicy was like “nah, go totally to the left. That way they’ll know it’s you.” So I just started playing with styles and melodies and I just came up with it, and what stuck is what stuck. It’s easy, really, at least for me it is. I just sat back and listened to other people and studied it, because I really wasn’t on rapping like that. That was Juicy’s and Paul’s thing, I wasn’t really on that. But I saw the money in it, and saw it was very profitable, so I was like, let me take a shot at it.
Who did you envision as your audience when you first started?
Basically, the audience that Paul and them already had. When I got out on robbery, that’s when they were just signing with Relativity, so I was just trying to capture where they were at. If you pay attention to Ghetty Green, that’s what I was on. And Ghetty Green was a real album. A lot of songs on there was street songs, and they were real, that’s what I was on at the time. Mista Don't Play, I spoke in more details, because stuff had been over with and I was coming out of that street life and leaving it alone. On Ghetty Green, I really held back.
And as far as the style and who I was targeting—at the time, urban rap was like one song and you could get an album and sell a million records. But I never thought about selling a million records. I would just go in there and do it. Whatever Paul was paying me at the time, I was content with it so it didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be good, but I never strived for excellence like that. At the time the South was so low, I still had the same mentality of, "Maybe we’ll go gold and sell 300,000 copies." That was at the time that Biggie and them had just died, and Jay-Z was taking over and New York was really popping then. So I was just like, whatever I can get out of it is cool, at least I’m getting something.
When I got locked up I started listening to Ludacris and Nelly, and I was like, I could probably do this, I just need to get focused and get on this. It took us a minute, though, because the sound that Paul and them had was the crunk era, and they were still on some street stuff so they weren’t all the way crunk.
Then the trap music thing started coming in and it blew the production that we had off. Paul and Juicy was like, "We’re going to keep the production in-house," so Juicy kind of wanted to expand and Paul didn’t. So I just sat back and watched what was going on. I seen it was the mix CDs, so I brought the proposition to J and was like, "If we do it like this, we’ll win." At first he was kind of hearing me, but he wasn’t hearing me. Then he investigated to himself. That’s why Juicy is on right now because he went all the way out with it. As far as the style, I guess you could say Juicy motivated me to come like that and I just did.
Do you still live in Memphis? Do you pay attention to local Memphis acts?
I’m on the outside of Memphis. I do pay attention to some of them. My thing is it’s what’s selling—I pay attention to what’s selling. I’m black Jewish, it’s numbers with me. I pay attention to it. I like straight up gangster rap, I like Scarface and N.W.A.—the old stuff. But it don’t matter what I like, I’m trying to make some money, so I’m trying to see what lane is making that money. Then when I got on that level and started listening to different artists, younger dudes, I respect it. I respect Wiz, Wiz is hard. I really like Mac Miller, to me he’s one of the hardest dudes. When I hear him flow I’m like, that’s a white dude from Pennsylvania and he’s killing it.
I really like Mac Miller, to me he’s one of the hardest dudes. When I hear him flow I’m like, that’s a white dude from Pennsylvania and he’s killing it.
That’s what made me do that though. I seen the following that he had and I’m like, what’s up with this dude? I just started following him, listening to some of his music, buying his CD’s and I was like, this dude is hard. I never was a one-track-minded person, whereas the city I’m from is kind of one track minded. My thing is what’s selling, and I’ll listen to the producers that younger people use—I like Young Chop, he’s hard. I like Chief Keef, I heard the one song but one song don’t move me because so many people have one song. But then when he came out with “[Love] Sosa,” I was like, this dude is hard. I was listening to Chop and some of his group GBE, and I’m like, Chop is real hard.
Have you gotten to do stuff with Chop at all?
No I haven’t. Juicy just did, but I just found out recently how he likes to work. He likes to work in the studio instead of sending his beats out, and I don’t blame him I used to wonder why people did that. If I made beats I’d never [send them out], I don’t trust you. I didn’t even know the guy was that young, he’s like 18. He’s talented. I was talking to somebody in an interview and they were like “some of the OG’s be stunting on dudes,” and I don’t see how they can do that. If it’s talent, you’ve got to listen and respect the talent.
What record are you most proud of?
You know me I’m a numbers man so I’m going to have to say “Chickenhead.”
Do you ever get tired of performing that?
No. What amazes me though is how people still really like it. And I don’t care where I go, down South, East Coast, West Coast. I was in Denver, Colorado a few weeks back and as soon as it came on, the whole club lost their mind. And I’m like, how can people still be on this? But I’m a fan of other peoples music, so I just look at it like that. Scarface come on with that “dope game, coke game, pushing rocks on the block I’m never broke,” if he was at a show and did that, I’m going to like it. I guess that’s what it is.
You mentioned Chief Keef; if a rising artist like him was listening to this interview, what advice would you give them about suddenly coming into money, coming from where he's from?
I know all about Chicago. I don’t know about him personally, but I hear stories. If I was him, I’d be trying to get on the outskirts of Danville somewhere. I would go to the northwest side. I know he’s young and trying to keep it real with his homies, but man, you’ve got to cut that off. Sometimes the people around you, you’ve got to run con on them just so you can stay afloat. So that if they get messed up and need you, you’ll be able to give them something. Even though they’re like, “Man, c’mon,” and that’s your partner, but you know he ain’t going to be no good for your situation.
You’ve got to do it on some realness with yourself, keep it real with your family and of course always keep it real with those that stuck around you. But as far as living conditions, you’ve got to get away from that. I’m from North Memphis all day, but I’m not finna be living in no North Memphis. If somebody see me walk out the house in North Memphis, I got a few guns in that motherfucker, and one on me when I walk out the door. When they see me in North Memphis, the police are automatically going to start harassing me, because they think I’m on something. They’re going to say, “Well, you’re living over here, so I know you got a strap.” I ain’t got time for that.
You’re in this business to make money, and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sometimes you can get it twice—Juicy just reinvented himself. When you get an opportunity to make a whole lot of money like that, you’ve got to stay on path, you can’t get sidetracked, go to jail, ride around with one of your boys with a pound of weed in the car, no man. We ain’t got time for that. You’ve got to stay grounded and get your money so that when a real situation comes...
I had a partner of mine, when I got out of the feds, he got locked up—the dude I always rap about in the songs, Gangster Fred, real dude, just got a murder charge. I made his bail but I’ve got to go, I can’t be around all that. That’s how you’ve got to do it. It’s real love, because I’m helping him out, but I can’t be riding around with you smoking dope and you got choppas in a hot ass neighborhood.
You know what’s crazy, I had three pistols that day [I was arrested]. Dude didn’t find one of them.
This is something you’ve learned through personal...
Yeah this is something I’ve learned through personal experiences. The thing is, when I went to jail for the gun, that’s what I used to be doing! I used to be in the hood. If I’m in the hood, I’ve got to stay strapped, I had two pistols just riding around. You know what’s crazy, I had three pistols that day [I was arrested]. Dude didn’t find one of them. When I got caught up with that gun and did that time, I said I’m not doing that no more. Because you can’t win. And you want to win, and winning is getting that check. It’s not an easy transition, you don’t want to just leave your partners, but when you get that money, people start looking at you cross-eyed.
Do you or Juicy J have any regrets about how things went down with Hypnotized Minds?
It wasn’t even a falling out, it would be something weird. It wouldn’t be about no money. It would be about something personal. Everybody left on their own, and it was something personal. Always personal, never about money. Juicy made them folks millionaires, some of them more than once. A lot of them was on drugs badly. And we all did them, but some maintained and some didn’t. They overdid it, and when you overdo anything, it’s just not going to turn out right. That’s what it was. A lot of what messed Three 6 Mafia over was the drugs and drug addiction.
What’s your least favorite part of the business right now?
I don’t really have a least favorite part, because it’s easy. It’s really all Internet right now, so it’s super easy. And the raps—we’ve got a formula now where it’s just like nothing. I’ll put it like this, it was nothing then, but it’s really nothing now. I don’t really have any complaints. I see that the game is shifting. The South is still running the rap “urbanly." The South will always have good club songs, even back in the day we had good club songs—Luke Skyywalker. But as far as stuff that’s selling, you’ve got that west coast coming up underground. You got Kendrick Lamar, just sold out. A$AP Rocky. You got a lot of younger dudes that’s coming up on the east and west coast, and since the rap game had a time span, you got people that grew up on rap that are older.
I think it’s younger kids, and you’ve got to be [up on] what the younger kids are on. Now it’s the hipster and tripster, the trippy hipsters.
But I’ve noticed that a lot of artists in the south don’t sell the millions of copies like we did back in my time. I think it’s younger kids, and you’ve got to be [up on] what the younger kids are on. Now it’s the hipster and tripster, the trippy hipsters. Everybody wants to get high and get fucked up. Down south, we’re all on trap music, and that’s cool but that ain’t selling, because the kids on the west coast don’t know nothing about dope selling, they’re in Hollywood on the beach. They want to hear some music that while they’re high and skating. They can be like, “My head's in the clouds.” They want to kick it and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I think there’s going to be a small era where everybody down south is going to still be pumping that street stuff. But I noticed that what’s selling selling is that hipster crowd, that trippy music. Juicy be talking about that trippy music, that’s what it is now. Or if its street, it’s got to come from a young dude like Chief Keef. An older dude doing it, it’s like it’s cool, but if its from a dude that’s young, it’s better. I’ve always thought Chicago should have been on years ago, it’s a big city.
What do you listen to when you just want to listen to music?
People that’s young in Memphis listen to '70s music, we’ve always been like that. Catch somebody 15 listening to Willie Hutch and [Curtis] Mayfield. We do that, we listen to that old stuff. Memphis is 99.9% black and we call it "listening to pimping." That’s what I be doing.