Jonathan Smith (born January 17, 1971), better known by his stage name Lil Jon, is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and DJ. He was a member of the group Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, which he formed in 1997, and they released several albums until 2004. He then went solo and released a new album in 2010 titled Crunk Rock. He was also featured on Celebrity Apprentice during its 11th and 13th seasons.
Smith took the stage name Lil Jon and formed musical group Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz with rappers Big Sam (born Sammie D. Norris) and Lil' Bo (born Wendell Maurice Neal). The group signed to the Atlanta-based Mirror Image Records and were distributed by Ichiban Records. In 1997, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz debuted with Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. It included singles "Who U Wit?" and "Shawty Freak a Lil' Sumthin'", the latter of which came out in 1998. Both singles charted on the BillboardHot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at No. 70 and No. 62 respectively. In 2000, Jon took part in starting up his own label BME Recordings and signed a distribution agreement with Norcross, Georgia based Southern Music Distribution. There he released his breakthrough album titled We Still Crunk!. Among the tracks on that project was the hit single "I Like Those Girls," which reached No. 55 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart.
After hearing feedback that Lil Jon was "the new guy" from street team people in the markets where he was attracting his biggest audiences – namely Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis and Dallas – A&R at TVT, Bryan Leach, went to one of his Atlanta shows and was blown away by the immense energy of the experience. Leach told HitQuarters: "It was like early Beastie Boys, when they had the energy of a rock group but they were rapping, and ... that energy is what crunk music is all about." Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz signed to TVT Records in 2001 and debuted there with Put Yo Hood Up, which combined previously released tracks with new ones. The group's first nationally played single was "Bia' Bia'", which featured rappers Ludacris, Too Short, Big Kapp, and Chyna Whyte. "Bia' Bia'" peaked at No. 97 on the BillboardHot 100 and No. 47 on the Billboard R&B chart.
In 2002, the group released Kings of Crunk. "I Don't Give A..." was its first single; it featured Mystikal and Krayzie Bone and peaked at No. 50 on the R&B chart. The group's next single, a collaboration with fellow Atlanta hip hop group Ying Yang Twins titled "Get Low", became popular in nightclubs nationwide and reached the top ten of the Hot 100.Crunk Juice followed in 2004, led by "What U Gon' Do" featuring Lil' Scrappy. "What U Gon' Do" peaked at No. 22 on the Hot 100, No. 13 on the R&B chart, and No. 5 on the rap chart; its follow-up, "Lovers & Friends" featuring Usher and Ludacris, peaked at No. 3 (Hot 100), No. 2 (R&B), and No. 1 (rap).
MTV News reported in March 2008 that Crunk Rock was taking more time to complete than Lil Jon already planned. As part of TVT Records' 2008 bankruptcy auction, Lil Jon withdrew his multi-million dollar objection to the TVT sale proceedings and agreed to TVT's transfer of his artist agreement to The Orchard. In return, The Orchard released Lil Jon from all future obligations and returned the rights to the master recordings of Crunk Rock. Crunk Rock was finally released on June 8, 2010 and it features artists such as LMFAO, Soulja Boy, Ying Yang Twins, Waka Flocka Flame, R. Kelly, and many more. In March 2011, Lil Jon took part in the fourth season of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC and was eliminated in the Final Four. In July 2011, in a recent interview has said that he is working on a new studio album called Party Animal and has released a song with LMFAO called "Drink", which was used in the trailer for the film The World's End. In 2013, Lil Jon partnered with Zumba Fitness to create a new nightclub tour titled "Zumba Nightclub Series". For Zumba Fitness, he released a new song called "Work". I
Jason Birchmeier of AllMusic has described Lil Jon's production as "bass-heavy" and his album Put Yo Hood Up as having "a long and varied list of guest rappers to accompany the beats". With the guest performers featured on that album much more than the East Side Boyz, Birchmeier remarked: "The end result is an album that resembles a street-level mixtape rather than a traditional artist-oriented album". He was specifically influenced by 2 Live Crew, 8Ball & MJG, Three 6 Mafia, OutKast, Geto Boys, UGK, N.W.A, Dr. Dre, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Alex Henderson, also of allmusic, contrasted Lil Jon's style of "rowdy, in-your-face, profanity-filled party music" with other Southern rappers', those who "have a gangsta/thug life agenda" and those who convey "serious sociopolitical messages". Lil Jon has also found influence in rock music, having worked with Rick Rubin and Korn. This influence embodies itself in his aggressive delivery and 'yelling' style of rap. He was seen on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time program wearing a Bad Brains T-shirt and also used to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd growing up in the South in the 1970s. For Trick Daddy's "Let's Go", Lil Jon sampled the bass line from Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train".
Lil Jon married Nicole Smith in 2004. They have a son named Nathan (born in 1998). He was an avid fan of the NHLAtlanta Thrashers franchise until they relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. He has recently also become a fan of the University of Tennessee Volunteers since their adoption of his hit song "Turn Down for What" on third downs, changing it to "Third Down for What." On October 4, 2014, Lil Jon made an appearance via jumbotron encouraging the Volunteers to beat the University of Florida Gators. Tennessee would go on to lose by one point, but Lil Jon in a tweet after the game claimed that he "still had their back."