Lil Jon

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Lil Jon
Lil Jon.jpg
Lil Jon in 2007
Background information
Birth nameJonathan Smith
Born (1971-01-17) January 17, 1971 (age 48)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • DJ
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • synthesizer
  • drum machine
  • sampler
Years active1991–present
Associated acts

Jonathan Smith (born January 17, 1971), known professionally as Lil Jon,[1] is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and DJ based in Atlanta, Georgia.[2] He was the lead frontman of the multi-platinum selling rap group, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz[3] and was instrumental in the emergence of the sub hip/hop genre Crunk.[4] He is credited with bringing the genre into mainstream success, producing Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles "Get Low," "Goodies," "Cyclone," "Freek-a-Leek," and "Yeah!"[5] "Yeah!" won a Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Performance. Lil Jon is also a frequent collaborator with friend and fellow rapper Pitbull. In 2013, Lil Jon collaborated with DJ Snake and released the EDM multi-platinum hit, "Turn Down For What," that won Billboard Music Award for Top Dance/Electronic Song.[6] The music video for the single, released in 2014, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video, and has been viewed over 900 million times on YouTube as of October 2019.[7] As of 2016, Lil Jon is listed as one of the Top Billboard Music Award Winners of All Time.[8]

Early life[edit]

Jonathan Smith was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in a middle-class Southwest Atlanta neighborhood. He is oldest of five children born to his father, an engineer at Lockheed Martin and to his mother who was in the Army Reserves.[4] While in middle school, he met Robert McDowell, Dwayne Searcy and Vince Philips, who would become his lifelong friends and business partners. The trio quickly became immersed in the skateboarding culture and would later work at Skate Escape, a popular skate and bicycle shop near the city's Piedmont Park. Smith attended Frederick Douglass High School, was in magnet program and a member of the school's marching band.[4]

At age 15, Lil Jon taught himself how to DJ[4] and although his parents were strict, they gave him a chance to work on his DJ skills by allowing him to have house parties in the basement of the family home, citing that they would rather have him under their watch than for him to "be in the street somewhere wilding out."[9] The parties, hosted by Lil Jon and Searcy were called "Old Eng and Chicken Parties" which became extremely popular with teenagers in the area. In addition to working at the skate shop, Lil Jon also began working in local dance clubs as a DJ.[4]

So So Def Recordings: 1992–2000[edit]

After graduating high school, Lil Jon continued to work as a DJ in a popular downtown Atlanta club.[4] It was there he met Jermaine Dupri and MC Finchy, who was said to be the inspiration of his future work. When it came to hiring an A&R to lead his Atlanta-based music label So So Def, Jermaine Dupri stated that "All I could think about was Lil Jon, because he was the person in the clubs. He knew people, DJs knew him. I had to hire him."

After he was promoted to Executive Vice President of A&R, Lil Jon recruited local producers and rappers DJ Smurf, Shawty Redd, Raheem the Dream, Playa Poncho with others to create the compilation album series, So So Def Bass All Stars as his first project.[10] Released on May 22, 1996, the album was a success, selling over 500,000 units and was certified Gold by the RIAA on September 19, 1995, four months after its initial release.[11] The album, executive produced by Lil Jon, included the hit single, My Boo by Ghost Town DJs.[12] It was sampled by Ciara in her 2013 smash, Body Parts[13] In 2016, 20 years after its initial release, the song re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 29.[14] Lil Jon completed the series, releasing So So Def Bass All-Stars Vol. II (1997)[15] and So So Def Bass All-Stars Vol. III (1998).[16]

Apart from his label commitments, Lil Jon was a radio personality/DJ on Atlanta radio station, V-103,[17] continued to produce music for outside music artists, and was still working as a DJ at popular clubs around the city.[4]

Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz: 1995–2005[edit]

Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz
OriginAtlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Years active1995–2005
  • Black Market
  • TVT
Associated acts
Past membersLil Jon
Big Sam
Lil' Bo

Lil Jon collaborated with Big Sam (born Sammie Dernard Norris) and Lil' Bo (born Wendell Maurice Neal) to form a musical rap group. Sam and Bo both grew up on the east side of Metropolitan Atlanta area (Dekalb County) and thus chose the name, The East Side Boyz.[18]

