There are a few great American cities for music, and in the great state of Tennessee, Memphis and Nashville often duke it out for supremacy. But not in Hip Hop. For us, Memphis is king and has also been a hotbed of crazy talent decked out in the darker, horror-core of DJ Paul, Al Kapone and an early Three 6 Mafia. It was a sound so different, so regional, that it was almost swallowed up by the antics of their distant ATLien cousins to the south.
For the duo known as 8Ball & MJG (Premro Smith and Marlon Jermaine Goodwin), while deeply set in the soul of Memphis Hip Hop, they were also one of the first Memphis acts to wield a style more relatable nation wide. One of the first albums this spawned was ‘93s Comin’ Out Hard, then came ‘94s On The Outside Looking In and ‘95s mainstream Southern Rap masterpiece, On Top Of The World, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, tucked neatly behind the Dr. Dre heralded Tha Dogg Pound and their debut album Dogg Food. The mid 90s project made them stars amongst their cohorts in the mid-South, and introduced the nation to the Mississippi River nook’s eventual massive appeal.
Now, some 25 years later, the group is on the verge of releasing their newest project Time Is and we had a chance to stroll down memory lane and talk just how the south went from having “something to say” to being the loudest voice in the room.
8Ball & MJG Talk Rockin’ With OutKast & “On The Outside Looking In”
HHDX: Outkast brought you out at their show at #ATLast, how did it feel to get to experience that with another legendary duo?
8Ball: It was definitely something that was awesome, man, and it was put together by our management [at] Push. I guess the guys from OutKast made sure it happened. It was just a great time, bro.
MJG: That timing was perfect.
DX: Not only were you guys’ beloved in the 90s but that feeling has continued into this generation. What does it feel to have today’s fans embrace you?
8Ball: It feels good, you know? Having people cheering for you from our generation and this generation.
MJG: It’s a rush like none other. We just try to do the best we can to still make it make sense.
DX: This year is the 20th anniversary of On the Outside Looking In, what was the most memorable part of that album for you guys?
8Ball: To me, the greatest moments of that album was recording with Rico from the Dungeon Family. That album had Paid Dues on it with Cee-Lo as well.
MJG: Nah, he said On The Outside Looking In.
8Ball: Oh, you said On The Outside Looking In?
MJG: You know, that came out in ‘94. I think one of the key points in Outside Looking In was the first time we had outside features. So that was our guys, we was friends. They hooked up our first real feature, and we was cool from then on. That’s like a real memorable moment from that album and that time.
DX: What was the process behind getting MC Breed in the studio with you?
MJG: Just reached out and made some calls. We had a couple connects and he was down. We all hung out, kicked it, got in the lab, and made it happen.
DX: There was a heavy Motown influence on that album, why did you choose to go that route with your samples?
8Ball: That was the stuff, most of those samples that we used on that album and Coming Out Hard was stuff that we grew up listening to. Us being in Hip Hop, you love the different breakdowns of songs and we always wanted to do something with those songs, and we just made it happen.
DX: You guys have been known to use live instrumentation when you perform and in the booth…
MJG: We always incorporated a lot of live music in our songs whether it was played live for real or along with the samples or samples with music. But you know we always had our musical content in our beats and in our samples.
8Ball & MJG Explain How Memphis Shaped Them & Atlanta’s Success
DX: Coming out of Memphis, how did that environment affect your music making?
MJG: We called it “jumpin off the porch.” Just a little piece of pimp bone in your body will take you a long way. All you gotta have is just one little fish bone of pimpin’ and it’ll take you a long way. Like you said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be out on the corner or in the trap pimpin some hoes. You just down on your craft and what you do and you exercise it to the fullest inside and out. Your whole swag and everything is 100. You gonna get down on your pimpin, just be aware 360 degrees. Everything that you do, know it in and out and do it good.
DX: Drumma Boy and Mike Will Made It have absolutely bonded with the southern rap sound both of you and Three Six Mafia helped create, how do you feel about the Memphis/Atlanta legacy they’re carrying into mainstream music?
8Ball: They’re so close to each other. Distance as well as the feel of the music as far as Hip Hop goes I think in the early ‘90s, me and MJ and Three Six Mafia and groups like that created a sound, DJ Squeaky was one of em. I think Atlanta adopted it with the Lil Jon era. Atlanta is like a sister city to Memphis. That sound kind of carried over and it went from underground to popular music. It’s just that sound, it’s an unexplainable sound to me, created out of Memphis. It took it to the world with the commercialized way that Atlanta rappers did it. Some of em, not all of em. Lil Jon took that crunk, hard beat sound to another level.
8Ball & MJG Mention Competition with Dr. Dre & The South’s Impact
DX: You guys debuted at second on the Billboard 200 Charts in 1995 with On Top Of The World, then 3Stacks hit the Source Awards with “The south got somethin’ to say.” What did you guys think about that at the time?
MJG: The door can feel somebody knockin. We had been there a long time and had the foundation. Us and cats before us like Ghetto boys and Pimp and them…UGK. All of us came out around the same time. They’re knockin’ and knockin’ and and it just had built up at that time. I think that’s the reason Andre had to get that off his chest. We was knockin and we was there and it was like we wasn’t being heard, but it just had built up to that point. I think that was the first real breakout year for the South.
8Ball: We had a whole world of Hip Hop going on down here that wasn’t being publicized or noticed by the rest of the world. It was, but it wasn’t.
MJG: In 95, when On Top of the World came out, we had worked and did our homework to be number one. We were shooting to be number one on R&B and Hip Hop charts on the billboard. That was right when, as far as in the streets and the sound in the music, it was kind of going neck and neck with what Dr. Dre was doing. When we debuted the album that year, we were looking for number one and we got number two.
DX: So it was friendly competition?
MJG: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
8Ball: It was also showing how much the industry and the world was kind of paying attention to South rap at that time, too, because you know those particular years there was just a lot of movement from the South.
DX: So, when can we expect something new?
MJG: Toward the end of the year or next year. Working on a project now titled Time Is.
8Ball: And it’s on the way.