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Crunk is a subgenre of southern hip hop that emerged in the early 1990s and gained mainstream success during the early to mid 2000s.[1][2] Crunk is often up-tempo and one of Southern hip hop's more nightclub-oriented subgenres. Distinguishing itself with other Southern hip hop subgenres, crunk is marked and characterized by its energetic accelerated musical tempo, club appeal, recurrent chants frequently executed in a call and response manner, multilayered synths, its pronounced reliance on resounding 808 basslines, and rudimentary musical arrangement. An archetypal crunk track frequently uses a dominant groove composed of a nuanced utilization of intricately multilayered keyboard synthesizers organized in a recurring pattern, seamlessly shifting from a lower to a higher pitch that encompasses the song's primary central rhythm, both in terms of its harmonic and melodic aspects. The main groove is then wrapped up with looped, stripped-down, and crisp 808 dance claps and manipulated snare rolls coupled and accompanied by a bassline of thumping 808 kick drums.[2] The term "crunk" was also used throughout the 2000s as a blanket term to denote any style of Southern hip hop, a side effect of the genre's breakthrough to the mainstream.[3] The word derives from its African-American Vernacular English past-participle form, "crunk", of the verb "to crank" (as in the phrase "crank up"). It refers to being excited or high on drugs.[4]


The term has been attributed mainly to African-American slang, in which it holds various meanings.[5] It most commonly refers to the verb phrase "to crank up". It is theorized that the use of the term came from a past-tense form of "crank", which was sometimes conjugated as "crunk" in the South, such that if a person, event, or party was hyped-up, i.e. energetic – "cranked" or "cranked up" – it was said to be "crunk".[5]

In publications, "crunk" can be traced back to 1972 in the Dr. Seuss book Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!. He uses the term "Crunk-Car" without any given definition.[6] The term has also been traced to usage in the 1980s coming out of Atlanta, Georgia nightclubs and meaning being "full of energy" or "hyped".[7][unreliable source?][unreliable source?][8] In the mid-1990s, crunk was variously defined either as "hype", "phat", or "pumped up". Rolling Stone magazine published "glossary of Dirty South slang", where to crunk was defined as "to get excited".[3][5]

Outkast has been attributed as the first artist to use the term in mainstream music, in the 1993 track "Player's Ball".[9] A seminal year for the genre was 1996, with the releases of Three 6 Mafia album Chapter 1: The End (featuring "Gette'm Crunk"),[10] and Memphis-based underground hip hop artist Tommy Wright III's album On the Run, which featured the Project Pimp track "Getting Crunk".[11]

Rapper and record producer Lil Jon was instrumental in bringing the term further into the mainstream music scene with his 1997 album titled Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. He later released other songs and albums using the term, and has been credited by other artists and musicians as galvanizing use of the term as well as mainstreaming the music genre itself.[8]

Lil Jon further popularized the word with his 2004 album Crunk Juice, and has been credited with inventing the potent alcoholic cocktail by that name. This use of "crunk" became synonymous with the meaning "crazy drunk". Non-alcoholic drinks, to which alcohol could be added, were manufactured and marketed under the Crunk brand name, with Lil Jon as spokesman.[12][self-published source?]

The term has continued to evolve, taking on a negative stigma with police, parents and the media. In 2011, the company which manufactured "Crunk" drink brought out an alcoholic version named "Crunk Juice".[13] This drink was allegedly marketed towards 19- to 21-year-olds – those under the US legal drinking age – resulting in Crunk Juice drinking being blamed as a cause of crime or becoming a victim of crime. The mainstream media began publishing stories in which the term "crunk" was used to refer to "crazy and drunk" criminals.[14]

Musical characteristics[edit]

Musically, crunk is heavily influenced by Miami bass, Eurodance, and 1980s-era call-and-response hip hop. The distinguishing feature of the conventional crunk sound is characterized by its extensive utilization of multilayered synthesizers orchestrated in a recurrent arrangement that seamlessly transitions from a lower to a higher pitch to augment the sound's harmonious and melodic qualities. Furthermore, a crunk composition is also complemented by the presence of resonant 808 bass kick drums, textured with crisp 808 dance-oriented hand claps, and adorned with modulated snare rolls. Looped, stripped-down drum machine dance claps and snare rolls coupled with heavy 808 bassline drum rhythms are usually used. The Roland TR-808 and 909 are among the most popular instruments to create crunk compositions with. The drum machines are usually accompanied by simple, repeated synthesizer melodies in the form of ostinato, to create a hypnotic effect, and heavy 808 bass stabs. The tempo of Lil Jon's "Get Crunk" is 78 BPM.[15]

