by carl wilson

Lil' Lee Bonks Lil' Jon On Noggin


Not long ago I urged Zoilusians (if there is any such thing) to read my supergifted fictioneering friend Lee Henderson's terrific Ol' Dirty Bastard obit on Popmatters. Now I've got to direct you even more zealously to his screed against Lil' Jon's Crunk Juice as "speak-and-spell rap," "the Raffi of gangsta rap," and much worser.

What a tirade! What a philippic! What an aria of vituperation! Huzzah!

But I have to say it's always suspect to hurl "sell-out" at anybody in hip-hop - unlike in the authenticity sweepstakes of rock, rap has never had anything against getting paid. Hell, even in that phrase it ranks profiteering with sexiness the way the Victorian use of "spend" meaning "cum" flashed the colours of their own mercantile era. But then there's always that duality, that tension between getting over and representing, between doing for self in a capitalist trap and bringing it back home, and while there's something totally thrilling and reckless about the spectacle of somebody throwing every obligation overboard, saying fuck it and just going over-the-top pirate-style, somebody's got to blow a whistle when the game gets zero-sum. After all what's subversive about commercial rap has been to assimilate the mainstream to hip-hop culture more than the other way around, in a guerrilla populist campaign. There's got to be such a thing as being so clever at that double-agent act that you just fool yourself. Every critic's got their own line in the sandlot and I guess Lil Jon just crossed Lee's.

I'm not so sure about Lee's snap-back to Phil Sherburne's thesis in the New York Times (no working link, sorry, but PS said: "Lil Jon's keyboards aren't just surprising. They're perverse. He breaks from hip-hop tradition by choosing a sound and a technology borrowed from European rave music and from English new-wave artists like Gary Numan and Thomas Dolby"). Lee's counterexamples, Bobby Digital, Anti-Pop Consortium and Goodie Mob, can't compare to Lil' Jon's success in bringing that keyboard tone into the centre from the margins, and just because techno and rap both built on disco, it doesn't mean they've shared any path since then. Grime is the obvious other answer, but when I read Sherburne's piece I wondered whether Dre's Sesame Street casio-keyboard figures for pre-8 Mile Eminem also might qualify as beating Lil Jon to that finish tape.

(Sean at Hardly Art, Hardly Garbage takes this on with more expertise - he seems almost to play several sides, but that's just what we were talking about, innit?)

Lee's denunciation of Jon's betrayal of "MC lyricism" calls for a more complicated manoeuvre: Couldn't you say Crunk Juice is just primarily an instrumental, sonic machine? Isn't it maybe too conservative - too much maybe thinking like a writer - to insist that's not okaayy?

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, December 07 at 10:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)



Hey Zoilus,
Cool to see so many peeps shouting out their opinion on the worst piece of shit to grace rap music.
Lil' Jon isn't anything like James Brown. He's more of a Phil Spector or Malcolm MacLaren.

He isn't making primal funky noises to punctuate six minute funk epics, although he is trading on that history, sure.

The reason Lil' Jon does all those stupid shout outs is to "brand" his production, so that no matter if Petey Pablo or Usher or Mobb Deep use his beats, everyone knows it's a Lil' Jon track. This is something he has admitted in interviews. He learned it from Timbaland, whose success is the gold standard for contemporary rap producers. He's using his voice as a logo, like the Nike Swoosh on a bzillion pieces of clothing.

Yes, all rap music is materialistic, extravagantly, desperatelly materialistic. But Lil' Jon has erased all the poetic subtext to that message. Compare his ideas to Rakim on "Paid in Full"--a hip hop milestone, or Jim Jones on "On my way to Church" -- a truly inspirational album from 2004, and you'll see exactly what Lil' Jon is lacking. Depth!

The motherfucker. Until he goes away I'm going to take my little shits in his pimp cup.


Posted by RUN DMLee on December 9, 2004 06:34 PM



Punk is an ok parallel in terms of noise although the attitude's quite different, but the point is that the vocals are punctuated sonic elements rather than voices of reason, right? Courtesy of PopWherry Aaron, I got pointed to Kandia Crazy Horse's Lil' Jon piece in the Village Voice which in her way gets too cosmic-allusioned-out to follow in places but offers this useful lede:

" 'Eye-unh!,' 'Hunh!,' and 'Hiuiiii!' were universally accepted as James Brown lyrics before crunk king Jonathan "Lil Jon" Smith was conceived."

In other words it ain't the punk it's da funk. Are you going to call that "speak-and-spell"?

Posted by zoilus on December 9, 2004 05:01 PM



Thanks for the heads up on Lee's stuff.... any excuse to read more of his work. I'm going to try to stop gushing like the little fan boy that I am.

Posted by Ron on December 9, 2004 11:29 AM



Hey Lee, i'm a new writer at popmatters. I had a good chuckle reading your review, but I'm tempted and tend to fall in Carl's camp on the crunk phenom. Crunk supecedes the emcee and I know that's against hip-hop's cardinal rule, but lyrical content has been in a severe downshift since emcees realized that you have to come hard on the first album (for street cred from the hood) then dilute for the mainstream (who don't really want to spend time in the ghetto).

Crunk gets em to the ghetto by way of the rabid misogyny and hyper-sexuality. It's tribal council and Lil' Jon is holding the chalice of immunity. As it stands, he's too entertaining to be voted off the island. besides this summer i had way too much fun breaking out into random YEEEEAAAAh! OKAAAAAAYY! Awwwlright! and of course WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!

Sure he's a huckster, but no where near as sinister as this year's top rap artist mr. "first nigga with a benz and backpack" mr. i walk a not so fine line between black consciousness and materialism kanye west. i can't figure this guy out for the life of me, will he completely sell out next album or remain self-conscious because even 2 grammy's means his ego gets bigga than jigga's.

Will Jesus walk or will jesus bling? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by pierre aka the rock n roll nigga on December 9, 2004 02:28 AM



Oh, shit! I hate that picture. That terrible Twin Peaks moustache is going to haunt me! I'll just have to grow it back.

Quick thought:

Great arguments against my screed, Carl. Screed it was! It was really hard to pull off the "sell-out" lines, I know. But I'll tell you what, I think this guy's more huckster than artist, and when the balance is tipped too far, the boy needs to get his hand slapped by internet geeks like me. I do think that Bobby Digital and Goodie Mob and the Organized Noize people did more for synths and electronic sounds than Lil' Jon, who has just turned it into ground beef.

Musically, no, it's not instrumental music. Lyrics play a major supporting role in the party jams of Lil' Jon, in that he destroys their meaning and skims the surface for the cliche tendencies to exploit. At best, I like it when people say his music is like punk (see for instance the song "Buck on Dem Hoes"). But if crunk is punk, then Lil' Jon is a coarsening of the Malcolm McLaren character.

Anyway, I'm flattered to get such a big spread at your website! Let's all give Lil' Jon a fucking spank on the bum and be done with it.


Posted by Lil' Lee on December 7, 2004 11:21 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson