Los Angeles, CA – Approximately 43 days before Lil Jon’s likeness appeared in this year’s big Pepsi Super Bowl commercial, he was the rapper, producer, maestro et al. for Kool-Aid’s Christmas campaign.
Over this Super Bowl LIII Weekend, he partook in the EA Sports Bowl alongside several of his Atlanta Hip Hop luminaries. Despite his loyalty to his home base, it’s not uncommon to see him hyping other sports crowds such as the Vegas Golden Knights.
Ladies and gents: Jonathan Smith has become a black belt master in the art of selling in, and he’s allowing his music to steer the course whereas his larger-than-life persona did all the yelling in the past.
“I’m back, I’m making beats again. It’s coming, like the Kool-Aid shit, I did that beat,” he proudly tells HipHopDX during an easy, breezy conversation on the set of his #PepsiMoreThanOK commercial, which also utilized the talents of Cardi B and Steve Carell.
As millions of spectators bear witness to the high profile Super Bowl Sunday ad while the notorious New England Patriots face off against the Los Angeles Rams, it’s key to note that the magic Lil Jon brings to the equation is all self-contained and self-controlled. Despite what Dave Chappelle popularized on his impactful sketch comedy show more than a decade ago, Lil Jon isn’t some unhinged, rambunctious, real-life version of the Muppets’ Animal.
True, he’s one of the more animated rappers to ever grace the scene but he’s also one of the most composed. He’s always down for a trek down rap’s memory lane or a sturdy Hip Hop debate on other weighty topics, including his decision to continue out his participation with Super Bowl festivities in spite of the protests spiderwebbed by Mr. Colin Kaepernick.
“All of us [who] are born and raised in Atlanta, it’s our city and we want to showcase our city,” he explains. “Who knows when the Super Bowl is going to be back in Atlanta? This is where we’re born, where we were raised and yeah, it’s where the biggest Hip-Hop stars are from, and R&B stars and so on and so forth.
“This is where we got our start in the music industry. This is where we got our first radio spins and first club spins, and this is the city that we love. This is the culture that we promote. Everywhere we go, we’re ‘Atlanta’, so without question, we are going to push our culture of our city out there no matter what. We can still be conscious of all the other stuff that’s going on, but for us, it’s about this is our city, we have to showcase our city. Show people why we love the city so much, they get a taste of that.”
Hip Hop is all about promotion — as long as audiences will entertain whatever it is you’re pushing. And even Lil Jon won’t deny being a commonplace entity teeters the lines of overexposure, burnout or overall corniness. However, he seems to have it down to a science.
“You just got to make sure they don’t use you inappropriately and coon you out,” Lil Jon admits. “You have to stand up for yourself and say … and if something doesn’t feel right to you, or if it immediately strikes you wrong, you got to be like, ‘No, I can’t do that,’ or ‘I’m not doing that,’ or ‘No thank you for the invitation, your brand doesn’t represent what I’m down with.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
He adds a warning: “You have to really think about it and understand what you’re doing and read what they want you to do before you just sign the paperwork [before] you’re stuck and you’re just, ‘I got to do it.'”
Even with Lil Jon’s ubiquity, the fact remains that he hasn’t actually put out an album in nearly a decade (2010’s Crunk Rock featuring the hit single “Shots” being the last born). While he doesn’t appear to have a full album rollout plan on hand, expect to hear more original music from the King of Crunk in 2019.
“I’m going to drop a bunch of new stuff,” he reveals. “I started this year just slowly re-introducing myself, but the time is coming back around where all of these younger artists are doing songs where they have hype shows, but the music is not hype music.”
Given that the culture’s current production landscape isn’t out of Lil Jon’s wheelhouse, expect him to make good on his promise. Even if it means bringing back that old feeling.
“When we were doing, you know, me, Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG, No Limit, we had … the beats were fucking hyped,” Jon recalls. “The vocals was hyped, but now the shit is laid back.
“People are turning up to laid-back shit. The concert be lit, but the music ain’t really turnt-up shit, so it’s time, people are really starting to want that high energy shit again, so I’m bringing it back, I’m coming back.
“For me, everything is about timing, like I was saying, ‘Turn down for what?’ Everything happened in the right time for that. You can have a great record but release it at the wrong time and nobody will hear it. So timing is everything, so the timing is right now again for me to come back out with some new stuff.”