WHATHEFUUUUUUUUUUUCK is up, readers? You know how hip-hop has been exceptionally good this year, from indie darlings dropping defining projects to established greats reminding us why they’re great? Well, we got yet another one for y’all. Duke Deuce is a rapper passionately, unforgettably from Memphis, TN and he’s here to remind y’all of his city’s power and clout. There’s only one person I could see me doing this with and that’s Dan. Please enjoy us nerding out about rap and talking about one of 2022’s best releases, MEMPHIS MASSACRE III.
David: Hey Dan, how are you doing?
Dan: Utterly astounding. I’ve been steady streaming this beast of an album since it dropped, and feel more more ready to catch something on fire or commit a fucking felony every time I hear it. How are you?
David: I gotta say I’m in a pretty similar mood and have been since October 28 which is coincidentally when MEMPHIS MASSACRE III came out. We need to talk about this album, but first I’d like to get into a bit of our history with Duke Deuce and maybe a bit of Memphis rap in general. How far back do you go with Duke Deuce and Memphis?
Dan: I’m an absolute die-hard Three 6 Mafia fan. When The Smoke Clears was an absolute game changer for me when it dropped in 2000. So many damn bus trips to school acting a damn fool with that pumping through my discman. I’ve been keenly obsessed with Three 6 ever since. I have been known to demand my family listen to “Stay Fly” on repeat upon arriving in Memphis when we were passing through on a roadtrip, and also been quoted as saying Three 6 has more influence on rap than Wu Tang (I meant every word of it too, goddamnit), and I think Project Pat is one of the most underrated rappers in the entire game (anyone who doubts that should check his work with Blood Orange). Memphis rap carries a lot of similarities to the regional scene in Houston. Both are tight knit, both carry a very distinct sound, and both are incredibly forward thinking, and innovative. Also, similarly, mostly overlooked yet replicated in various ways in the mainstream rap world without any of the necessary credit. Scenes like this are endearing to me, and although I lost track at some parts, I still find it one of the most interesting and complex scenes in rap. Memphis always has a lot of shit going on. Duke Deuce landed on my radar with Duke Nukem. I heard “SOLDIERS STEPPIN” and thought it was a wild throwback, only to realize this crunk kaiju was cranking shit to 11 ever since 2016. What was your entry point to Memphis rap and its new king Deucifer?
David: I think we chart very similar paths to this point in life. I’ve been a huge Three 6 fan for two decades since hearing their hits on the radio and elsewhere. I’ve always kept an eye and ear on Memphis without trying – it just so happens that some truly standout artists come out of that city. Project Pat, La Chat, Yo Gotti, Chris Travis, and now we got Duke motherfucking Deuce. I found him through Duke Nukem as well, a great debut album from a very promising artist. Earlier this year, dude dropped his sophomore effort CRUNKSTAR and while I liked it, it was very ambitious and long to a detriment. I didn’t expect him to drop another project so soon, but here we are with MEMPHIS MASSACRE III and I gotta say, this is a nearly flawless project and exactly what I wanted to see from Duke Deuce after Duke Nukem. Shall we dive in, pal?
Dan: Hell fucking yeah. MMIII just feels royal to me from the start. Deucifer is pretty effective in scene setting, but also world building. The operatic vocals Opera Memphis lend on top of the sinister minimalist beat is such a chef’s kiss, and radiates dark and elaborate decadence. When Duke finally gets on the track he’s like an anaconda slithering all over the beat with restrained strength in lieu of his typical molten hot brutality. His genius of getting the most out of very little is on full display from the start, and benefits the album throughout (more on that later). This album just paints such an elaborate picture of Deucifer ascending to the throne of Memphis Hell as its new king, and what soon follows is parade and procession foreshadowing what we can expect under his reign, who his generals are, and why they’re absolutely nothing to fuck with. It’s intoxicating as hell.
