Since before they stepped out in 2000 with their still-peerless cough-syrup anthem "Sippin' On Some Syrup," the members of Three 6 Mafia have commanded a style that might well be called baroque crunk—with only the "crunk" part risking misrepresentation. The baroque part proves sound, in the most florid sense of the term, beneath all the tense, scary piano lines, tormented strings, and disembodied voices of rappers who sound either dead or well on their way. But what kind of mafia thrives with just two members? When does an organization mean more than its individual parts?
These are questions that haunt Last 2 Walk, the first Three 6 Mafia album since the group took home an Oscar for Best Original Song in a win sure to stay in the annals of Academy Awards lore for the rest of time. As the intro to Last 2 Walk tells it, "only some could last through the pressure" of the aftermath—and so Three 6 Mafia is now just DJ Paul and Juicy J. That might seem a minor point to fixate on, especially as it relates to a hip-hop album with the requisite expanding cast of collaborators, but prime Three 6 Mafia always drew on the mix of manias and moods smuggled in by its foot-soldiers: the brassy sass of Gangsta Boo, the zombie-walk stoicism of Crunchy Black, and so on.
Alas, DJ Paul and Juicy J drum up some passable drama and dread to add to the coffers. "I Got" starts off as a bleary synth-blitz with chilly cymbals before changing entirely into a piano-tickled take on something like the Halloween theme. In "First 48," the piano clanks through delirious circles before an actual horror-show organ enters in. But for all the intricacy on display in the production, the vocals just aren't there: Very little proves as engagingly or exhilaratingly macabre as past Three 6 hits, and Last 2 Walk falls back on a frustrating pattern of pat crunk call-and-response screams. (The nadir comes when a chorus yells "Three!" in response to another shouting "PlayStation!" over and over.) It all makes for an effect that's more taxing than chilling.