This time last year, Lil Jon was fielding phone calls intended for pop princess Myley Cyrus. Not that the crunk rocker's career had cooled off, and Myley needed a new assistant, but because he simply purchased a new phone line and acquired her old number. But instead of barking at the phone company for some new digits, Jon just let it rock.
It’s the same nonchalant, easygoing attitude that's kept the Atlanta native afloat when the snapping and trapping took a front seat to the Crunk movement near the end of '05.
Back with a newfound drive and energy, Lil Jon has completed his long awaited Crunk Rock album (in stores June 8) and is ready to shake those dreads and make the world dance once again. While in the Big Apple on a promo run, VIBE checked in with the man behind the Oakleys to find out what’s been going on since the Crunk Juice well ran dry. —Mikey Fresh
VIBE: Let me just turn my recorder on…
Lil Jon: Yeahhhhh! Wait, that’s so cliché… I don’t know why I did that.
[Laughs] So finally the long awaited Crunk Rock album will be hitting stores in June, did you resurrect the Crunk sound you popularized in the early 2000’s?
This album is every Lil Jon that you’ve heard until now, from crunk Music, rock, to collaborations with Pitbull, LMFAO, Steve Aoki and Dr. Luke. There are really a lot of different sounds to this album, I can’t say it’s just one sound.
It seems like you’ve been embracing the dance sound more then rock, I heard you tapped David Guetta for a record.
Actually, we did a track but it didn’t make the album. But, me and Steve Aoki did a really crazy one. Also, DJ Chuckie also produced the record with Pitbull. I was just experimenting so much because a lot of the people I work with are my homeboys, so I would go check out when they’re spinning and just really get inspired by them.
There’s definitely a new energy coming from your records, after the demise of TVT, were you turned off from the music industry?
I was burnt out, plain and simple. Then the TVT situation made it worse because I couldn’t be in the studio and work like I wanted. So I really just went back to DJ’ing in the clubs. It started when Reggie Bush had invited me to come the first game at the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit and at the after party. DJ Spyder was there just killing it. Ironically, the next day I see him again at the airport and he comes up to me and introduces himself. I just told him how much he killed it that night and we became good friends immediately. He was really the one that inspired me to get back into DJing.
Many of your fans may have assumed you fell back from music, but really you’ve been DJ’ing all over the world…
St. Tropez, Australia, Japan and of course all over states… Vegas, Miami, everywhere. People are just now starting to see that I’m not one of those pseudo celebrity DJ’s that just plays CDs all night. Actually, a lot of well known DJ’s that give me props.
You say you were burnt out. Did all the excessive partying and drinking associated with your records played a part in that?
Nah, actually I realized I needed to get healthy on my own. It was the fact that I was wearing all hats—I was producer, artist, label owner, video director, marketing, promotions, all of that in one. Then I was producing for so many artists… it just drains your energy after a certain amount of time.
What did you change about your lifestyle?
I started exercising regularly and changing my eating habits. Like, I’m drinking green tea right now—look. I realized that I was getting older and people I know were having heart attacks and things like that. I ended up losing 25 pounds and went down like three jean sizes. I still might go out and party all night, but in the morning I’ll exercise and drink green tea. [laughs]
Was that gas can you used to drink from really filled with liquor?
Every single time, man. Don’t get it fucked up, we’re for-real drinkers. Like even now when I go to Tao, they have a blinged out magnum of Patron for me with blinged shot glasses. Some people get on stage with a vodka bottle filled with water, not us. You can ask around, people got stories.
Since you’ve been away from the spotlight for several years, was it harder for you to get back in touch with some of the artists you wanted for Crunk Rock?
There are always the non believers, but you just have to make them believers again. For the most part though, everyone got back to me. Ice Cube, Game, R. Kelly and Mario are on the album and they are all artists who I’ve worked with before, so all the artists who I trusted were still down. All the producers I called also came in like champs.
Do any of the up-and-coming hip-hop producers inspire you?
I got a lot of respect for Drumma Boy, because he also helped to bring my energy back. When I signed my deal with Univesal Republic, I wanted to come with something new so I stepped back and let some other producers produce me. It helped me relieve a lot of stress because I’m used to doing everything. It allowed me to just concentrate more on vocals.
How do you feel about the comparisons to will.i.am as a producer?
I’ve actually never heard that before.
Both of you are like ambassadors of hip-hop to the mainstream, but you guys’ catch of a lot of flack from within the hip-hop community for your styles of music.
Yea, Will is a good friend of mine. He’s family. We’re kind of on similar paths and I guess we do go through a lot of the same things. I can say that we are both visionaries of what the future is bringing. For example, the new Usher record he did “Oh My God,” that’s usher’s biggest record and going to be a huge pop smash, but Will wouldn’t of been able to make that record if he didn’t have hip-hop in his blood.
So do you feel under appreciated when people say “Lil Jon ain’t real hip-hop”?
It doesn’t matter to me because I also have a lot of friends that are well-respected hip-hop artists and tell me different. I talked to DJ Premier last night. It was funny, because after Guru passed I started tweeting out Gang Starr videos and calling them classics. Someone tweeted that I wasn’t hip-hop and shouldn’t even be mentioning them. But they don’t know that I knew Guru well, and I grew up on Gang Starr’s music. We had Nice and Smooth, Tribe, De La all of that stuff. Greg Nice, Phife Dog, Rhymefest are all good friends of mine. Dog, I went on tour with Wu-Tang in Australia. Why can’t people that do different styles of rap be cool? Hip-hop is a part of me and always will be, but I don’t even care—people are always going to talk shit.
After all these years of fans coming up to you wherever you and screaming “Yeahhhhh” and “Okayyy”, do you ever wish the catchphrase would just die already?
Nah, it’s still amazing to me that it didn’t play out. There are always times when I don’t want to have people coming up to me screaming, but I always appreciate the love that they show me. Some people are just excited to see a celebrity, so I can’t be mad. But just so everyone knows you can just say hello and give me a pound, that’s all you have to do. I appreciate the love, but you don’t have to scream at me, dog. [Laughs].