In 1996, the group released their debut single, "Who U Wit?" The song is credited as bringing the term "crunk" into hip-hop currency.[4] In 1997, the group released their debut album Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. The singles, "Who U Wit?" (produced by Lil Jon) and "Shawty Freak a Lil Sumthin" (produced by DJ Toomp), charted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at No. 70 and No. 62, respectively.[19] In 2000, through the newly created label Black Market, the group released their breakthrough album We Still Crunk! which featured the single, "I Like Dem Girlz," which reached No. 55 on the Billboard R&B and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks charts.[19]

The team was well equipped with prior experience at promoting albums and worked to grow the group's fan base across radio markets.[20] Promotional street teams that were hired major music labels to promote their repertoire, began to talk within music promotion circles on how successful Lil Jon and his team were on the ground and were gaining radio airplay in radio markets that were usually difficult for non local artists to break into.[20]

Bryan Leach, formerly an A&R executive at New York based label TVT Records, heard about the group attended their Atlanta show. He was blown away by the group's immense energy. 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."[20] By 2001, Leach signed Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz to TVT Records with Black Market delivering the albums to the label. The group released the album Put Yo Hood Up, which combined previously released tracks with new ones. "Bia' Bia'," which featured rappers Ludacris, Oakland rap legend, Too Short, New York based DJ, Big Kap, along with newcomer, New Orleans's rapper Chyna Whyte was the group's first single to be played nationally.[1] "Bia' Bia'" peaked at No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 47 on the Billboard R&B chart.[19] The album was certified Gold by the RIAA in June 2002.[21]

In 2002, the group release their sophomore studio album under the label, Kings of Crunk. with the song "I Don't Give A..." as the first single. The song featured former No Limit Records artist, Mystikal and former Ruthless Records artist, Krayzie Bone. It peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard R&B chart.[19] The group's next single, "Get Low" featured fellow Atlanta hip hop group, Ying Yang Twins and became popular in nightclubs nationwide; it reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.[19] The album was certified multi-platinum by the RIAA in August 2004.[21] In 2003, the group released Part II, a remix album of previously released singles with a two new songs.

In 2004, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz released what would be the group's last studio album, Crunk Juice. The lead single "What U Gon' Do" featuring BME Recordings' artist, Lil' Scrappy peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, No. 13 on the Billboard R&B chart, and No. 5 on the Billboard Rap chart. The second single, "Lovers & Friends" featuring Usher and Ludacris, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, No. 2 on the Billboard R&B Chart, and No. 1 on Billboard Rap Charts.[19] The album was certified multi-platinum in January 2005, two months after it was released.[21] In 2005, after releasing six studio albums together and amidst ongoing creative and financial conflicts with TVT Records, the group disbanded.

Solo career: 2006–present[edit]

In 2006, Lil Jon, in an attempt to fulfill his obligations to TVT released the single, "Snap Yo Fingers." The song was produced by Lil Jon and features BME Recording's artist E-40 and Sean P. The song peaked at #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum on November 22, 2006.[3] After the song was released, label negotiations broke down and Lil Jon severed all ties vowing to never to record for TVT Records again.[22] In 2008, TVT Records, embroiled in legal battles, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[23]

Lil Jon released his first solo album, Crunk Rock, on June 8, 2010, through Universal Republic Records. It featured artists such as LMFAO, Ying Yang Twins, Pitbull, 3OH3, Ice Cube, Waka Flocka Flame, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and more.[24] The album peaked at No. 8 on Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Albums and reached No.5 on Billboard Rap Albums. The single "Hey" featuring 3OH3 was also featured on MTV's Jersey Shore Soundtrack with the entire cast appearing the music video.[25] The second single, "Outta Your Mind" was featured in the film, Project X and used by Alex & Twitch on the Fox television series, So You Think You Can Dance, which is considered to be the finest hip-hop routine ever performed on the show.[26]

