After back-to-back multi-platinum albums in 2002 and 2004 with Kings Of Crunk and Crunk Juice respectively, Lil Jon set his eyes on a lofty goal: to craft an album combining his patented Crunk sound with the influences of rock 'n' roll, aptly titled Crunk Rock. Unfortunately, label woes cropped up, and when his home, TVT, filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Jon's project was postponed indefinitely.
Well now it's 2010, and Jon is back at it. In the interim, Crunk Rock evolved from a rock-inspired Crunk album into "lifestyle music" encompassing everything from the traditional sound Jon pioneered to dance, electro, and even baile funk. Good old-fashioned party music, to say the least. He's found a new label home with Universal Republic, and after six years out of the spotlight, Jon's heavily delayed album is finally slated for a June 8 release date. Complex chopped it up with Jon at the Universal Republic offices, where he brought us up to speed on his whereabouts, his passion for DJing, and—of course—his upcoming album.
Interview by Modele "Modi" Oyewole
Complex: Feels like you've been out of the spotlight for a little bit. What have you been working on?
Lil Jon: Well, musically, I've been active. Me and Pitbull had "The Anthem" and "Crazy." I did LMFAO's "Shots." All of those records were big, in the club, on the radio, so I guess on the crossover scene, I ain't really went nowhere, I just didn't have my own stuff out. I've been touring a lot all over the world. I go to Europe four, five times a year, Asia, Australia. Also, I've been getting back to my roots as a DJ. I used to DJ in Atlanta, and that's how I kind of got into the music industry. I've been DJing all over the country and the world too. Also, when TVT fell apart... well, even before they fell apart, our relationship fell apart.
Complex: What exactly happened with them?
Lil Jon: After "Snap Yo Fingas," I started working on Crunk Rock, and we started to have differences on the project. Eventually, the label went bankrupt, so... that's basically it. [Laughs.] After they went bankrupt, there was a little break, and then I eventually got signed over here to Universal Republic.
Complex: So when the label folded, how did the artists signed to your BME imprint feel about it? Did relationships get strained at all during that whole process?
Lil Jon: Well, any major record company had the same story. Eventually, artists get jaded about stuff. From Roc-A-Fella to Death Row. I did all I could for every artist on the label, and I put my all into everybody's projects, and stuff happens. I have no ill feelings for nobody, I wish everybody the best, and I'm still cool with everybody.
Complex: So do you see yourself and any of those guys dropping any records in the future? Scrappy? E-40? Bo Hagon?
Lil Jon: Scrappy recently hollered at me about some stuff. Me and 40 are still cool. Everybody's doing their own thing. When you're with somebody for some years, sometimes you need a break from 'em. You grow in different directions. That's kind of what happened with me and the Eastside Boyz. They wanted to do different things than I wanted to do, so we separated. 40 and everybody else, they're grown men. They wanna sometimes do stuff a little differently and just stand out on their own. 40 just dropped his new double CD, which is crazy. Actually, I'm going to the Bay in a couple weeks and me and 40 gonna kick it. That's family, too. Me and all of those guys, we made some incredible records, and we gonna always be connected and down with each other. It's still all good.
Complex: After the hiatus, are you relieved to finally drop Crunk Rock this June?
Lil Jon: I'm relieved to be finished with it! [Laughs.] It's been years working on the process of getting the record done, two record companies, all that stuff. I'm anxious for the public to be able to hear the album. I think it's something that they're gonna love, because it's not the same ol' rap shit. I wanted to give everybody the Lil Jon that they know from the crunk music, to the Lil Jon that did a record with 3OH!3 and Dr. Luke. You got every kind of Lil Jon on this album. A lot of different kinds of collaborations, but I still gave 'em what my fans know me for; the essence. That's crunk music, and that's on there, too.
Complex: You announced Crunk Rock in 2006, and then "Party Like A Rockstar" came out and suddenly the whole "rockstar" style emerged, and everybody was on that tip for a minute. Do you think you had any influence on this direction?
Lil Jon: Definitely; because if you listen to my song "Act A Fool," I say "Party like a rockstar/Fuck like a pornstar." [Laughs.] Where else do you think they got that shit from? It's obvious that they got that from that song. But they say that's flattery. It's all good. I'm glad I could help spawn that movement, so to speak. But "Crunk Rock" to me began to take on a different meaning. "Crunk Rock" to me is basically a lifestyle that we live. We live life to the fullest like there's no tomorrow, we party like rockstars, we're crunk all the time, so that's the Crunk Rock lifestyle. With all of the disasters, and the craziness going on in the world right now, you have to live your life.
