It’s hard to imagine Lil Jon riding a higher wave of popularity than the one he’s already on. In fact, it’s damn near tsunami-sized. When the “Part II” EP came out a year ago, I wrote that you couldn’t go more than ten minutes without hearing his signature production or trademark voice on the radio or hip-hop videos. The difference between then and now is that you can cut that length of time in half. Pitbull, Lil Scrappy, Trillville, Usher, Ciara, Ying Yang Twins, Petey Pablo, Fat Joe, Youngbloodz, Trick Daddy – that’s the SHORT list of artists whose singles went to the top thanks to Lil Jon. Dave Chappelle may have helped make the “WHAT?!” and the “YEAHHH!” famous, but without those heavy bass beats, crunked out melodies and Jon’s ebullient personality, the songs wouldn’t be monster hits.
At this point in his career the only danger for Lil Jon is overexposure. The same rap fans who embrace you as being “the realest” and say your style is the truth will kick you to the curb for the next big thing if they feel they’d heard enough of it. Kanye West may be the only person halfway close to Jon in terms of producers who are constantly in the mix with their shit and other people’s shit, and yet you hear people say “I’m sick of his speed-up R&B shit” even in cases where the song is just someone IMITATING his style. (And in truth, West wasn’t even the first to do it, just the one who best exploited it.) At what point do listeners revolt against Jon, deciding that his whistling hooks and thumping bass start to sound too similar from one song to the next? Jon has essentially two choices – remain the same and crank shit out as fast as possible to cash in before the wave crests and subsides, or diversify his style to catch another wave and keep on ridin’.
“Crunk Juice” is a little bit of both. The first single “What U Gon’ Do” featuring Lil Scrappy is as much a Jon trademark as any of his hits, and to his credit it’s incredibly infectious. The pounding bass, Jon’s gruff trash talking, the whistle pop hook punctuated with the catchy refrain “What they gon’ do? SHIT!” This alone would make the song a classic, but it was especially smart to choose this as the lead single with Scrappy being on it, as both are still enjoying the success of his last single “No Problems.” For the people who like their rap music to be hard as fuck and totally unapologetic, Jon has more than enough songs to satisfy their urge to throw ‘bows. “Real Nigga Roll Call” with Ice Cube might be the rowdiest song O’Shea Jackson has done since “We Be Clubbin’.” The rock guitar sound of “White Meat” featuring 8 Ball & MJG reps is so good it even ovecomes my natural inclination to hate the excessively vulgar chorus – the obsession with splattering brains these days should be saved for zombie movies. And of course when you call a song “Stop Fuckin Wit Me,” it’s pretty much self-explanatory:
“Bitch I’m tryin to get a job, but it just don’t work
(Bitch I’m tryin to get a job, but that shit don’t work)
Soon as I walk through the do’, on they face is a smirk
(Soon as I walk through the do’, on they face is a smirk)
They ain’t hire no nigga like me in that bitch
(They ain’t hire no nigga like me in that bitch)
Tattoos, gold teeth, nigga dreads and shit
(Tattoos, gold teeth, nigga dreads and shit)
Man, fuck these niggaz, I’ll go back to sellin dope
(Man, fuck these niggaz, I’ll go back to sellin dope)
A-now my baby momma callin bout that child support
(A-now my baby momma’s callin bout that child support)
Bitch back the fuck up, and let me smoke my weed
(Bitch back the fuck up, let me smoke my weed)
Motherfuck you bitch, stop screamin at me!
(Motherfuck you bitch, stop screamin at me!)”
What will come as a surprise to people who think they’ve already got Jon pegged down is how much at times he’s willing to smooth out his sound. “Lovers and Friends” featuring Usher & Ludacris is about as far from crunk as you can get – a soft piano melody, Raymond’s rap-soul crooning, and a hook so lush it’s not hard to imagine this one at #1 on the R&B charts. “Aww Skeet Skeet” with DJ Flexx is the marriage of Southern crunk with a bouncy Carribean swing – and yes, it works. In fact it sounds like an old school DJ Kool throwback song. For something with a little more pep, you can find Ludacris hooking up with R. Kelly for “In Da Club.” And when you REALLY want to pick up the pace, “Stick That Thing Out” with Pharrell Williams and the Ying Yang Twins will have them running for the dance floor, with a minimalistic quick beat and Jon’s energetic cries to “get on the flo’ if you got that booty!”
Make no mistake about it, “Crunk Juice” is still a hella hard record. Jon makes sure you get the point by closing the album with his own 2004 version of a “Grand Finale.” It won’t top the D.O.C.’s classic, but you have to give him respect for the diversified and dope line-up: Bun B, Jadakiss, T.I., Nas, Ice Cube all rep on the shit. While some album’s interludes are annoying as hell, Chris Rock actually keeps things fresh with three guest appearances between tracks. “Crunk Juice” won’t win the award for dopest rhymes of the year, but then again it’s not really trying to. What it does so, and succeeds admirably at, is showcasing how Jon can cover all the bases for his fans and still do some new shit that will keep his sound fresh. As long as Lil Jon continues to innovate and not listen to the haters, he’ll still be riding out in 2005.