The focal point of crunk is more often emphasized on the beat structure rather than the lyrical content therein. Nevertheless, artists like Lil Jon often convey their lyrics through vigorous vocalization, encompassing chanting, shouting, and screaming. This unconventional approach yields a cacophonous yet intense manifestation of southern hip hop, characterized by its assertive, aggressive, and forceful nature. These lyrics can often be isolated to simple chants ("Where you from?" and "You can't fuck with me" are common examples). Compared with other regional hip hop scenes around the United States, crunk has remained one of American hip hop's club-oriented staples, given the subgenre's particular focus on its allure to club audiences and partygoers who exhibit more energetic musical tastes with a penchant for more dynamic and vibrant musical preferences. Crunk's captivating appeal is expertly tailored to befit the ambient dance floors of Atlanta's southern hip hop nightclub scene, opting for simplistic and repetitious call and response vocal refrains in lieu of more substantive approaches.[3]



Atlanta-based rapper and record producer Lil Jon is one of crunk's most prominent figures.

Crunk music arose from Miami bass music before 1996[1] in the southern United States, particularly in African American strip clubs of Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis-based hip hop group Three 6 Mafia were "instrumental for the emergence of the crunk style" in the mid-to-late 1990s.[3] Two mixtape DJs from Memphis, DJ Paul and Juicy J, started making their original music, which was distinctive with its "spare, low-BPM rhythms, simplistic chants... and narcotically repetitive, slasher-flick textures".[3] This duo soon became known as Three 6 Mafia. Frequently featuring rappers such as Project Pat, Lord Infamous, Gangsta Boo, and La Chat on their releases, they became instrumental in the formation of crunk music.[16]

In 1997, in Atlanta, Lil Jon, with his group the East Side Boyz, released their first album titled Get Crunk, Who U Wit. These were the first of six albums released by Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz. The New York Times denied that Get Crunk, Who Are You With was the first crunk album ever.[1] He was one of the key figures in popularizing crunk during 1998 and 1999, and produced two gold records independently, before signing to TVT Records in 2001. After being named the "King of Crunk", Lil Jon went on[17] to make collaborations with many rappers such as Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ludacris and pop singer Britney Spears. Nevertheless, crunk was not exclusively associated with Lil Jon and Three 6 Mafia. In its early stages, soloists and groups such as Ying Yang Twins, White Dawg, Bone Crusher, Lil Scrappy, Trillville, YoungBloodZ and Pastor Troy from Atlanta, and David Banner from Mississippi also helped to popularize crunk music.[3]

Popularity and evolution[edit]

By the early to mid-2000s, some crunk music hits such as "Damn!", "Salt Shaker", "Get Low", "Goodies", "Yeah!" and "Freek-a-Leek" produced by Lil Jon climbed to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Other hits produced by Lil Jon included "Shorty Wanna Ride", "Presidential", "Lovers and Friends", "Okay", "Come Get Some", "Tell Me When to Go", "Cyclone", "Girlfight", "U and Dat", and "Touch". "Yeah!" and "Goodies" were the first tracks to introduce the fusion substyle of crunk music and contemporary R&B, called crunk&B to the mainstream popular music landscape. Those two tracks (performed by Usher and Ciara, respectively) were the mainstream crunk hits of 2004.