David: It really is. Duke Deuce has been all about taking crunk’s throne that it was a little unexpected for him to lean into these horrorcore elements so hard. Then again, horrorcore and crunk are closely related under hardcore rap’s umbrella and have very close ties with Memphis as a whole. I think this was mostly an aesthetic he wanted to do for this particular album (which also released three days before Halloween), but it suits him so well I wouldn’t blame him if he continued with it.
MMIII is also where we see him really flex some storytelling muscles. A lot of it is subtle, but he weaves this tale ascending to power like you said, ruling over Memphis, making the clubs jump the fuck off, dealing with opps, but also lamenting at how lonely it’s become as he climbed to the top. I can see him dancing in the streets with a bunch of devils behind him.
Dan: I did catch that in “DEUCIFER” when he vaguely references family issues: ‘Been a black sheep damn near all my life / I’m always gettin’ left out / I been neglected / I don’t hate my mother, but shit, that’s a whole ‘nother mention,’ along with referencing being a ‘black sheep‘ and various bullying situations. Also “NOBODY NEEDS NOBODY” is probably one of the most clearly personal cuts in his entire catalog. I know I’m missing others. What examples stand out to you?
David: Definitely “NOBODY NEEDS NOBODY”. From what I’ve heard it’s easily the most personal track he’s done, talking about the birth of his kid, peers that have died way too soon (RIP Young Dolph), his strained family relationships. Given the era of death we’re in with hip-hop recently with Dolph, Pop Smoke, and now Takeoff dying under the most tragic of circumstances, it also makes the bars about keeping enemies close and his city hating on him resonate harder. I hope Duke is staying safe and vigilant because it doesn’t matter how tough you are on records. I won’t comment further on it than that in order to stay in my lane, but there’s just a sense of unease when Duke gets real about those types of subjects – reality rap brought to even darker shades.
To lighten up a bit, it’s very worth noting that Duke Deuce really put on for Memphis this time. He only featured other Memphis rappers (and I think producers?) on MMIII and it shows – they’re all in similar pockets, but bring different energies and moods to songs that I really like. It’s a commendable thing to show this type of community and unity in the face of everything I mentioned above and more.
Dan: Yeah, I think the best feature on this entire album has to be GlocKianna. Every time she took the mic her energy and charisma wins you over. “RIVERSIDE” which only has Glock on the mic, shows how much she understands her territory and the regional sound. Bouncing off a DJ Paul type production, she employs Duke’s crunk energy, and alters her flow’s tempo with chameleon-esque ease, even mimicking Crunchy Black’s whisper sing songy flow. Elsewhere on “RESPECT” she continues to just bring absolute goblin fire. Overall, one could say she came out on that track, but really, none of them lost. This crew just moves as a unit, which gives more menace and terror. It’s all different variations of cranking it to 11, and it’s just obnoxiously intoxicating.
Producer wise I’m just gonna fly my triple six flag, and put some respect on DJ Paul’s name (along with Twhy Exclusive). Their haunted house organ meets memphis parking lot trap production just gives so much room for Duke Deuce to flex the fuck out. Really, this entire album is just a fucking love letter to Memphis, danger and all. Like you said earlier, I’d love to see the Memphis scene grow out of the violent elements, and come together more to push attention towards their art more. Three 6 set up such a massive legacy, and all of the artists you mentioned, along with the rest of the Memphis scene that’s keeping it alive and vibrant deserve their roses. There’s one particular track that stood out as my favorite, but I’m curious which one stuck out most to you?
David: I’m glad you brought up GlocKianna because I was going to as well. She literally steals the show on this album and it’s very much worth noting that she’s only 15 fucking years old! That is absolutely astonishing for someone like that to come out and shake things up so much, especially with someone like Duke Deuce who is twice her age (she gets good grades too!). Mark my words, she will be bigger in the near future. I hope she blows up like GloRilla did this year. Can’t wait.
