Lil Jon

  • Rapper, DJ, producer and songwriter born Jonathan Smith in Atlanta Georgia in 1971.
  • Smith grew up in a middle class household, and at 15 years old, he taught himself how to DJ. His parents allowed him to host parties in the basement of their house, thinking that it would keep him off the streets. He honed his DJ skills, and the parties became popular among local teenagers. After high school, he was working as a DJ at clubs in downtown Atlanta. He met Atlanta record producer Jermaine Dupri, who had launched So So Def Records. In 1993, Dupri hired Smith to be his A&R lead because Smith was so well connected with people in the dance clubs. He worked for eight years with So So Def, recruiting rappers and producing compilation albums for the label.
  • In 1995, he collaborated with local rap artists Big Sam and Lil’ Bo to form a rap group. Sam and Bo grew up on the east side of Atlanta, so they named the group Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz. They were signed to an independent record label, and in 1997 they released their debut album, Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. The single Who U Wit  used “crunk” in lyrics, and the single and album brought crunk hip-hop music into the mainstream. “Crunk” is derived from “crank,” and it refers to a hip-hop style that is “cranked up,” with an up-tempo, dance oriented sound. The album was a modest success, with two singles sneaking onto the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
  • Their breakthrough came with 2000’s We Still Crunk! album. The single I Like Dem Girlz reached #3 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. Lil Jon’s experience in the record business and connections in the radio industry helped the group get more exposure. In 2002, after a New York-based record producer saw the energy in their performance at a show in Atlanta, they were signed to another record contract. Their album Put Yo Hood Up was released, and it reached #43 on the Billboard 200 album chart and #1 on the Independent Albums chart. The single Bia Bia reached #97 on the Hot 100 chart and #47 on the R&B chart.
  • Lil Jon & East Side Boyz had their most successful albums in 2002 with Kings of Crunk and in 2004 with Crunk Juice. Both were certified 2x platinum and both were #1 on the Independent Albums chart. The former reached #14 on the Billboard 200 album chart, while the latter reached #3. The single Get Low reached #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart, while Lovers and Friends reached #3 and #1 respectively. After release of these albums, the group disbanded in 2007 amid conflicts with their record label.
  • Along with the success of the group, Lil Jon was deeply involved in songwriting and production for other artists, and often was a featured artist in releases by them. He collaborated with over 50 artists, ranging from Pitbull to Britney Spears to Janet Jackson to Usher. In 2004, Usher released Yeah!, produced and co-written by Lil Jon, It topped the Hot 100 for 12 weeks and it was the #1 song for 2004, the #2 song for the entire 00s decade, and the #16 song of all time when Billboard released their list of the biggest hits of all time in 2018. Yeah! also won a Grammy award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
  • Lil Jon began a solo career, releasing the single Snap Yo Fingers in 2006. It peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 and at #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. His solo debut album was released in 2010 – Crunk Rock. Singles from the album were not hits, and after this, Lil Jon concentrated on non-album singles, releasing 16 from 2011 to 2019, often collaborating with another artist. One was Turn Down For What, released in 2014 with French producer DJ Snake. The EDM/hip-hop song became one of his biggest hits, peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 and topping the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. The video went viral, and had over 1 billion views.
  • Lil Jon’s crunk version of hip-hop still has legs today. Dave Chappelle famously impersonated Lil Jon on the Chappelle Show, shouting “Yeah!” and “Okay!” non-stop, making it a signature of Lil Jon that Lil Jon doesn’t particularly appreciate today – though publicity always helps sell music. Here’s Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, along with Ying Yang Twins going all out crunk with Get Low – lots of twerking going on here.

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