The 2003 crunk song "Get Low" (2003), performed by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz with the Ying Yang Twins, is credited as the track which put crunk music into the national spotlight within the mainstream popular music landscape.[18] "Get Low" reached the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart; overall, it spent more than 21 weeks in the charts.[19] Lil Jon's album, titled Kings of Crunk, which contained "Get Low", earned a double platinum certification from the RIAA. In the past, rappers who did not originate from the Southern regions of the United States had previously shown reluctance in aligning themselves with being linked to the emerging Southern hip hop scene during the early 21st-century. However, this narrative began to shift when both Busta Rhymes, an East coast rapper, and Nelly, a mid-west rap soloist from St. Louis, agreed to collaborate and contribute their talents to remixes of the song "Get Low".[18]

In 2004, the independent record label Crunk Incorporated signed a major distribution deal with Reprise/Warner Bros. Records for the crunk group Crime Mob, who released their platinum single "Knuck If You Buck". They followed this with their 2006 hit, "Rock Yo Hips". In March 2004, R&B singer Houston released his crunk&B hit "I Like That", which reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.[20] During the same year, Atlanta-based R&B singer Nivea scored a mainstream hit when her 2004 crunk&B single "Okay" reached the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100.[21] On August 26, 2004, Nashville-based rapper Young Buck scored a top 20 summer hit single with his crunk song "Shorty Wanna Ride". The song debuted at number 68 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 17 on the chart, becoming one of Young Buck's highest charting singles in his career. In 2005, two crunk&B songs made a presence on the Billboard Hot 100 when the Los Angeles–based R&B singer Brooke Valentine's song "Girlfight" reached number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.[22] Towards the end of 2005, then up-and-coming R&B singer Chris Brown's "Run It!" made its run on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it eventually peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number one on November 26, 2005, becoming Brown's first number one hit single to top the chart.[23] Throughout 2005 to 2006, crunk and crunk&B continued its conquest of the Billboard Hot 100, hip hop, and R&B charts (and other charts specializing in music with rapping) while replacing older styles of hip hop and contemporary R&B. On February 1, 2006, San Francisco–based rapper E-40 released his crunk song, "Tell Me When to Go." The song was one of the first singles to kick off the hyphy movement on a national level and popularized the phrase "ghost ride the whip."[24] The song reached number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and eventually earned a Gold certification by the RIAA ten years later in March 2016. He later followed up the hit single with another Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper "U and Dat" released on May 2, 2006, which was a crunk song that was mixed with elements of dirty rap, hyphy, and West Coast hip hop. The song peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which has since remained as E-40's highest-charting single as a lead artist to date with the song eventually garnering platinum certification for exceeding 1 million in certified sales by March 2016.[25] Atlanta-based R&B girl group Cherish also gained national prominence with their summer 2006 hit single "Do It to It"[26] where the song debuted at number 86 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of May 20, 2006,[27] later peaking at number 12 for the week of September 2, 2006, and staying on the charts for 21 weeks.[28] On September 12, 2006, disc jockey DJ Webstar and rapper Young B released their crunk song, "Chicken Noodle Soup."[29] The song reached number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 by October 21, 2006 and eventually garnered a gold certification from the RIAA.[30]

