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LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUITS OF 8BALL AND MJG

| ryan@yesweekly.com | @YESRyan

Still one of the most potent, if underrated combinations in rap, 8Ball and MJG scratched out an indelible imprint through a raunchy, uncompromising lyrical style that asked no quarter and gave no quarter. Two decades ago, their full-length debut Comin’ Out Hard did for West Tennessee what UGK’s Too Hard to Swallow was doing for East Texas. If two album’s titles are similarly evocative, it’s because they were ballyhooing similar liberties: the freedom to live of one’s own choosing, to speak openly (and probably irresponsibly) to anyone’s aversion, and to get paid with the talents with which they were given. Thursday night at Ziggy’s, they headlined a Fourth of July party that served as an unexpected reminder that those freedoms still exist, like it or not.

Hosts Deron Juan and Tap Money of 102 JAMZ welcomed everyone to the official Tre4 Fourth of July reunion shortly after doors opened at 10 p.m. with a playlist that leaned on 2000s southern rap joints, shaded by their usual errant hype. “We got some ladies that pay they’re own bills in here tonight?” Aside from one shaking it to Cadillac Don and Paul Wall in the middle of a mostly empty floor, not really. At least not yet. Other than Brian McKee of “Hollywood Exes” (seriously), here was hardly anyone among the procession of unbilled and barely identified openers capable of drawing eyes. Put a random stripper on stage, however, and suddenly they had an abundant, if slightly distracted audience.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the dancer — who remained relatively clothed in a USA Network circa-1999 kind of way other than one especially egregious wardrobe malfunction (or maybe function?) — came into play, other than the fact that 8Ball & MJG have long celebrated less refined lifestyles, and there’s no more fitting iconography than a twerking set piece. She was clearly more than that to the handful of guys up front feeding her dollar bills, and those singles multiplied when her scandalously low-cut sling all but disappeared into the void while some indigent-man’s B2K lip-synched badly to grey market hip-pop.

The announcement that 8Ball and MJG were finally in the building came at roughly quarter past one, and by then the number of dancers on stage had doubled. Atlanta producer Krillz, one-half of EDM duo TRPMSTER, dismissed Tap and Deron, and immediately threw on the low down club crunk that propels “You Don’t Want Drama”. At the time of its release on Living Legends, the duo was under heat for their new association with P. Diddy, who might as well have been southern rap kryptonite at the time. At least in this case, he wasn’t there to talk over the track.

Dance-ready tracks like “Riding High” (which they didn’t play) might have later divorced them further from their lowdown verve, but as a standalone, “You Don’t Want Drama” has coalesced 8Ball and MJG’s grit into a single anthem, unpalatable to some and a crunk mantra to others. “Spit it how I live it, keep it gutter, that’s how we get down,” 8Ball declared in his usual even, cleverly syncopated delivery, a stern preamble to the song’s hook that’s practically too lurid to print in even an expurgated form, yet is still catchy as hell, however debased.

The duo gave it 25 strong minutes before the 2 o’clock bell cut them off, omitting their solo material, including MJG’s fiercely antagonistic “Shades” (though he was wearing his; “spit it how I live it, remember?), for their best collaborative works. More importantly, they were unabridged. The groovy bridge to “Space Age Pimpin’” was a chance for them to commune with their audience, shaking hands and throwing out as many fist bumps as they could before giving 8Ball’s shining moment on “Mr. Big” the luxury treatment. They soaked in the Stax samples, rendering the track in all its cinematic glory — time better used than a dirty rap supercut — and closer “Stay Fly” was their nod to fellow Memphis low-road travelers, Three 6 Mafia. Like almost all of their best tracks, it’s dirty and it’s catchy, and it’s equally derived from both the most illicit elements and an inalienable right, like it or not. !

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