Turn on the TV, and chances are, one of the cable channels is airing “Hustle + Flow.” Song after song on the radio feature rappers and producers trying to channel that classic Dirty South attitude. Phonk, the wildly popular Eastern European rap subgenre, is nothing but a tribute to Tennessee sound. There’s an argument that the hip-hop sound developed in Memphis in the 1990s has never been more popular or more influential than it is now. And right in the middle of the Memphis hip-hop story are 8 BALL AND MJG — two pillars of a local culture that’s appreciated worldwide.
It’s a massive understatement to say the time is right for new music from the pair of artists. The new single “They Don’t Love You” finds the duo in top form, trading verses with the combination of confidence and easygoing camaraderie that has always been a hallmark of their music. Like so many of their best songs are, the track is a cautionary tale and demonstration of their hard-won wisdom — the emcees warn about fairweather friends and the dangers of flattery. 8 BALL AND MJG rhyme over classic Memphis hip-hop production, including filthy, funky drums and wah-wah guitar. They’ve always drawn connections between Southern styles: street rap and delta blues, soul, gospel, sophisticated pop, and rock at its most elemental. They’re still doing it.
Their distinctive, contrasting rap styles are as sharp as ever, too. MJG is still the pitbull, spitting punchy, forceful, quotable and instantly memorable; 8 Ball is still laid-back, butter-smooth, reflective, and just as menacing as he needs to be. They called themselves Living Legends on their 2004 album, and nobody in the Dirty South disagreed with the assessment. They’re members of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which, in a town dedicated to sound, is about as high an honor as any municipality can bestow.
8 BALL AND MJG grew up in Orange Mound, a historic Memphis neighborhood associated with African-American aspirations and achievement. Though they’ve traveled around the world, they’ve never really left — they’re proud to represent a great American city and proud to tell its stories in colorful, indelible rhyme. The “They Don’t Love You” clip takes us inside the landmark Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Memphis, and the pair park their spectacular, tricked-out, silver-rimmed vintage car on Beale Street. And what are the rappers drinking? It’s the “Space Age Sippin'” IPA, brewed by the local bottler in tribute to 8 BALL AND MJG, whose cartoon likenesses are right there in purple on the can. The town loves these guys. The world does, too.