With Crunk Rock, all of the songs encompass talking about that lifestyle. You got "Out Of Your Mind" with LMFAO, which is about just getting crazy, going in the club, having a good time. Letting loose all of the energy that the frustrations of the week built up or whatever. From the Crunk Lil Jon to the "Out Of Your Mind" and "Shots" Lil Jon to the electro Jon. All of that is on the album.
Complex: It's not gonna be rock-based at all? I remember hearing you were gonna record the album in Las Vegas so you could be on the left coast with the rest of the rock industry.
Lil Jon: Well, there's two joints on there that are kind of rock-influenced. I got one with Travis Porter called "Fall Out," and then I got one with Game and Ice Cube and this punk rock band from Jacksonville called Whole Wheat Bread. They're an all-Black punk band, and it's all live. That track is crazy. So we got a got some rock-influenced songs on there, but the Crunk Rock meaning is broader than just that now.
Complex: How much of what you were working on is 2006 is gonna make it onto the finished product you're putting out in June?
Lil Jon: I guess it's just a couple songs that made the cut, but once I got signed over at [Universal Republic] and I started to really get back into DJing, I just had a fresh new energy. I revamped the project, and it's what we got today. You got hardcore crunk stuff, collaborations with DJ Chuckie and Pitbull, which is electro. A joint with Steve Aoki, which is more of a dance record. The joint with me and Ying Yang Twins, which is like some strip club shit. "Ms. Chocolate" with R. Kelly and Mario, which is nice and smooth and sexy for the ladies. From each album that I've ever done, and each collaboration that I've ever done, one of those Lil Jons is on the album. But it all makes sense, because whatever I get on, I make it crunk, no matter what kind of sound it is.
Complex: When you were kind of absent from the forefront of the Crunk music movement, would you say that Crunk still existed without you?
Lil Jon: Well, the music definitely survived, because DJs are still spinning those records every night in the club. There's not that many records that give you that kind of energy, so I still survived, and it's now transferred to new artists like Waka Flocka, who says, if you talk to him, that he grew up on crunk music. He says he's "new crunk." [Laughs.] Roscoe Dash says that, too. Travis Porter, all of those guys show me a lot of respect, and they're the new generation that are doing their thing, and they're the offspring of what we was doing back in the day. It didn't die, it just incubated, and now here we are today. And I'm back! [Laughs.]
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Complex: So if I looked at your iPod right now, what kind of music would I find in there?
Lil Jon: Everything from dancehall to soca to electro, old-school hip-hop, rock, everything. Everything that you'd hear if you went to the club in Las Vegas, plus I got all the hood shit from Atlanta too, and the south.
Complex: You were a DJ first before you started producing?
Lil Jon: I started DJing in the early '90s. I didn't really get into producing until later. I started producing by doing reggae remixes. The first big record I had was Capleton's "Tour," the remix to that. Me and my partner at the time, Paul Lewis, we called ourselves Dynamic Duo. We produced that joint that got Capleton his deal at Def Jam and did a couple of the records on his album. At that time I was DJing on V103 in Atlanta doing a reggae show, and a lot of club gigs. In '93 I started working at So So Def. After the reggae thing, I think I put out the first Bass All-Star album. I was A&Ring records, and then I put out my first single as Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz in '96. So from there, that's when I started to become an artist. In 2000, I got signed to TVT. The first single off of that was "Bia Bia," and that was my first introduction across the US to the clubs, and that's still a record that gets played today in the clubs.
Complex: So when would you say crunk was born? You had a bunch of albums before your TVT debut, correct?
Lil Jon: "Bia Bia" was on an independent album, and even before that, I had a record with Too $hort that was killin' the clubs, "Couldn't Be A Better Player." I guess crunk kind of started with the record "Who You Wit" because the record was all chants, and all the record did was get people crunk. It was the anthem for Freaknik when it dropped, so it started with that. The sound evolved from the party sound initially on that record to more rowdiness. We started to call ourselves crunk artists, because all we did was get people crunk. We wasn't tryna rap or freestyle.
Complex: It's probably safe to say that the majority of your fans have no idea that you DJ.
Lil Jon: Yeah, a lot of people don't know. If you wasn't in Atlanta in the early '90s, you didn't really know. I was running the Atlanta scene. I used to do this one club called New York Sound Factory where I played house, hip-hop, and dancehall. I was one of the first DJs in the South to play everything. At that time, you'd have specialty DJs that'd come play the hip-hop or house or classics or reggae. I made it a point to learn how to master all the styles, and that was what I was known for.
