Lil Jon interview: King of Crunk
Saturday, April 15, 2006
If at one time Timbaland was the producer to bite when you wanted a guaranteed urban-pop hit, then in 2006 Atlanta's Lil Jon, the self-proclaimed King of Crunk, is the man defining the music culture.
It all kicked off for Jon after a song he helmed for Usher, Yeah!, topped the charts world-over. Overnight the high-energy crunk style was no longer just a regional music from Down South. Still, even then, Jon was hardly a newcomer.
Starting as a club DJ, he briefly served as an A&R rep at Jermaine Dupri's So So Def. Before Yeah! the canny Atlantan issued successive albums with his posse The East Side Boyz, beginning with the grassroots 'Get Crunk, Who U Wit': Da Album' back in 1996. He finally crossed over into the US mainstream with his single Get Low, featuring the Ying Yang Twins. Jon proved that crunk is no gimmick with his last album, 'Crunk Juice', for which he roped in impressive guests like Ice Cube. Indeed, Jon actually collaborated with the legendary Rick Rubin, who's otherwise disinclined to work with hip hoppers these days.
Does Jon feel urban listeners accept him as an artist- "I guess they kinda look at me as a producer more than an artist," he reflects. "Even though I had monster hits as an artist, they still look at me more as a producer. But the fans ate the album up."
Since that auspicious hook-up with Usher, Jon has produced multiple R&B artists, from Ciara to Amerie to Brooke Valentine, demonstrating his versatility. What's impressive is that, by his own admission, Jon's only musical experience is playing drums in school.
So what's next- Jon is planning another LP, 'Crunk Rock', with the likes of Rubin and his "boys" Good Charlotte on board. "I'm just gonna go in and try to create some new stuff and have a good time," he says.
In the interim, Jon has been attached to Ice Cube's solo comeback in addition to projects by Whitney Houston, Jessica Simpson, Hilary Duff, and, more bizarrely, Paris Hilton.
However, the artist Jon enthuses about most is Jive's new Australian signing, Samantha J. "Man, it was great," he says of the sessions. "She's well-mannered, a sweet girl, and [has] a powerful singing voice. People are gonna be really surprised at her music. I mean, she's on her way to being one of the next big pop stars with the stuff that we came out of the studio with - and she's representing Australia."
Jon is now aiming to focus on the roster of his neglected BME Recordings.
There's a dark side to the producer's success. Jon's crunk style has been widely emulated. He's lashed out at Philly's Scott Storch for biting his steez (not unreasonably, it must be said). "I ran into Timbaland in a club recently and, I already respected him and loved what he did, but I told him I respected him more because I'm going through what he went through. He went through a stage where everybody was biting his style and was duplicating his stuff and sounding just like him and he was able to reinvent his sound and come back and still make more records, so that's basically what I'm doing now."
"I'm still doing my thing and my style is changing a little bit 'cause I change every year, I grow older and get more knowledge and get more influences, so my style is changing. But it is crazy to me how people start just killing your style once you become big and you start dictating to radio what's going on. But that shows I must have been doing something right, even if I didn't get all the credit I deserved - 'cause people started biting my sound, that shows I was doing big things."
Jon does get props from the dance community, with Carl Craig recognising his electronic influences. "I used to DJ a lotta house and early house music, garage house, Chicago house, not much techno, but I did used to DJ some of that - but that was before I was even producing. I just go in the studio a Tags