Production-wise, every song hits. Like you said, it’s just a big love letter to Memphis and the sounds established decades ago by legendary people like Juicy J and DJ Paul. That said, I must say “WHAT YOU REP” is taking it for me when it comes to production. It’s just a trap knocker by Paul and Twhy Xclusive who I’ve never heard of before, but they both really put it down for that Memphis sound. Gang vocals on the chorus, it’s got those infectious chants, Duke’s flows are great. Top notch. If I may bring up a runner-up, it’s gonna be “BUCK THE SYSTEM” for sure. It’s a bit more laid back, but has real crispy drums, a fun vibey bass bounce to it. ATM RichBaby has a great feature on it; again, never heard of him before this album. Duke’s delivery is masterful. Dude just doesn’t miss.
Dan: I think we’re both in agreement regarding the energy, tone, and pretty much the overall stellar effort on display with this release. It’s definitely an interesting growth progression for Duke, not really letting go of the special ingredients he utilizes, but strengthening in the versatility of his flow, subject material, and honestly beat selection. Duke’s vision may be fully realized on this release, and I hope he carries on in this direction.
I could probably go on for a while about every element of this album, but we don’t have that time. A few tracks stood out to me for different reasons. “BHZ 2.0” stands out particularly for it’s hypnotic chant coupled with the horrorcore production just hits different than everything else that’s out right now. It’s definitely a throwback, It’s overwhelming, but doesn’t oppress. It overall comes out like a late night cut when everyone was sobering up from what the fuck ever they were doing all night.
The fully sober “WHAT’S MY NAME” is my particular favorite. After 11 tracks of dragged-across-concrete ‘90s tinged horrorcore, we get Duke Deuce putting back on his crunk club banger hat, and knocking it out of the park. Ayoza employs that ‘motherfuckin, Duke‘ sample like it’s wholesale, and that bassline just fucking struts while Duke does what he does best. It’s a breath of fresh air, and is aptly placed acting as a palate cleanser before “NOBODY NEEDS NOBODY” shares Duke’s more reflective/tender side. Out of all the tracks, this one stood out the most upon first listen, and the one I go back to the most.
David: “WHAT’S MY NAME” is quintessential Duke, and not just because his name is said about 78 times on it. Honestly, if I had to show one track to someone who wasn’t into Duke, horrorcore, or crunk stuff, I’d show them that. It just grooves hard, it’s undeniably catchy and fun. And again, I can see the dude dancing all over the damn track like he’s half the size he is (shout out to big dudes who got hella moves) – I bet he’ll drop a video soon doing just that to it.
I won’t beat around the bush anymore – MMIII is one of the best hip-hop albums of the year which is saying something because rap has absolutely run shit this year already. It’s executed so strongly, doesn’t overstay its welcome at all (since CRUNKSTAR did by a fair bit, so I was concerned with how this would go), and honestly shows a star in the making. I know I’m biased with the Memphis sound, but this is just elite shit that needs to be heard, especially if you like those classically dark Southern inflections. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then WHATHEFUUUUUUUUUUUCK are you doing?
Dan: What I appreciate most about Duke Deuce is his commitment to maximizing minimalism. Nothing he puts out is trying to impress you with hyper word play, fast rippity raps, or beating the beat down as much as he can. On the flipside, he rides out every single beat, and lets his words sizzle with emphasis. There’s no guess work in what he’s saying, he’s not here to impress you, but more so to warn you. It’s just so quintessential Memphis shit, and carves out its own lane between the burgeoning scenes. In the more and more complex landscape of rap, with an abundance of absolutely amazing rap (none of which the Grammys want to acknowledge, but they’re all fucking dorks anyway, so fuck ‘em), it’s awesome to have one heavy hitter that just slams like baseball bats to windows. If you’re needing something to soundtrack your parking lot brawls, strutting the fuck out, or just need some always-at-11 crunk in your life, don’t sleep on this shit.
Artist photo by Sara Lacombe