On April 10, 2007, Louisiana-based rapper Hurricane Chris released his hit debut single "A Bay Bay", which debuted at number 95 on the US Billboard Hot 100.[31] In its second week, the song rose to number 85; in its third week, it rose 61 places to number 24.[32] The single featured archetypal crunk elements with the song eventually peaking at number 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100.[33][34][35] Rapper Baby Bash released his hit crunk single Cyclone, which debuted at number 65 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early August 2007. The song would then reach the top 40 at number 33 on September 15, 2007, and peaked at number 7 by November 3, 2007, for two weeks before being certified double platinum by the RIAA.[36] Houston-based rapper Dorrough's 2009 hit single "Ice Cream Paint Job" marked as one of the last crunk tracks to top the Hot 100, alongside various other crunk compositions that had infiltrated the Billboard charts throughout the 2000s. By the end of 2009, crunk had experienced a significant decrease in visibility within the American mainstream music scene after the conclusion of the 2000s, evident by the changes that took place when the genre was eventually superseded by surging popularity of the trap and drill music subgenres as well as the upsurge in the growth of electropop, electrohop, electro-soul and electronic dance music by the early 2010s. The growing interest in crunk music among record producers outside the Southern hip hop music scene led to the development of various subgenres of crunk, including Eurocrunk, crunkcore, crunkczar, aquacrunk, acid crunk and trap, which gained mainstream music popularity throughout the 2010s. The mainstream popular music scene did not witness a minor resurgence of crunk until the mid-2010s, when the American R&B singer Tinashe incorporated crunk and snap elements in her 2015 single "All Hands on Deck" featuring Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. The song contained themes of girl power, rebound dating, and self empowerment. The secondary revival of crunk in the realm of mainstream popular music did not occur until the end of the 2010s, when the San Francisco–based female rapper Saweetie sampled Petey Pablo's 2004 crunk hit "Freek-a-Leek" for her 2019 hit single "My Type." The song marked as one of the last crunk compositions to achieve significant mainstream success on the US Billboard 100 as the decade came to a conclusion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sanneh, Kelefa (November 28, 2004). "Lil John Crunks Up the Volume". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b Sarig, Roni (December 2003). "Southern Lights". Vibe. 11 (12): 168–74.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Miller, Matt (10 June 2008). "Dirty Decade: Rap Music and the U.S. South, 1997–2007". Southern Spaces. doi:10.18737/M78P5T. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Dictionary.com | Meanings & Definitions of English Words". Dictionary.com.
  5. ^ a b c Oxford English Dictionary
  6. ^ Buchwald, Art (July 30, 1974). "Richard M. Nixon Will You Please Go Now!". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Wong, David (2011-12-22). "Ridiculous Origins of Everyday Words". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  8. ^ a b Jones, Steve (July 25, 2003). "Get Crunk". USA Today.
  9. ^ "Outkast Lyrics: 'Player's Ball'". Lyricstime.com. Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  10. ^ Birchmeier, Jason (1996-12-03). "Da End: Three 6 Mafia". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  11. ^ "On the Run: Tommy Wright III". Allmusic.com. 1996-11-19. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  12. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Crunk Energy Drink". YouTube. 2007.[self-published source]
  13. ^ "Crunk Juice Website". Cjcrunk.com. Archived from the original on 2014-05-17. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  14. ^ "A Google listing of Crunk Related Crimes". 2011-05-13. Retrieved 2013-05-29.[original research?]
  15. ^ Lil Jon bpmdatabase.com/ Retrieved 28 June 2023
  16. ^ Green, Tony (October 16, 2001). "Twerk to Do". Village Voice. Archived from the original on 22 September 2008.
  17. ^ "Lil Jon biography". Archived from the original on 2014-10-22. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  18. ^ a b Green, Tony (May 21, 2004). "Punk rap". MSNBC.
  19. ^ Baca, Ricardo (September 16, 2003). "Brink in da Crunk: More take notice of hyper sound with Southern accent". The Denver Post. p. F-01.
  20. ^ "Houston Album & Song Chart History: Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  21. ^ "Nivea Chart History: Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  22. ^ "Billboard Top 100 – 2005". Billboardtop100of.com. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  23. ^ "Hot 100 (November 26, 2005)". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 1, 2012.
  24. ^ Ghost-riding: Another bad idea from California Archived 2007-02-03 at the Wayback Machine. Paul Farhi, Washington Post. January 8, 2007. Last accessed January 10, 2007.
  25. ^ "Hot 100 Songs – Year-End 2006". Billboard. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  26. ^ Shepherd, Julianne (August 18, 2006). "Soul Bounce: Crunk 'n' B 101". Archived from the original on September 13, 2007.
  27. ^ Hope, Clover (May 11, 2006). "Rihanna Stays Strong On Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  28. ^ "Cherish and Sean Paul Of The Youngbloodz - Do It To It". aCharts.us. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  29. ^ [1] Archived 2009-11-01 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. October 21, 2006. Archived from the original on October 7, 2022. Retrieved November 18, 2023.
  31. ^ Jonathan Cohen, Reigns Again Atop Hot 100", Billboard.com, June 14, 2007.
  32. ^ Jonathan Cohen, "Rihanna, Shop Boyz, Fergie Locked In On Hot 100", Billboard.com, June 28, 2007.
  33. ^ Artist biography Billboard.com. Retrieved July 7, 2009.
  34. ^ MySpace.com - Hurricane Chris:51/50 Ratchet IN STORES NOW!! - Shreveport, Louisiana - Rap / Hip Hop - www.myspace.com/hurricane
  35. ^ "Hurricane Chris takes hip-hop scene like a storm - USATODAY.com".
  36. ^ "Hot 100 Songs – Year-End 2007". Billboard. Retrieved December 1, 2019.

Further reading[edit]