I wrote this review of Crook by da Book, Project Pat's "comeback" album, back in 2006 for the Memphis Flyer. Eleven months later, I interviewed Project Pat face-to-face at Houston's Restaurant in East Memphis. That article, also below, originally appeared in the Commercial Appeal. In it, Pat references his stint in the South Texas Federal Correctional Complex, his take on Forest Whitaker's role in the Last King of Scotland, and Carlton, the resident nerd on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
In the ‘60s, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s battle cry was “Free at last;” that same decade, Bob Dylan famously proclaimed, “I shall be released.” For Memphis rapper Patrick “Project Pat” Houston, who just wrapped up three years in a federal penitentiary on a concealed weapons charge, the words are just as potent and, perhaps, even more urgent: “Tell your old man I ain’t going back to jail,” he states on the opening track of Crook By Da Book: The Fed Story, his long-awaited, first post-prison release.
Appropriately, the album both establishes and expounds upon the legendary life of Project Pat, who’s been favorably compared to Nelson Mandela and Tookie Williams as the wrongly imprisoned martyr of the Dirty South rap scene.
Listen to Crook By Da Book, and you’ll quickly realize that Project Pat is hardly reformed – a self-described “North Memphis monster,” he’s as full of braggadocio as ever, writing songs called “Cocaine,” and sagely rapping urban nursery rhymes like “This nigga got popped/With a whole lotta bullets in his head, in his head” – yet his newfound perspective adds a prolific element to his songwriting skills.
Although “Purple,” with Beanie Sigel, is just an update on Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Syrup,” “Raised in the Projects” is as celebratory as it is reflective, detailing Pat’s Horatio Alger story as set in modern-day Memphis. “Crack A Head” and “Tell Tell Tell (Stop Snitchin’),” which features versus from Lyfe Jennings, Young Jeezy, and Mr. Bigg, further outline the code of the streets, while the cartoonish “Good Googly Moogly,” “I Like,” and “Cause I’m A Playa,” with Pimp C, reinforce his image as a sexual satyr.
Like his New Orleans counterpart, the late, great Soulja Slim, Project Pat has indubitably lived the life he sings about. With his younger brother, Three 6 Mafia co-founder Jordan “Juicy J” Houston, and two other siblings, he was raised by a single mother in a North Memphis housing project where shootings and drug deals were just part of the landscape. Before he celebrated his thirteenth birthday, he was pulling capers; by the release date of his first album, 1999’s Ghetty Green, he’d served four years on two separate robbery charges.
But at the time of his last arrest, on January 19, 2001, when he was pulled over on New Allen Road with two pistols stored under the seat of his Cadillac Escalade, Project Pat was approaching bona fide superstardom. Ghetty Green and its follow-up, Murderers & Robbers, were valid underground hits; Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin’, which was released in the interim between his arrest and his incarceration, went double-platinum, while singles like “Don’t Save Her” and “Chickenhead” made him a household name.
Project Pat was released in late ’05, just in time to see his little brother win an Academy Award for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” and to appear in Three 6’s video for “Poppin’ My Collar.” He spent several months in a halfway house and worked at a temp agency before being deemed sufficiently rehabilitated by his parole officer. In magazines ranging from Murder Dog to DonDiva, he began formulating the groundwork for his comeback, and, as soon as he could, he reentered the recording studio, where he could lay down lines like “Good googly moogly/That thang is juicy,” and “Nigga I’m hustlin’, where the bullets never ceaseful/It’s always gunplay, ‘cause your mouth stays in grease-full.”
The question is, now that Project Pat has resumed talking the talk, will he continue to walk the walk? Judging by the way they’ve parlayed their popularity into celebrity appearances on TV shows like The Simple Life, Entourage, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Juicy J and his Three-6 compatriot DJ Paul have learned how to differentiate their roles as Hollywood entertainers from their hardcore street personas, unlike other rappers like the foolhardy C-Murder, who was sentenced to life in prison after shooting someone in a Louisiana nightclub three years ago.
Life does have a tendency to imitate art, but according to recent interviews, Project Pat’s eager to put his past behind him – he’s just determined to do it on his own terms, not because of a court-ordered sanction. “It could all end while you’re trying to get your buck,” he soberly advises his fans on “How it Goes in the Gutta,” a grim guide to the underbelly of the city that most of us seldom see.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail,” it’s not, but Crook By Da Book sure sounds good.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
For many local rappers, Three 6 Mafia’s Hypnotized Minds Posse has been both a boon and the bane of their existence. Co-founder Lord Infamous recently resurfaced on radio station Hot 107.1-FM, proclaiming that he’s about to make a comeback, while former cohort Koopsta Knicca has used the local nightly news as a platform for his arguments against DJ Paul and Juicy J, who, he says, owe him revenues on multiple hit records. Mr. Del, who left the group after becoming a Christian, released The Future on Holy South Records last year. Gangsta Boo, the first female member of the posse, currently splits her time between Memphis and Atlanta. Her replacement, La Chat, who made her reputation via her ferocious put-downs on Project Pat’s “Chickenhead,” dropped a new album, Bad Influence, last week. Meanwhile, Crunchy Black, the latest rapper to get divorced from the group, celebrated the release of his own solo album, Crunchtime, at the Gibson Music Showcase last month.
Rapper's life of missteps leads him to light
By Andria Lisle
Special To The Commercial Appeal
Depending on whom you talk to, Project Pat is either reviled as a street thug or revered as a folk hero.
The Memphis rapper (real name: Patrick Houston) was released from federal prison in late 2005, after a controversial arrest nearly seven years ago, when he was pulled over on New Allen Road with two pistols stored under the seat of his Cadillac Escalade.
Pat's criminal career began long before he picked up a microphone.
Prior to the release of his first album, 1999's Ghetty Green, he served four years on two separate robbery charges.
"Rapping was always Juicy's dream," Pat says, referring to his younger brother Juicy J (aka Jordan Houston), co-founder of the popular rap group Three 6 Mafia.
"My brother was doing these mix tapes, and he kept trying to push me, saying, 'Man, you've got to rap.' I was never on it like that. I didn't want to rap about anything I was doing, because I felt like I'd be incriminating myself.
"Then I saw the money, and I ran with it."
By the time he was incarcerated for his last run-in with the law, Pat was both a gangsta and a gangster.
A member of Three 6's Hypnotize Minds posse, he had the double platinum, full-length Mista Don't Play: Everythangs Workin' under his belt. He'd also recorded several smash hit singles, including "Chickenhead" and "Don't Save Her," which featured his signature nursery-rhyme raps and hi-hat beat.
"I was locked up in Beaumont with every gang in the United States of America," Pat says of his stint in the South Texas Federal Correctional Complex, which has the reputation of being one of the roughest prisons in the nation. "It was gladiator school every day -- serious business."
He says the fourth floor of the Shelby County Jail, where he languished in the mid-1990s, was even worse.
"It was serious, but God brought me through it," maintains Pat, a soft-spoken 35-year-old who blends easily in the weekday lunch crowd at Houston's Restaurant.
He emerged from prison in time to see his little brother win a 2005 Academy Award for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."
After spending several months in a halfway house, he appeared in Three 6 Mafia's video for the urban hit single "Poppin' My Collar." His first post-prison effort was 2006's Crook By Da Book: The Fed Story. And he flew to Los Angeles, where he turned up on Three 6 Mafia's MTV reality program, "Adventures in Hollyhood."
"Honestly, when I was locked up, I prayed for a lot of stuff, and when I got out, I had my answers," says Pat.
He credits his faith for getting his music career back on track after his federal sentence was finished.
"It's God who's kept me where I'm sitting right now, free. It's all Him -- it has nothing to do with me. I thank God for it, and I'll scream that to the top of my lungs, because I ain't ashamed of nothing," Pat says.
October's braggadocios-laden Walkin' Bank Roll recently broke the 500,000 sales mark, thanks to songs like "Don't Call Me No Mo" and "Rubberband Me." Judging by the material on his latest release, Pat is still caught in the trap of the streets.
"With rap, you can't sugarcoat it," Pat says. "I could talk about anything, but I lean more toward the streets, the 'hood, because that's where I'm from."
"I grew up in Cypress Gardens, in the projects in North Memphis. It's always been bad there," Pat says of the no-man's-land sandwiched between Rhodes College and Kilowatt Lake. "There's always been junkies, always been dope, always been heroin, always been cocaine, always been weed."
"I've been to 201 (Poplar) on a robbery charge that haunts me even to this day," he continues. "But at the same time, I really wish I'd grown up in Germantown in a nice big house, gone to a nice school, and been like Carlton. That didn't happen to me. So I'm taking the pain and the things I went through in the ghetto, and capitalizing off my life experience."
Over a veggie burger and fries, the conversation veers from Forest Whitaker's recent portrayal of Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" to the impetus that drives Pat to write new songs like "Powder" and "Talkin' Smart," which are about cocaine highs and impertinent women, respectively.
"This Scottish guy tried to kill Idi Amin, and it was by the grace of God that he got away," Pat says. "Idi Amin told him, 'You thought we were a joke, but we are very real.' I said, whoo-hoo-hoo, Idi Amin is a monster, because that's how it is in the streets."
"The streets are a deathtrap....
"At the same time, you can't live the life you sing about -- this is a job, a multimillion dollar business."
For doubters, the ever-present shadow of his probation officer -- coupled with the long-lasting memories of his time in the pen -- ensures that Pat is currently walking the straight and narrow.
"I know my parole officer listens to my music," he says with a wry laugh.
"Sure, I've rapped some songs that were real street songs, but I put myself in character mode to do it. Are you gonna tell me that the governor of California is the Terminator? I'm gonna get real with you -- I've been to jail, to both state and fed. I'm not gonna incriminate myself by talking about murders and blastin' on people