When crowning 2004’s hip-hop ‘man of the year,’ the obvious choices may be Usher or Kanye West, but, sit back and think about it for a second and the clear victor is Lil Jon. Producing a bulk of the year’s biggest hits, his track record this year speaks for itself: Usher’s “Yeah,” Ciara’s “Goodies,” Petey Pablo’s “Freek-A-Leek,” and Lil Scrappy’s “No Problems,” just to name a few.
The self-proclaimed King of Crunk has spearheaded the evolution of a once mainly Southern musical approach to club anthems into a nationwide phenomenon. From New York natives like Nas and Mobb Deep, to Cali representatives such as Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, Lil Jon’s clientele resume transcends all boundaries. With “Crunk & B” (R&B) generating power and “Crunk Rock” on deck, the Atlanta product’s production prowess seems likely to grasp tightly onto Billboards charts in 2005 as well.
Reuniting with his energetic sidekicks The Eastside Boyz, he is now ready to issue the latest, and most crucial, album from Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz, Crunk Juice (also the name of his own power drink, another by-product of crunk’s commercial takeover). With a dizzying array of cameos backed by Lil Jon’s raucous instrumentals, Crunk Juice is the climax for a year highlighted by everybody from your mother to your little nephew constantly yelling out “Yeeaah,” “Okaaay,” and “What!”
AllHipHop.com caught up with Lil Jon during his forever-hectic schedule to discuss Crunk Juice, the nation’s craziest clubs, critics, and the rumors of a Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Usher collaboration album. Yeeeaah! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the temptation.)
AllHipHop.com: The list of guest appearances on Crunk Juice reads like a who’s who of today’s top artists. What was your mind frame when deciding on whom to feature?
Lil Jon: Basically, it was just whoever fit on the tracks. [Laughs] It wasn’t really any method to it. We just did the beats, and figured out who would work over the tracks. It’s just that simple.
AllHipHop.com: In what ways were you trying to push the limits of what crunk music has become in 2004 so far?
Lil Jon: I went into this record just wanting to make a good record, and by making a good record, we took crunk to some new places. We did the joint with Rick Rubin, taking it to a new level. On the same token, we got the joint with 8Ball and MJG, that’s on a different kind of feel than we normally are on. So, I just try to make the best records that I can make, every time. I don’t try to recreate any success or anything. I go in the studio and naturally take it to the next level. It’s that simple, really.
AllHipHop.com: With Kings of Crunk being so successful, the pressure had already been put on this new album to be really successful, but with the success you’ve had this year producing for outside artists, the expectations levels are as high as they can get. Did you have that in the back of your mind while making Crunk Juice?
Lil Jon: Yeah, definitely. When you’re a producer and an artist, you’re definitely competing with all of the other hits you’ve had for other artists. I have to compete with the Usher record, “Freek-A-Leek,” and Youngbloodz “Damn.” Every record I’ve had in the last two years, I’m competing against. That definitely stays in the back of your mind, but at the same time, I didn’t let it change how I make music. I approached the album the same ways that I approach record I’m working on.
AllHipHop.com: With the work you did for people like Usher, 2004 was a monster of a year for you. Are there any things you didn’t or couldn’t do in 2004 that you wish you could have?
Lil Jon: Everything is perfect. I wouldn’t change anything. I was blessed, and I was able to just make it happen. Once “Get Low” blew, it never stopped. Things were non-stop for me. Juvenile and I were supposed to do something together, and I was supposed to work with Outkast. Other than those two, though, I pretty much made everything happen this year. We have all kinds of stuff coming up, though, so I’m good. I just did a song with Jay-Z, for the movie he has dropping. It’s a single that he is dropping, and Rick Rubin produced the track. It’s me, Jay-Z, and Chris Rock. We finished that last night. It’s like the only new track that he is gonna have out, so it’s pretty big.
AllHipHop.com: Damn, so now that you’ve worked with Jay-Z, you’ve pretty much worked with all of the game’s biggest rappers, like Eminem and Nas. Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with yet that you really look forward to making music with?
Lil Jon: The main person was Jay-Z, and now that me and him done did something, it’s like the start of some whole other s###. The rock groups are the only cats that I haven’t touched yet that I want to really do stuff with. I met Good Charlotte at Diddy’s house one time, and we talked about doing some stuff. I like Blink 182, and people like that. I want to get with these rock cats, and do something different.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think the hip-hop world is ready for “Crunk Rock” yet?
Lil Jon: Yeah, because we grew up on rock music. Back in the 1980s, it was all played on the radio together. You heard pop music, you heard rap music, and you heard rock, all on the same radio. I think Black people aren’t really locked into rock because it isn’t saying stuff that they can relate to. If you got a cat like me, I can talk to them, and do it over a rock track, and make it something that they would be more likely to listen to. I’ll be saying the right stuff for them, I think it’s just the way you bring it to people.
