Lil Jon, the King of Crunk and lengthy rap sabbaticals, has finally returned with a new record, the daringly titled Crunk Rock, which dropped earlier this week. And this time he’s going solo. No, I don’t mean because he recorded it sans the East Side Boyz, his collaborators on such early albums as Crunk Juice and We Still Crunk!! Lil Jon is making his comeback without the publicity machine that is Dave Chappelle. In the words of the man himself, “WHHHUT?!!” It’s a pretty bold move for a rapper who owes much of his name recognition to a handful of hilarious skits from the long-gone Chappelle’s Show. Without Chappelle to inspire the nation’s youth to badly impersonate his impersonation of Lil Jon screaming catchphrases such as “OKAAY!!” and “YEEEAAHHH!!.” will Jon’s music still have the same novelty it did five years ago?
Well, if you believe the bejeweled necklace that Lil Jon sometimes wears, “Crunk Isn’t Dead!” And phrases written in bejeweled necklaces, like just about everything in print, have to be the truth. So… case closed, right? If you need further convincing, check out “Miss Chocolate,” the first single from Crunk Rock, with its oppressively loud beats and indecipherable lyrics that sound like they were written during a brain aneurysm. At least musically, Jon has never been more on top of his Crunkin’ game. Surely there’s a comic somewhere who’ll make jokes about this song and get Jon back into the mainstream limelight. I mean come on, it features guest vocals from R. Kelly, the R&B guy who made home videos of himself peeing on underage girls. And now he’s doing a song called “Miss Chocolate”? Hello? Chocolate? Do I have to connect the scatological dots?
Before calling Jon for our interview, I steeled myself for the worst. A guy writes lyrics like “From the windows to the walls, till the sweat drips down my balls,” you can be forgiven for having lows expectations. But he was professional and charming, and most surprising of all, legitimately funny. So, who knows, maybe Jon won’t be needing Chappelle’s comedic endorsement after all.
Eric Spitznagel: Crunk Rock is your first album since 2004. Are you a perfectionist, or did you just lose track of time?
Lil Jon: I think it was a combination of a bunch of things. The last album did really well and I was producing for every and anybody. I think I got kind of burnt out, and then the label I was on went under and I had to find another label. When I got my new record deal, I had a new energy.
Lil Wayne got critically blasted for his attempt at a rock record. Have you learned from his mistakes?
Well, Crunk Rock doesn’t mean rock. Initially when I started the album, I did collaborate with a bunch of rock musicians and producers. But as I started to have time to free my mind and catch different vibes, it started to mean something different. Crunk Rock is about a lifestyle. When you’re living the Crunk Rock lifestyle, you don’t let anybody tell you what to do. You live your life to the fullest, you live every day like it’s your last, and you party like a rock star. It’s just a crazy lifestyle.
I’m a little confused about Crunk. I’ve heard it used a lot of different ways, as an adjective and a noun and a verb. You’re the self-proclaimed King of Crunk, so maybe you can settle this once and for all. What the hell is Crunk?
The word Crunk means energy. Crunk comes from the word crank. So Crunk is basically past tense. Like it’s Crunk, you know what I mean?
I really don’t. It’s past tense for what?
Crank means to get it going, Crunk means it’s going. “We’re getting Crunk tonight” means we’re going to have a lot of energy, we’re going to party, we’re going to get crazy.
What does your blood alcohol content need to be before you’re officially Crunk?
No, no, it’s not like that. Crunk doesn’t mean crazy and drunk. I see that all over the Internet, and it’s just wrong. You don’t have to be drunk to be Crunk.
It seems like there’s a complicated physics equation to this. Energy plus mad beats divided by stripper poles equals Crunk.
Yeah, yeah, that’s it. As long as you’ve got some energy, you’re getting Crunk.
Maybe this will help. What’s definitely not Crunk?
Uh. Grandmothers playing bingo is not Crunk.
How about jazz music?
(Long pause.) I guess certain kinds of jazz music could be Crunk. But the average jazz song, no, it’s not Crunk.
Naaaaw, I don’t think that’s too Crunk.
A stripper with breasts so big they’re throwing off her equilibrium?
That can definitely get a little Crunk, yeah.
No, no, no. Unless they’re having a sale and it’s packed and there are people everywhere and it’s crazy.
Can Crunk be appreciated ironically?
No, you got to be willing to get a little crazy. Something that’s Crunk is off the hook. It’s popping, it’s going down if it’s Crunk. A football player listening to his Walkman as he’s getting ready for the game, jumping up and down, he’s Crunk.
But a Brooklyn hipster nodding his head along to the new Joanna Newsom CD while sipping on a green tea latte?
That’s as un-Crunk as you can get.
