I fucked up, and I'll admit it. A few months back I reviewed a compilation called Crunk Classics, with songs by dirty south superstars like Lil Jon and Petey Pablo, and I tore it a new asshole. "TVT's collection of Southern thug rappers is pretty much -- to borrow a phrase from Lindsay Lohan -- completely retarded," I wrote, calling crunk music "aggro, nut-grabbing, monosyllabic thug thumps."
Lil Jon, Petey, T.I., Trick Daddy, all you thuggin' crunkmeisters, I apologize. A while back, I started listening to Power 92, where crunk currently reigns supreme, and now I'm fucking hooked. Nothing starts my day off right like flipping the radio on to hear "What U Gon' Do?" by Lil Jon and Lil Scrappy, or "Let's Go," by Trick Daddy, Twista and Lil Jon. I'm even cracked out on that crunk-flavored R&B shit, Ciara's "1, 2 Step" and "Goodies," and the sickest shit of all, "Lovers and Friends," by Lil Jon, Usher and Ludacris.
Understand, even though I'm a white indie-rock/punk kid, I've always followed hip-hop, but only the underground shit. You know -- Atmosphere, Buck 65, all the Anticon kids. So I'm as confused as everyone else when I'm rolling down the street with Ludacris' "Get Back" blaring out of my truck, mouthing the words.
Now, I know I'm not on the cutting edge here with my crunk addiction -- it was the hot story in hip-hop for 2004, but it's only snowballing from here. With the recent release of Lil Jon's Crunk Juice, and the emergence of Ciara as the princess of Crunk&B, crunk is set to rule the airwaves throughout 2005 as well. And to suck me in, that shit's gotta be stickier than quicksand.
To figure out what's at the root of my newfound crunk habit, I called up my crunk dealer, J. Philla, one of the Nutz on Power 92's afternoon show and one of the music directors at the station. Is it simply saturation that's got me bumping along to T.I.'s "Bring Em Out"? "To an extent it is," Philla tells me. "It's human nature to be curious about something that you continuously hear about or you don't know about. It's like, everybody's touching something, so what the fuck, I might as well touch it too, and see what it's about."
Philla's initial reaction to crunk music was much the same as the one I expressed in that Crunk Classics review. "I went and lived in Houston for a year, and when I first heard crunk music, I was like, 'What the fuck is this shit?'" he says. "The first taste of it, it comes off as garbage. It's not something that's really pleasant to the ear when you first hear it. I think that's kind of the attraction to it, especially with young males; it's testosterone-driven. It's loud, it's rowdy, it's like their rock music.
"We play it in the clubs, and I ain't gonna lie, some of the clubs, they don't even want us to play it because it amps people up, it gets 'em rowdy, they wanna fight or they just wanna be crazy." Philla gets to see firsthand what the crunk does to the kids when he and Nutz partner Joey Boy drop aggro tracks like Lil Jon's "What U Gon' Do?" at their Friday night residency at the Buzz in Scottsdale.
"It's kind of a lifestyle, too. They wanna get grilled up and wear gold teeth, wear their hat to the side like T.I., have a pimp chalice like Lil Jon."
My habit hasn't gone quite that far yet; I don't own a pimp chalice (but I've got a dope-ass beer coozy), my grill bears no precious metals, and I rarely wear a lid. But as far as the testosterone goes, when Lil Jon hollers, "Whaaaat? Okaaaaay!" I wanna get a little crazy.
"I think there's a lot of what [Lil Jon] does that can be appealing to anybody," Philla tells me. "He uses rock riffs -- I think that's something that crunk does very well, incorporating rock into their music; R&B with 'Lovers and Friends' joint, that's a perfect example of crunk and R&B mixing; and they take it to the pop side with the catchy hooks, the phrases the young kids know."
I gotta admit, thus far I haven't been motivated to buy any of these albums; I don't feel like I need to since Lil Jon seems to be on 90 percent of the tracks on Power 92, either as a producer or a guest -- usually both. Believe me, there are plenty of tracks I don't like on Power 92 -- I can't fucking stand Usher and Alicia Keys' "My Boo," or Lil Wayne's "Go DJ," but I do dig on Usher and Lil Jon's "Yeah," the king of all 2004 hits. I'm even feeling that new Destiny's Child "Soldier" joint.
So I suppose this admission to my crunk-smoking habit will lose me some stripes in the indie-rock community, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Thing is, I kind of like this particular dependency, and I don't think I'm quite ready to quit yet. Actually, I gotta go -- "Let's Go" is coming on the radio, and I gotta turn that shit up.
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