‘I’m Making It Cool to Be Crunk’: An Interview With Duke Deuce

A conversation with rising Memphis rapper Duke Deuce, who is bringing crunk back with breakout songs like “Crunk Ain’t Dead.”

Duke Deuce

Photo by Sara Lacombe

Duke Deuce

Duke Deuce has been grinding on the streets of Memphis for years. The son of local legend Duke Nitty, Deuce is a walking emblem of Memphis’ history as a beacon of rap music. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that Duke’s career began to skyrocket. Off the heels of his hit from that year, “Whole Lotta,” Duke landed on Offset’s radar, who inked the young MC to Quality Control. And Deuce’s first tape with the label, Memphis Massacre, reintroduced crunk music to a scene that had been sorely devoid of it for years. 

Duke Deuce exists outside of the traditional structure of Memphis rap music. He’s not as pop-oriented as stars like Yo Gotti or Key Glock, and not as celebrated as OGs like Project Pat and the rest of the legends in Three 6 Mafia. Duke is the heir apparent of these two worlds, garnering streaming numbers that may someday rival Gotti and Glock, but with the Memphis-first attitude that Three 6 became celebrated for. They were the alternative to Atlanta’s OutKast, and now, Duke may be a breath of fresh air for those oversaturated with that city’s current scene. 

Duke has taken a leap with Memphis Massacre 2, which harnesses the energy of the original but further develops the rapper’s aesthetic. It’s a pitch-perfect tape, and at only 12 tracks long, is a satiating delight for diehard fans or a welcome introduction for those who may not know the new king of crunk. The highlight is the “Crunk Ain’t Dead” remix, which features Juicy J, Project Pat, and Lil Jon. The latter is at his best in years, using his voice as militarized percussion, littering the track with adlibs that are less indicative of words than the feeling of wanting to punch a hole through a wall. And that, to Duke, is what being crunk is all about. “Crunk is energy. It’s a gangsta and trap and rock ‘n’ roll,” he explains to Complex. “It’s just high energy. All my best music is crunk.”

How has the reception to Memphis Massacre 2 been so far?
It’s been great. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. I’m glad the people are vibing with it and enjoying it the way they are.

It’s taken you some time to get a following. Why do you think it’s taken a while for fans to catch on?
I think people are really enjoying “Crunk Ain’t Dead.” The remix, too. That thing’s been making a lot of noise. It’s gotten a ton of attention. The remix came together pretty easily. I wasn’t sold on the idea, but my team really wanted to do another version. We got Project Pat on there, and he got Lil Jon. It’s a blessing being on a track with some Memphis legends. Getting the OGs on my track was a big goal. 

“I’m the top dog of the city. I’m trying to be a legend.”

What do you think makes Memphis rap different from anywhere else in the country?
The culture. Most people associate Memphis rap with stuff that’s gangsta and hard. The crunk sound came in, too. I can’t really say what makes it different, but everyone is used to it now so our shit doesn’t sound so different. I think Memphis has really creative rappers. We’ve been through a lot of eras, and all of that has led us to where we are now, with me coming to the forefront. 

What’s it been like working with Quality Control and Migos?
It’s been great. We’ve been working on a new tape already. I’m looking forward to getting that one into the world, too. I just wanna keep going.

Why do you think people are now calling you a crunk rapper when you’ve been playing with this subgenre for a while?
Shit, I think they’ve started paying attention to it because now I actually use the word. I say “crunk.” Now everyone is like, “Ohhhhh.” People have forgotten about it, in a way. But now that I’m explaining what I’m doing, it’s easier for people to follow along. But I’ve been doing crunk music. I just wasn’t saying the word. Me and my friends knew what we were doing. That’s for sure.

How would you describe the rap scene in Memphis right now?
It’s real strong. We’ve got a lot of talent that’s rising up right now. I got all my homies on Triple M working right now. You’ll be hearing from all of them soon. We all crunk. It’s gonna be great for the game. Everybody’s different, though. 

Where do you see yourself fitting into the scene?
I’m one of the top dogs. I’m changing the game, especially here. I’m making it cool to be crunk. The scene was kind of quiet for a minute. Everyone here sounded like everyone else, there was no Memphis in the rap music here. I’m bringing that back. I’m the top dog of the city. I’m trying to be a legend.

What’s it like for you to help put the scene in Memphis back on the map?
[Laughs] Man, it’s great. It’s just a blessing. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. When I was a kid, I always wanted to let the world know where our style comes from. Nobody knows. I’m glad that it happened, but it’s even cooler that I was the one. Everyone’s speaking on me.

Did you ever expect to reach this level of success?
I knew I was different from a young age. I feel like I’m what the game’s been missing, because I’m different. There was a lane for me and I’m occupying it now.

What was it like working with your dad on this album?
We got a natural vibe, obviously. I pretty much learned from him. Shout out to him. I like to think I’m an OG but he’s the real OG. 

What’s next for you?
I’m focused on getting videos to my fans. I’ve got so many new songs, too. I’ve got enough songs to put out two more projects, too. I’m always working. It’s my favorite thing in the world. Coach K also confirmed that I’ll be going on tour this summer. I’m looking forward to that. You’ll know me then. 

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