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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?
It doesn't really matter. This time, I didn't care. I wanted to come fresh and new and different from the way I always come. So if I had to go get a track from Red One or Dr. Luke or Drummer Boy or whoever, it didn't really matter, because I fill in the gaps, and I'm gonna do songs too. It just helped me to get a fresh energy. And it took some of the pressure off me, because most of the albums I've done, I... produce, write, do A&R, and do my label too. But pretty much, I still coproduced all the songs on the album. I solely made the beats for about six of the tracks.
How did you meet Pitbull?
I met him in Miami, just hanging out. We became cool, and I put him on an interlude on my album, because I noticed that when I'd come down here, a lot of Cuban cats would show me a lot of love. So I just wanted to kind of show love back and show that I fuck with 'em real tough.
And Pit had a song playing on the radio out here; I forget the song, but it was in his real early days. And I ran into him on the beach and told him to come to the studio and jump on some shit, because I really liked that song. We've been down ever since.
Why do you think you two have been able to stay such good friends in an industry full of so much backstabbing?
He met me before I really blew all the way up, and we were cool. And I always believed in his talent and stuck right there with him. That's a lot, to believe in each other like that. That's family to me, for real! I don't think we'll ever fall out, because we know each other well enough to say "I know Jon" or "I know Pit, and he wouldn't do that to me" if hearsay ever comes around. And we know how to just get on the phone and talk to each other, talk out whatever the problem is.
"Calle Ocho" was on the Top 10 iTunes chart and on the top of charts in some 15 or 20 countries, something crazy like that. And for it to go from us fighting [TVT Records exec] Steve Gottlieb for stuff to him having a Top 10 in all those countries was like — that just touched me in the heart.
I always believed in the guy, and I always knew he could make it commercially. It just shows that if you keep working hard and doing your thing, it'll happen for you. That's a lesson for anybody out there trying to make it. Keep doing it, you know?
What other projects do you have going on besides this record?
I just got done doing something with Snoop called "1800"; it's really hot. We've got the wines — Little Jonathan. We've got Crunk energy drink; we just dropped two new flavors: citrus and grape.
Yeah, Little Jonathan Winery. We've got Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay... They're California wines, in different regions. We're getting them around in stores, but it's a process. Right now, people are mainly getting them from the internet.
Anything else you want to mention?
Read the full Q&A at BrowardPalmBeach.com.