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You can get to the top of the pop charts by being a complete idiot, but it takes some serious sharp thinking to stay there. So don't make the mistake of thinking rapper/producer/all-around Svengali Lil Jon is a buffoon. The man behind the blinding grills and creatively shocking lyrical allusions to sex is a shrewd businessman and songwriter who swirls the winds of pop into his own entertainment hurricane.
Enter Crunk Rock, Lil Jon's eighth studio album, due out this November. After years of label trouble, delays, and a touch of admitted creative burnout, the record — still unfinished at this point — represents the first real work of a new, Lil Jon-birthed musical hybrid three or four years in the making. (Remember the inescapable 2006 song "Snap Yo Fingers"? That was originally intended as a lead Crunk Rock single.) It promises a revival of crunk combined with a wild stylistic ride across a surreal spread of guest contributions from acts such as 3OH!3, Jacksonville punk-rock band Whole Wheat Bread, and even David Guetta and Laidback Luke.
Jon was in town last week to film a video for the album's new lead single, "Give It All U Got," produced by Red One and featuring singer Kee on the hook. New Times met with him in an unmarked studio at the top of the Setai Hotel in Miami Beach. He sported understated Vans and no extraneous jewelry. (There was a glint of some serious diamonds on his teeth, though).
His speaking voice was calm, smooth, deliberate, and articulate. Not once did he exclaim "What?" "OK!" or "Yeah!" He gave the rundown on everything, from his friendship with Pitbull to his new line of fine wines — and, of course, the full details on the long-awaited Crunk Rock.
New Times: When did you first get the idea for "crunk rock"?
Lil Jon: Well, it was just a logical step because people would compare crunk music to rock music because of the energy — the mosh pit, just, you know, high energy. So I thought, "I should just call it crunk rock."
So what year did you first get that phrase in your head?
I don't know. [Laughs.] Probably '05. And then we started working on it. And working on it over the years, "crunk rock" has started to mean more than just rock. It means a lifestyle, a certain attitude — the crunk-rock attitude!
How is a crunk-rock attitude different from just a crunk attitude?
A crunk attitude — you're just rowdy, rahhhhh! You're just crunk. But you add the crunk rock to it and it gives you some edge. I've been saying "crunk-rock life," like it's a lifestyle you lead. You just party... 'Cause you can get crunk, but you don't necessarily have to party. But crunk rock is like drinking out of the bottle, pouring liquor in chicks' mouths, being rowdy, just like some real partying to another level.
So that fits with the LMFAO shirt you're wearing right now.
Well, these are my homeboys — and the shirt just matched my Vans! [Laughs.] And that's a good segue to something on the album, because you know we did a song for the album "Shots," which is a club anthem. So we did another record for my album, which is called "Out of Your Mind." It's basically, like, you go in the club, you just get so amped up, you get out of your mind!
All of the records on the album are about having fun. You have standard Lil Jon crunk stuff, and I've got a bunch of songs for the ladies —
For the ladies — like they're slower or what?
You know, we're talking about that stuff that ladies like. One song is about kissing. Ladies like to kiss.
That seems like kind of a departure for you.
No. Because everybody likes to have sex, right? And you have to be romantic sometimes. You can't be like, rahhhhh, rowdy, when you're with your significant other. I mean, I got every facet of me. You've got to look at "Lovers and Friends," which was the biggest song on my last album, and that was a slow song basically. Nobody had really done a record like that, a slow-tempo rap song, since, like, "I Need Love" by LL Cool J.
So we got all of those kinds of records, plus I've got tracks by David Guetta, DJ Chuckie. I've got tracks from Laidback Luke.
How did you meet David Guetta and Laidback Luke?
Well, I met DJ Chuckie, and then I did some vocals for him, and I got on the "Sexy Bitch" remix for David Guetta. So I hit Guetta and said, "Yo, I need some joints for the album," and he sent me some. And Laidback Luke I just met through some other people who I was telling how much I liked his stuff. We connected through email.
You came to Miami to film a video for "Give It All U Got," which is a single from your new album. But it's produced by Red One. How many tracks did you actually produce?