Over the past year, Lil Jon has transformed from obscure southern rapper to household name, thanks to a number of hit singles (for himself and others) and popping up in comedy bits from Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. The crunk war-cries of “Yay-yuh”, “Hwhat?!?!”, and “Okaaay” have not only been parodied to death, but have also each been transformed into their own respective hit singles in some form or fashion. We’ve seen Jon as the driving force behind perhaps the biggest R&B single of the year, Usher’s “Yeah”, not to mention his own club anthem, “Get Low”. And of course, remixes, production, and makeovers for each Mobb Deep, Kanye West, Ciara, Ying Yang Twins, Petey Pablo, Trick Daddy, D12, Bravehearts, and countless others. In short, Lil Jon was the go-to-guy in 2004, and after his platinum plus selling breakthrough LP, Kings Of Crunk, Lil Jon and his Eastside Boyz cap off a banner year with his official leap into the mainstream, Crunk Juice.
But crunk music itself is an entirely different sub-genre of hip-hop, birthed in the now legendary Club 559 in Atlanta, GA some ten years ago. Southern artists such as Lil Jon, Drama, U.G.K., and much of the original No Limit Records alumni all helped jump off the crunk music scene with rambunctious call and response anthems that offered little in terms of lyrical content, but much in the way of raw energy and sweaty dancefloors. The same can be said for the official crunk album of 2004, Crunk Juice, which presents 20 star-studded tracks of bow-throwing, bounce-inducing, non-fuck-giving, skeet-shooting action.
While Lil Jon is the driving force behind his crew, with the loyal Big Sam and Lil’ Bo always at his side (please no solo albums), it’s no secret that beyond the beats and the chants, there’s little to be offered otherwise. Sure, while Lil Jon fits right in on “Yeah” or “Damn”, can the mainstream accept a whole LP full of rapless, hook-filled “Get Lows”? Luckily, Lil Jon realizes it can’t, and invites some of his most famous collaborators, as well as some other big names to join the party, but with hit and miss results. While the Usher and Ludacris slow-jam sequel “Lovers and Friends” is a far cry from “Yeah”, the R. Kelly and Luda featured “In Da Club” makes up for it, despite how obvious it is that Jon’s verse was written by ‘Cris. While Ice Cube’s monotonous verse crashes and burns on “Real Nigga Roll Call”, he somewhat makes up for it on “Grand Finale”, the album’s posse cut closer, which also features notable guest shots from Nas, T.I., and Bun-B. Perhaps the most interesting collaboration here is the Rick Rubin produced “Don’t Fuck With Me”, a Lil Jon solo effort which births the next form of this movement “crunk rock” (also heard on Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go”), with Slayer samples mashed-up with Rubin’s own 1987 Beasties drums.
But on tracks like “Get Crunk” and “What U Gon’ Do”, famous faces aren’t even needed, as newbies Bo Hagon and Lil’ Scrappy fill in the blanks just fine with certified crunk anthems that could do any club scene justice. This rings true especially considering that other guest shots are wasted, such as on the lazy “Stick That Thang Out (Skeezer)” (feat. Pharrell) and the lousy “Bitches Ain’t Shit” cover (with Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Oobie and Suga Free). Lesser popular collaborators such as Gangsta Boo (“Da Blow”) and 8-Ball and MJG (“White Meat”) fit in better with Jon’s sound on their respective slow-rolling soundtracks.
All in all, Jon’s brave venture into mainstream society will please the majority of pop-culture America that defines a “good album” as something that has 3 or 4 good tracks they can skip back and forth between. But in reality, this heavy handed release instead is flooded with guest appearances that unfortunately make it sound more like a compilation, with the listener struggling to remember who’s album it is they are listening to as each new song begins. Furthermore, with so many songs and styles, it becomes hard to accept the album as a whole, with the “something for everyone” approach instead becoming “something for everyone to skip”. Case in point, Jon examining the difference between “Lovers and Friends” (it’s hard enough to imagine Lil’ Jon with a platonic female friend), and then commanding her scrape her booty on the floor on any one of the albums other tracks (“Bitches Ain’t Shit, “Stick That Thang Out”, etc). While Jon has defined his sound, and gets much respect for doing so, Crunk Juice is digested better in single cans than fully stocked 24 packs.
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