- Lil Jon in more successful times.
It’s tragic, really. Way back in 2002, the year Hans Blix inspected for weapons in Iraq and Pierce Brosnan played James Bond for the last time in Die Another Day, Lil Jon and his East Side Boyz were on top of the universe, titans of the music industry, and the genre that they midwifed into existence, crunk, was king. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing that lewd club banger of theirs, “Get Low.” Not even the pristine and squeaky-clean confines of a Catholic grade-school dance were safe. Flash-forward: After eight years of work as a ubiquitous featured artist, always willing to lend a helpful “Yeah!” or “Okay!”, Lil Jon releases his debut solo album Crunk Rock, and…nothing. You could throw a chunk of Styrofoam into a pond and you’d get a bigger reaction.
This was supposed to be Lil Jon’s big triumph; he was supposed to be greeted like a Roman general who returns to the city after years of campaigns. Instead, hardly anybody showed up. Sure, some did, but nothing like the hundreds of thousands who pushed Kings of Crunk up the charts. This lackluster comeback might give inquiring minds cause to ask, What happened to Lil Jon? Nothing. Nothing happened to him; the better question is: What happened to hip-hop?
Right now I’m reading Hitch-22, a memoir by Christopher Hitchens, perhaps my favorite journalist working today. In it, Hitchens describes the malaise felt by his father and his father’s generation: they had served Britain in the Second World War (Hitchens pere was in the Royal Navy) but instead of glory, the Britain they once knew shriveled up. They were Tories to the core, stalwart and old-school, and they felt slightly betrayed that the Britain they loved and thrived in fell away right before their eyes.
This is what Lil Jon went through, or, more accurately, is currently going through. In his heyday, hip-hop was all about the parties in the clubs with the girls and the Cristal and the weed and going to said parties in your Escalade with spinning rims. That kind of hip-hop is still around, but the mainstream is dominated by introspective sorts like Kid Cudi, Drake, Kanye West, and B.o.B. They have transformed the genre so dramatically that Lil Jon’s exclamations of “Yeah!”, “Okay!”, or “Who wants to get fucked up?!” are now almost quaint. Once upon a time, Lil Jon was the talk of the town but now, like the British veterans of World War Two, he’s discontent, streets behind everyone else, and worst of all, nobody is grateful for his service. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but our veterans deserve better.