Lil Jon explains how Punk birthed Crunk
(Credit: Spotify)

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Lil Jon explains how Punk birthed Crunk

Crunk pioneer Lil Jon was a huge name in the mid-2000s and, with his unique production style made many of the biggest hits to come out of the South. With his signature synthesizer and 808 bass, Lil Jon had a sonic that spread like wildfire across the world. 

From Usher’s ‘Yeah!’ to ‘Freek-A-Leek’ by Petey Pablo and ‘Goodies’ by Ciara, people knew a Lil Jon track when they heard it. That said it is unsurprising that, earlier this year, when he got the opportunity to perform alongside Usher at the Super Bowl, the Atlanta rapper (real name Jonathan Smith) was interviewed about his involvement in the crunk movement. 

The Southern subgenre is undoubtedly infectious and, although it’s stripped-back, crunk has a profound sense of energy. However, during his appearance on the New York Times’ Popcast YouTube series, Smith revealed that punk music and a love for skateboarding inspired him to take a different approach to hip-hop production.

Explaining how a visit to a punk club played a significant role in the subculture’s evolution, Smith unveiled, “I was going to punk clubs in the ‘80s; I was a skater in the ‘80s before it was cool.” Smith then recalled how, as a Black American, skateboarding made him aware of other genres, recounting, “Skateboarding honestly opened my mind to other cultures, other music!”

He added, “It made me be able to be in a room with people of different ethnicities and be able to have a conversation and relate ’cause Atlanta is kind of segregated: Black people stay over here, the Mexicans over here, White people over here.”

He explained how skateboarding videos exposed him to artists he wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of, recounting, “All kinds of kids is skateboarding, and we skateboarding all day. All over the city, we’re spending time together and then going to the skate contest, they’re playing [The] Faction, they’re playing Bad Brains, they’re playing Dead Kennedys”

Lil Jon added, “They’re playing all these bands and I’m like… all the bands are in the skate videos, ’cause we were buying the skate videos on VHS.” The 53-year-old explained how the emotion that punk evoked in people wasn’t present in hip-hop in the 1980s, and he wanted to create a style of rap music that could induce those reactions.

He then gave a reason for providing all of the rock contexts, stating, “All of this to say I’ve been in the real punk clubs, I’ve been in real mosh pits, I’ve seen real punk bands, so I know the energy of that. When you make music, your spirit is recorded into the songs,” he recalled. “So my energy from being in those punk clubs—that spirit, that energy—is going into the music. I used to pattern myself on stage.”

However, Lil Jon’s appearance on Popcast wasn’t the first time he had linked punk and crunk. He actually released an LP entitled Crunk Rock in 2010. The genre-fusing body of work included sounds from hip-hop, Eurodance, pop, punk, and even crunkcore, defined as a mixture between crunk and heavy metal.

The 2010 album featured surprise appearances from the likes of  Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame, Pastor Troy, The Game, Elephant Man, Ice Cube, Whole Wheat Bread, R. Kelly, Mario, Pleasure P, Ying Yang Twins, and more. 

You can hear Lil Jon speaking to the New York Times about punk’s influence on crunk in the video below.