Complex: So when you were down in Miami for the Winter Music Conference, how did people who didn't expect to see you behind the turntables react to your sets?
Lil Jon: It's always shocking to people, because sometimes when I go on the road and I DJ, they think I'm just gonna perform, so to see me really DJing and playing their favorite song and really rockin', it's a shock to people, and definitely to DJs. A lot of DJs hit me later and were like, "Yo, you're fucking really good!" [Laughs.] Some people think I'm one of those fake celebrity DJs that just plays a CD, or somebody tells me what to play, or they just play some bullshit, but nah, I'm tryna rock the crowd. I'm tryna make these motherfuckers have a memorable moment. I want them to remember the night that they came and partied and Lil Jon was Djng.
I remember one of the nights, I DJed at this club LIV. I'm part of the Skam Artist DJs, it's a group of all big-name DJs, and VICE, another member of the group, is one of the dudes I respect the most as a DJ that's killin' it right now, and they put me on after him. I was like, "Wow." That's a compliment to me. A lot of the DJs out here are my good friends. We hang out all the time and kick it. That's partially what the video to "Out Of Your Mind" was about. Showing respect to the DJ as well, because at one point, the DJ wasn't getting the respect they deserved, and now the DJs are really put back on top. I wanted to show how much support that I have for the DJ and how much I love the DJ, and show that I'm a DJ too. That's why I captured all of these DJs in the video. Also, to show people that this is the future of music. Collaborations between a rap guy and a dance guy or an electro guy. It also shows people shit that they might not even know about or couldn't even imagine. The crowds in that video were amazing, and to some hip-hop cats, they don't see shit like that. Somebody's gotta show people another thing. It's not just one-sided; we have to learn to open our minds up to other shit, and I think I'm a person to do that, because I'm respected on all these different fronts.
Complex: It seems like the skit on Chappelle's Show must have made it so every white frat kid was running up to you screaming "Whaaaat!" and "Okaaay!"
Lil Jon: [Laughs.] I thank Dave every time I do an interview, or whenever I see him, because he helped take my career to places music would have never been able to take me. He helped to make me an icon in the hip-hop world, and just pop culture in general. I remember Cipha Sounds, he's a good friend of mine, he was the DJ for Chappelle Show, and he called me one day and was like, "Yo, nigga. Dave Chappelle is doing a sketch on you, nigga, and the shit is hilarious." I was like, "Man, fuck you, nigga, you bullshittin'. You lyin', nigga."
So next week, we're in the studio working on the album, niggas is sittin' there, and this shit comes on TV. I'm like, "Oh shit! Wow!" Cuz I'm just a nigga from Southwest Atlanta. Why'd he even think about me, I'm nobody! He's a fucking superstar comedian with a hit show. But it was an amazing thing, and it just definitely helped to take me to another level. Around the same time, Usher's "Yeah!" comes out. It just made everything super big. Then, I got the opportunity to go on the show and improv with Dave back and forth, and that got used in a sketch on the last show of the season. That was amazing, to sit and improv with one of the greatest comedians of our time.
Complex: Does it ever get annoying to have people come up to you and just scream your ad-libs to you?
Lil Jon: Yes. [Laughs.] It's definitely annoying, but they're fans, and... people like to do that. They just like to scream the shit. [Laughs.] I'm surprised it didn't ever play out. At one point I thought, "This shit is gonna get lame as fuck in a minute." But for some reason, people never got tired of saying those phrases, so when they scream at me, I don't always scream back. They have to coax me to say shit. [Laughs.] But I appreciate the love that everybody gives me.
Complex: You mentioned that you traveled all over the world for music. Is there anything that you saw in other countries as far as the nightlife that was especially surprising?
Lil Jon: From Japan to the South of France, every scene is a little different. But really, everywhere I go, it's the same kind of energy, I make people get fucking nuts. Anywhere I go, I think I make people feel like it's okay to do shit that you ain't never done before. That's what I'm bringing back to the game and to the forefront. People having a good time. Stop being so serious. Like when I go into the hip-hop club and motherfuckers is just standing around looking at each other, nobody's fucking partying. I go across town to the house club, and motherfuckers is losing their minds. I'm trying to help bring that back to the urban club. You go in the club in New York when they played Dipset back in the day, and niggas was wildin' the fuck out. Standing on tables and shit. You play Lil Jon, same shit. Wildin' out, standing on tables. We need to get back to that.
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