Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz
he most enduring image from the DVD that is included in the special edition of this album (and you always get the special edition, you know that, right?) tells the whole story. During the documentary that shows the making of Crunk Juice, after a whole host of footage showing people partying and cursing all over the place, there is a shot of Lil Jonathan Smith all by himself, poolside at night, on his laptop, working on his album.
This is the core of Lil Jon. He may look like an insane drugged-out dreadnought from the future, and he may sound like he’s going to explode to death any second, but this video proves what he really is: a workaholic with an obsessive attention to his craft. Don’t get fooled by his video image and Dave Chappelle; Lil Jon is 100% committed to his music, probably to the detriment of his social life and all his relationships. He is our Phil Spector.
Let’s be honest: Crunk Juice is the best-produced album in forever. The sounds are fresh, in all senses of the word. The bass sounds are deep and rich like mahogany, the drum sounds slap and punch and karate-chop like no one else’s, and every track is shot through with strange freaky troubling treble tones that no one else could come up with. “Get Crunk” uses a beat made of the sound of 5,000 basketballs bouncing at once in a deserted auditorium, and it’s menacing and thrilling. The way Lil Jon tweaks Gangsta Boo’s voice down until she sounds like the Kingpin is straight Houston screw, but makes sure to lard the track with gothic “aaaaaaah” choirs and stuttery vocal bleeps and hi-hat madness so we know this ain’t no Michael Watts or Choppaholix.
Lil Jon just lives music, all kinds of music. “Aww Skeet Skeet” is DC go-go; “One Night Stand” is electro-R&B; “Stick That Thing Out (Skeezer)” is the heretofore-undiscovered 1988 collaboration between Luke Skyywalker and Jerry Harrison. It’s all fair game: “Lovers and Friends” reunites Ludacris and Usher for a blatantly commercial slow jam, and sounds just as Lil-Jon-ish as “Real Nigga Roll Call,” the video for which is on MTVJams about every minute. The universe of sound is his.
Gotta mention “Don’t Fuck Wit Me” too. This is just flat-out heavy metal punk-pop, a hard shiny rant about child support and unemployment and bitches who won’t back the fuck up off beleaguered gentlemen who just wanna smoke their weed. It’s an update of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and all those early Beastie Boys/Run-DMC rockers, which is not surprising, considering that Rick Rubin is a co-producer. But I get the impression that Jon just wanted to have RR in the studio to give himself permission to do a full-on-kevin’s-mom blast-off like this.
But as much as I admire the craft of Crunk Juice, and as much as the funny stuff makes me laugh (Chris Rock interludes, E40 doing his thing) and the grindy stuff makes me bang my head in the car on the way home from work, I have a big fat problem with this record, which keeps it out of my heart. Its ugliness.
I know I’m supposed to factor misogyny, homophobia, and violence out of rap in order to not be a corny white music critic, and I really tried to do that here—but it’s relentless here, and ultimately dispiriting. “Contract” is a pimpin’ song, which I’ve learned to appreciate on some level, and the thumpin’ beat and zither sounds make it kind of an amazing track. But I’m sorry, I just can’t celebrate Jon telling us that bitches are only good for suckin’ on a nigga’s cock, and Jazze Pha wailing out on a chorus of “Hey bitch / Sign your name on the dotted line / Cause now you belong to me.” Just can’t do it, man. Similarly with the charming “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” wherein Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg and Suga Free do the same, except with the “mitigating” factor of having Lil Jon’s new girl singer Oobie on the track.
And I don’t want to be all C. Dolores Tucker here, but the preponderance of slams like “pussy nigga” and “bitch nigga” and “fuck nigga” and “motherfuck that nigga, motherfuck that bitch” (the chorus of “Real Nigga Roll Call”) on this record make me think that we’re back in some stone age of the soul. This record is not going to make things easier for the effeminate kid in the class, and it’s not going to stop aggressive dudes from trying to turn out the pretty, yet studious and shy, girl in the lunchroom who just wants to be left alone. Do I think Lil Jon has a responsibility to fix all of America’s problems? No, hell no. He didn’t create this shit, he’s a product of our fucked-up society, a victim too on some level. But Crunk Juice certainly doesn’t push anything forward, and its relentlessness just brings me down.
Dude, I know how this sounds. I love listening to this record, it rocks like a motherfucker, I’m not denying that. And yeah, a lot of other records are worse, and yeah, I’m putting an unfair burden on Lil Jon. But I feel the same way about this that I do about Montgomery Gentry’s fascistic You Do Your Thing and a lot of death metal: it makes me exhilarated and hyper, and then tired and sad immediately afterwards. And it’s not some kind of gritty portrait of the streets, the way other misogynistic/homophobic/violent rap sometimes is. It’s a glitzed-up, glammed-up celebration of that; it’s the Hollywood film, not the documentary.
I hope that Lil Jon, sitting by his expensive-looking pool late at night, working on his laptop, thinks about this sometime. That having been said, I’m still glad that I can bang my head to it in my car on the way home from work.
Reviewed by: Matt Cibula
Reviewed on: 2005-01-19