Sunday, December 17, 2017
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YEEEAH! Lil Jon brings his crunk stylings to Tampa

Lil Jon has a problem with caps lock.

FOR EVERY THUMBS UP I GET, IMA TAKE A SHOT. DRINK! DRINK! DRINKKK!!!

FILL IN THE BLANK: MY FAVORITE LIL JON SONG TO GET CRUNK TO IS __________!

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY! BETTER BE GETTIN RED WHITE AND CRUNKK!!!

It's not that he wants to tweet like he's on a caffeine bender. But when he composes Twitter messages in lowercase letters with a responsible number of exclamation points, people get suspicious.

"If it's me talking, it doesn't seem right," he said. "People want to see me animated. I might take the caps lock off and they're like, 'This ain't really you tweeting.' So I keep the caps lock on."

It's the cheeky double life of Lil Jon, born Jonathan Smith, party boy rapper and Celebrity Apprentice alum who will spin a DJ set at the Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa Friday. He's known for throaty catchphrases (YEEEAAAAAH! WHAT? O-KAY?) and thumping club anthems ("SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS!"). Comedian Dave Chappelle rocketed Lil Jon into another stratosphere with a hilarious impression that imagined the rapper as a secret aristocrat with a refined accent. It might not have been too far off.

"Dave, when he did the sketch on me, it opened up peoples' eyes that never would have heard my music," said Lil Jon, who called casually from California with no publicists on the line. "It's like doing the Apprentice showed that I wasn't just a dumba- -. It gave me a lot of fans, like older fans. Grandmothers come up to me wherever I am. Fifty-plus women come up to me and are like, 'Yo, I saw you on the Apprentice.' I wanted to show that all rappers are not ignorant. We can be intelligent. We have to be intelligent."

Lil Jon grew up in Atlanta nightclubs, working as a DJ in the early '90s before hooking up with Jermaine Dupri's label, So So Def. He formed Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz and styled himself as the King of Crunk. He was never a traditional rapper who could freestyle or sit for hours writing rhymes, so he operated as a wild caricature. He toted a bejeweled pimp cup and wore gold crowns, diamond grills and chains that said "CRUNK AIN'T DEAD."

Crunk might be resting, though. Lil Jon is 40 now. When people scream "YEEEAAAAH," he doesn't usually yell back. He has a family. When he's not slinking through clubs in Miami and Cancun popping bottles of champagne, he's on his couch watching Swamp People.

"It's one of my favorites, where the guys go hunt the alligators," he said. "I watch TV and me and my family go to the movies. My son is 14 years old. He's a DJ too. They grow up fast when you're on the road all the time. When you come home, you just want to spend time with your family."

Instead of a pimp cup, Lil Jon now carries a jeweled bottle of Don Julio tequila. It's hard to tell from his latest track with LMFAO (chorus: "DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK DRINK"), but Lil Jon's musical tastes have shifted, too.

"I don't even consider myself a crunk artist no more," he said. "I can get on any kind of track and make people have a good time. I'm the guy who gets the party started. You grow, times change, music evolves. I play for the people. If they want to hear more commercial pop, I'll play a little. If they're into dubstep, I'll play some dubstep."

He likes electronic artists like David Guetta and Steve Aoki. He noticed fans at deadmau5 shows wearing big mouse heads, so he ordered up a supply of Lil Jon masks for his own crowd. It's weird when pretty young women wear his face, he said, but at least they're having fun.

"I'm playing Call Me Maybe in my set. You got to think about it. I'm DJing all over the United States. People have varied tastes of music. That's a popular song. I did my own version of it. I did a cool remix."

Lil Jon then made his point rather poetically.

"A real DJ plays not for himself, but for the crowd."

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