Like rock & roll long before it, crunk describes a behavior just as much as it names a musical style. It’s a combination word that mingles getting stoned on the chronic (or crack or coke or most any “c” drug), and drunk on booze. It’s hard to find too much in common among these various artists, however—unless, of course, you’re playing six degrees of separation from Lil Jon.
Geography at least plays a small part in loosely uniting these diverse artists. That’s because most Crunk Hits performers are from some region of the South. These drawling rappers are also collectively known as the Dirty South. Atlanta’s Lil Jon is the crowned pied piper of Southern rap. His raspy voice is heard along with Ludacris as they back Usher on “Yeah!” He and The East Side Boyz are also spotlighted on “Get Low”, which also features Ying Yang Twins. Reciprocally, when Ying Yang Twins are heard doing “Salt Shaker”, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz can also be recognized shaking right along with them. If you’re keeping score, Lil Jon’s name is also attached to Pitbull’s “Toma”, Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go”, and YoungBloodz’s “Damn!” Lil Jon also produced Ciara. It can safely be said that Lil Jon’s name is omnipresent throughout this disc.
Be forewarned: Dirty South music is most assuredly dirty. These tracks are almost exclusively about sex. This is not good, clean, Catholic, procreative sex—oh no. Instead, these songs are packed with blunt words about drooling, lustful intercourse. Whereas West Coast rappers may have gotten off on gratuitous violence back in the day, these new school-ers just get off, period.
Its lyrical themes may be relatively simplistic, but this CD’s beats oftentimes differ greatly from track to track. Ciara’s “Goodies”, which also features Petey Pablo, sports that weedy synth thing, which is most closely associated with West Coast rap. “Salt Shaker”, “Let’s Go”, and “Damn!” all stand out because of their angry, male vocal choruses. The pace of these songs is generally on the slow side, although Pitbull’s “Toma” is given a rapid fire delivery. While crunk is primarily a rap variation, there is also a few fine examples of real, honest to goodness singing represented here, too. Its great vocalizing begins with Usher on the opener “Yeah!” Later, Ciara—who is more of a dance diva than a rapper - purrs her way through “Goodies”.
Don’t expect to walk away from this CD as an expert on crunk. In fact, it may leave you feeling slightly cynical. At worst, crunk may be nothing more than a convenient way to sell more rap records, without ever adding any new wrinkles to the hip-hop genre. Nevertheless, a few of these examples are also particularly fine radio songs. Usher’s “Yeah!” and Chingy’s “Right Thurr”, for instance, always jump right out of the speakers when contrasted with so much other modern R&B dribble. The genre—if you can even call it that—has not produced many legitimate superstars. Lil Jon is the exception to this rule, but one has to wonder how many of this CD’s performers will have the same staying power.
Ten years from now, will anybody even remember crunk at all? Chances are, the answer to this question is “no”. But if this sub-genre develops a unique sound, and if it produces more than a mere collection of one-hit-wonders (like the sort represented by this release), it may have a future after all. In 2016 stupid people will still be getting blitzed out of their minds on drugs and alcohol, though. So in that respect, at least that kind of crunk will be alive and well for decades to come.