AllHipHop.com: Now, while this year has been successful, people don’t see the Eastside Boyz around you a lot. What role have they played in all of your success this year?
Lil Jon: I do my thing as a producer, but we do our thing as Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz. You know, the crunk thing. We get on the records together, write all of the records together, and lay all of the chants down. So, they are involved in all of this.
AllHipHop.com: Some people feel that crunk had a big year in 2004, but its chances of lasting aren’t very big. It seems that rap music goes in cycles, and many people feel that crunk is a current cycle and its time is running out. How do you react to people like that?
Lil Jon: They’ve been saying that it was gonna go away for two years. [Laughs] nobody expected me to produce the number one song of the year, with Usher. Then, to come right behind that with “Goodies.” I don’t give a damn about what people talk about. I just go ahead and make records for these clubs. I let the records speak for themselves. I don’t really pay attention. My job is to just make records that make people go crazy, and I do my job well. Crunk is a way of life, and it’s a culture. It’s way of life. Crunk isn’t just a form of music. It’s how people live in the South. They live and die to get crunk. Something like that just don’t go away. That’s the same thing they said about hip-hop, and look how far it has come. It just evolved and changed, and kept on growing.
AllHipHop.com: What about when people say too many of your beats sound the same, like saying that “Freek-A-Leek” and “Goodies” are too similar?
Lil Jon: People say that they can tell a Lil Jon beat when it drops, but they really can’t. A lot of people didn’t even realized that I produced “Shorty Wanna Ride” for Young Buck. It just depends on the sounds and the style. Of course it’s gonna sound similar if I use the same sounds. If I use the worm and the 808, it will sound the same. Nobody is doing R&B tracks with an 808 in it. I changed the whole R&B game by doing that. If people say something negative about me, there is so much more positive things to say. We got people dancing again. We got people having a good time. People are dying overseas, and the economy is f##### up, but we got people going to the club to release some of this stress and tension, and having a good time again. People can talk all they want, but really if you put my records up against anybody else’s records, see who made the records that had the clubs going crazier.
AllHipHop.com: I’m sure you’d definitely win that.
Lil Jon: [Laughs] Yeah man.
AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk about your effects on the clubs now. Outside of the South, what cities would you say have the clubs that get the most crunk?
Lil Jon: St. Louis, Memphis. Of course Atlanta. We get recognized everywhere we go, and people show us love all over. Certain clubs in the South and the Midwest, though, where you go and it’s just like, you want to get out of there immediately. The energy level is so raw, and they scream. You’re like, “Wow, this s### is crazy. I gotta get up out of here!”
AllHipHop.com: What is the most memorable experience that you’ve had at a really wild club while performing?
Lil Jon: The wildest one is from when we were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one time. We were doing a show in a club, and the people got so wild, that they started fighting the police. That was wild. Like, damn, fighting the police in the club? That’s crazy. Not the security, the POLICE! I’ve seen people get f##### up in clubs too. Some n#### got stomped out, and they kicked the people who did it out of the club. Once that happened, the crowd got even wilder. You know how somebody gets in a fight and everybody spreads out? Well, they spread out, let the dude get stomped out, watched the people get kicked out the club, and then got even crazier than before the f###### fight. That was crazy.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of ladies seem to get wild when a Lil Jon record drops in a club, too. Do you have any stories about females getting extra crazy?
Lil Jon: I was in Oakland, California, at some club, and the b###### were fighting security. The girls were beating security’s a####. It was that wild. They were just gangsta. Songs came on, and the girls were pushing security, like, “F### you!” It was wild. The security members were guys, too.
AllHipHop.com: That’s crazy. I heard recently that yourself, Ludacris, and Usher may be working on an album together. I’m sure that would make ladies get crazy in clubs. How true is that?
Lil Jon: We actually already started. Ludacris and I have been talking, and now we’re getting the beats together and s###. We’ll be working on that here and there. We got a big song on Crunk Juice called “Lovers and Friends,” and that’s a big record, man. A big record! We’re gonna get the record done and then take it to the labels, cuz you got three labels and all three of us are the biggest artists on our labels. It’s gonna be hard to work that out, but when they hear the product, they’ll be ready to do it.
AllHipHop.com: Finally, there are many people who know you more for your famous catchphrase rather than just your music. Everybody has been saying it, and I’m sure you’re getting tired of it. When somebody comes up to you on the street and says “Yeeeaah,” what do you reply? “Okaaay”?
Lil Jon: I guess initially when it started out, I would throw it back to them. Now, though, I’m so tired of it that I just say, “What’s up.” People must think that just by saying it to me, I’m gonna automatically say it back. They keep saying it until I say it back, but I’ll just throw them a peace sign. [Laughs] I’m “Yeeeaah,” “What,” and “Okaaay”d out.