Words Julia Beverly / Photo Michael Blackwell
Greatest Southern Artists of all Time
LIL JON & THE EASTSIDE BOYZ 5 ESSENTIAL LIL JON & THE EASTSIDE BOYZ TRACKS Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz “Bia Bia” Put Yo Hood Up 2001 A true testament to their hook-writing skills, this one is guaranteed to get you crunk. LIl Jon & the Eastside Boyz f/ Mystikal & Krayzie Bone “I Don’t Give a Fuck” Kings of Crunk 2002 The hypnotic beat and live-ass video contributed to the success of this early hit. Lil Jon & the ESB f/ E-40, Petey Pablo, Bun B, & 8Ball “Rep Yo City” Kings of Crunk 2002 Lil Jon & the ESB enlisted four talented rappers to rep their respective ‘hoods. Lil Jon & the ESB f/ Ying Yang Twins “Get Low” Kings of Crunk 2002 Their adaptation of an old-school fraternity chant became a massive hit and even spawned a hit reggae remix, propelling Kings of Crunk to platinum status.
(l to r) Big Sam, Lil Jon, and Lil Bo
former DJ and So So Def A&R, in 2004 Lil Jon truly earned the title Producer of the Year. But he’s also transcended the boundaries of Southern music into one of the most recognizable figures in American pop culture. His trademark “look” - the dreads, sunglasses, and grill - has turned simple catchphrases like “What!” and “Yeah!” into part of every frat boy’s vocabulary. Along with the Eastside Boyz Big Sam and Lil Bo, Jon defined the “crunk” movement, which has become a cultural phenomenon. Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’ albums have not only hovered on the charts consistently for the past several years, but they’ve done it independently. They’ve become the flagship artist for the urban division of New York-based independent label TVT Records, putting them in a class all by themselves. Although they may not have the benefits of a major label, they also don’t have to deal with the drawbacks of a major label. Instead of spitting out albums with one hit song and a bunch of filler, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz consistently produce albums with four, five, even six singles. In addition to his own blossoming career, Lil Jon has also played a key role in pushing his labelmates’ careers to the next level - for example, the Ying Yang Twins and Pitbull. His own artists are rising stars - Lil Scrappy, Trillville, Bohagon, Oobie, and Chyna White. He’s produced hit singles for countless artists, including Usher, Petey Pablo, and Ciara. And aside from the music, Lil Jon has ventured into other entrepreneurial ventures, including a porn DVD, CRUNK!! Energy Drink, and Oakley sunglasses. Born into a privileged Atlanta family, Jon was always talented, but a self-described “lazy-ass muthafucker.” It took a verbal kick in the ass from friend and eventual business partner Rob Mac to take his potential seriously. Jon started DJing in the Atlanta scene in the early 90’s. His ear for music caught the attention of So So Def CEO and artist Jermaine Dupri, who hired Jon as an A&R for the label. During the next seven years at So So Def, Jon oversaw the production of the So So Def Bass All-Stars compilation al26
OZONE APR 2005
Lil Jon & the ESB f/ Usher & Ludacris “Lovers & Friends” Crunk Juice 2004 The bass from this remake of Michael Sterling’s slow jam could be heard blasting from speakers everywhere in late 2004. Usher & Luda killed it, too.
bums, which went gold and spawned hit singles like INOJ’s “Love You Down.” They also featured then-unknown artists like the Ying Yang Twins, DJ Smurf, and the Eastside Boyz. Jon was also a DJ on several Atlanta radio stations. As an experienced DJ and A&R, Jon knew what the people wanted to hear. “Every DJ wants to make a record, so it was just a natural progression for me,” he says of his next career move. He produced a beat and played it over the phone for Eastside Boy Big Sam in 1999. Ten minutes later, “Who You Wit’” was born. The buzz created by “Who You Wit’” was followed by similar records like “Bia Bia,” which are still getting the clubs crunk six years later. Next, Jon linked up with Rob Mac and longtime friends Vince Phillips and Dwayne “Emperor” Searcy to form BME (Black Market Entertainment). While many businesses with multiple co-owners suffer from internal conflict, this foursome works because each individual serves a specific purpose and the have a common goal. An experienced entertainment attorney, Vince handles the business aspects. Searcy, a popular radio and club DJ in Atlanta, was influential in securing airplay for Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’ records. By the year 2000, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’ debut album Put Yo Hood Up was complete. TVT A&R Bryan Leach was visiting Atlanta to meet with the Dungeon Family and noticed two Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’ records getting heavy spins on Atlanta airwaves: “Just a Bitch” and “I LIke Dem Girlz,” featuring Jazze Pha. When he saw them performing live, he was floored. “It was a capacity crowd,” Bryan recalls. “I saw guys with their shirts off, sweating, basically slam-dancing. It was the energy of the Onyx show with the intensity of a rock show and the hardness and darkness of a Public Enemy or NWA. I figured we could sell a shitload of records.” Although Jon was being courted by other labels, TVT’s independent structure appealed to him creatively and financially. BME signed a production deal with TVT and by mid2002, Put Yo Hood Up was certified gold.
Even though Put Yo Hood Up was successful, Jon believed that they should be reaching a wider audience. They dropped Kings of Crunk in 2002, enlisting Fat Joe and Trick Daddy for the lead single “Play No Games.” Fat Joe and Trick Daddy’s presence on the record helped open the floodgates. The certified platinum Kings of Crunk established Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz as the leader of this new movement in Southern music, with a whopping seven songs receiving club and radio play. And they saved the best for last. By the end of 2003, “Get Low” had the entire world singing “From the window, to the wall,” even if (as Dave Chapelle gleefully noted) white people hadn’t yet figured out what “skeet” meant. But along with their success came the criticism. “Lil Jon is ruining hip-hop,” whined some hiphop purists. “We don’t consider ourselves rappers,” countered Jon. “We’re crunk artists. Our goal is to make records that’ll make the club get out of control so people can have a good time. That’s why we work with a lot of rappers.” Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’ albums have featured too many artists to mention. But don’t they sound so much better over a Lil Jon beat? After working Kings of Crunk for a solid two years, Jon & the Eastside Boyz spent an entire summer living in an oceanfront Miami mansion, partying their asses off and recording their third album. Thanks in part to the mainstream exposure Jon gained from Dave Chapelle’s parodies of him, the highly-anticipated Crunk Juice was certified double-platinum just months after its release - unheard of for an independent album. Propelled by singles like “What U Gon’ Do” and “Lovers & Friends,” there’s plenty more where that came from. Today, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz are officially stars, but they still employ the same humble attitude that helped them rise to the top: it’s all about making good music. As both a producer and an artist, Lil Jon has proven himself a talented musician both within and beyond the boundaries of “crunk” music.
Ozone Mag #33 - Apr 2005