I’ve heard that Crunk was first used in the Dr. Seuss book Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now, which included a reference to a “Crunk-Car.” Do you get a lot of inspiration from Dr. Seuss?
I don’t know about that. I don’t know about Dr. Seuss. But I think the Grinch could get pretty Crunk. He be off the hook, you know what I’m saying? He was an asshole, but he was always Crunking.
Let’s try an experiment. I’ll give you a few made-up Dr. Seuss words, and you tell me their possible hip-hop meanings.
I can do that.
It’s like, “Damn, those Doritos gave me the yuzz-a-ma-tuzz!” You know what I’m saying? Like the bubble guts basically.
How about a diffendoofer?
Diffendoofer? You’re talking about somebody who’s a straight up asshole. “That dude, he’s a fucking diffendoofer!” He’s an asshole.
“Yeah man, I went to my grandma’s house and I walked in and it just smelled like a floob-boober-bab-boober-bubs.” It’s an old person’s funky smell.
Not bad. Maybe you should start using random Seuss words in your songs. Instead of “Whhhut!!” and “OKAAAAY!!”, you scream “Lerkim!!” and “ZLOCK!!!”
I don’t think so. It’s got to be certain words. The catchphrases come from me hyping up a track. When I’m rapping, I’m like “Hey… Hey…. Hey…” It’s like an ad-lib but it turns into something catchy later on. I don’t know how, it just comes out of nowhere.
How do we tell the difference between somebody who’s doing an impersonation of you and somebody who might be having a stroke?
If they’re having spasms, then they’re definitely having a stroke. But if they just jumping up and down and screaming, they’re probably doing me.
I gotta ask about your grillz. What does a set of teeth filled with gold and diamonds cost you?
I don’t really like to disclose that information. (Laughs.) But it’s not too cheap, not too cheap at all.
Is it like when my grandfather hid money under his mattress during the Great Depression? You know where your money is, and it’s safe?
No, man. I ain’t never gonna cash them in. They my grillz, right? We’re not gonna do that. I’ve got a couple of different ones. I’ve got platinum, I’ve got gold, and I’ve got rose gold. And long before everybody got those vampire tips years ago, all of my grillz got fangs. So I’ve been on the vampire tip before True Blood and anybody else.
Wait, I’m confused. You have different grillz? I thought it was permanent, like getting a tattoo sleeve.
No, no. Lil Wayne has permanents. Mine I can take out and match them with my outfits and jewelry. So when I got my big gold chain on, I’m gonna wear the gold grillz. When I got the rose gold watch on, I’ll wear the rolls gold grill.
It’s a wonder you ever get out of the house. Most people match their shirt and pants and they’re done.
(Laughs.) Yeah, I got a few more things going on.
With Lil Wayne in jail for gun possession, are you reluctant to walk around in public with that huge chalice anymore? It could be considered a weapon.
I stopped carrying the chalice like I used to. What I do now is, if I go to a club a lot, I’ll have my own bottle made. At the Tao club in Las Vegas, where I go all the time, I got a blinged-out, diamond-covered magnum of Patrón that’s just for me. So when I go to the club, they bring me my own bottle. And I also got blinged-out shot glasses made for me and the owners.
It doesn’t sound like the recession is hurting you.
I do O.K.
You were very convincing as a tennis instructor in the Vampire Weekend video for “Giving Up the Gun.” Have you been practicing when nobody’s paying attention?
I used to play tennis actually. Me and my son and my wife, we still go on the court now and again. I play as much as I can. I used to play tennis in high school. I’m pretty cool. I’m alright. I’ve got a good game.
LL Cool J got into a feud with Sarah Palin after she used an interview with him without his permission for Real American Stories. Would you go on Palin’s show if it helped sell records?
(Long pause.) I mean, Sarah Palin is… I don’t know. It’d be funny, but I don’t know if we’d agree on enough things. You feel me? But I think it’d definitely be good television. I bet you Sarah Palin’s daughter listens to my music. I betcha she’s said YEAAAH before. In fact, I betcha both she and Sarah have said YEAAAH before.
Or maybe Bristol said YEEEAAAH and then Sarah said WHHHUT?
Yeah, yeah, that’s how it went down.
And then what did Levi Johnston say?
And that’s essentially the story of how Bristol got pregnant.
It’s all right there in the music.
That’s actually kind of brilliant. Three words and you can perfectly sum up any major news story. Let’s try it with Tiger Woods. First Tiger said…
And then his wife Elin said…
And then his mistresses got a call from Vanity Fair and they said…
Wow. I think I just figured out why the mainstream news media is dying. We’re going to be replaced by rappers.
(Laughs.) No, man, you’re safe. I’m stickin’ to making music.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com