In July 2011, he released a song with LMFAO called "Drink" through Ultra Records. It was used in the trailer for the film The World's End. In 2013, Lil Jon collaborated with DJ Snake and released "Turn Down for What" on Columbia Records. The song achieved No. 1 on Billboard's Rhythmic, and Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, No 2. on Dance/Mix Show Airplay No. 4 on Hot 100, and No. 5 on Mainstream Top 40. The song has had significant use in media and was certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA.[27] In 2013, Lil Jon partnered with Zumba Fitness to create a new nightclub tour titled "Zumba Nightclub Series" and for the Zumba Fitness series, he released a new song called "Work". On July 22, 2014, Lil Jon released a single titled "Bend Ova", featuring Tyga and released on Epic Records.[28][29] "Take It Off" featuring Yandel and Becky G was released on July 22, 2016 and the single "Alive" was released in 2018, featuring Offset and 2 Chainz on Geffen Records.[30] In December 2018, Lil Jon released a Christmas single "All I Really Want for Christmas (featuring Kool-Aid Man)" in cooperation with Kool-Aid brand soft drinks.[31]

Record label: BME Recordings[edit]

In 2004, Smith, McDowell, Phillips and Searcy launched BME Recordings in a deal with Warner Bros. Records and released The King of Crunk & BME Recordings Present: Trillville & Lil Scrappy (2004) with Lil Jon producing most of the album.[32] The album single "Some Cut" has been a favorite of samplers over the years.[33] In a venture with Lil Scrappy's label the single, "Knuck If You Buck" and self titled album was released by the rap group, Crime Mob. The label entered the San Francisco Bay Area hyphy music scene with Bay Area rapper E-40, releasing the album, My Ghetto Report Card (2006) with the Lil Jon produced single "Tell Me When To Go." The label released the album Bred 2 Die, Born 2 Live (2006) by Lil Scrappy.

Musical style and influences[edit]

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". Describing that album with guest performers, Birchmeier remarked: "The end result is an album that resembles a street-level mixtape rather than a traditional artist-oriented album".[34]

Lil Jon 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".[35] Lil Jon has also found influence in rock music, having worked with Rick Rubin and Korn.[36] He expresses this influence 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 he used to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd while 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".[37]


In 2003, Lil Jon was the voice of Jang Ryang in the American remake of the South Korean film, Volcano High, broadcast on MTV. After he was famously parodied by comedian Dave Chappelle, he would go on to make numerous appearances on Comedy Central series, Chappelle's Show.[38] He has since appeared on various TV shows including, André 3000's animated series Class of 3000, Crank Yankers, Hell's Kitchen, Tiny House Nation, Hollywood Puppet Show, American Idol, About A Boy, Celebrity Apprentice, and All-Star Celebrity Apprentice, Bar Rescue, The Bachelorette, Hip Hop Squares, and a commercial for Bud Light[39][40] Lil Jon is a fan of the television show The Walking Dead and has made multiple appearances as a guest on Talking Dead.[41] On January 29, 2019, a Pepsi Super bowl Commercial featuring Lil Jon, rapper Cardi B and actor Steve Carell was released.[42]

Personal life[edit]

Since 2004, Lil Jon has been married to his wife Nicole and together they have a son, Nathan (also known as DJ Slade), who was born to the couple in 1998.[43] Lil Jon has stated that one of his greatest joys is seeing everything come full circle with his son, who has been DJ’ing since the age of 11.[44]

He is an avid fan of all of Atlanta's sports teams which included the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers until they relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.[45] He has since become a fan of the NHL's newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights and University of Tennessee Volunteers, which the latter adopted 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 also visited the team, giving them a pep talk.

Lil Jon has been using his star power and wealth to help children in underdeveloped countries gain access to a proper education. He has helped to fund two school in the village of Mafi Atitekpo in Ghana, in partnership with the charity, Pencils of Promise. The first, Abomayaw D.A. Kindergarten, opened in October 2017. The second school, Mafi Atitekpo DA Primary School broke ground in January 2018 and will enroll 313 children.[46]

In 2018, a 16-year-old student of Douglass High School reached out to rapper and alumnus Killer Mike via Instagram in a last chance attempt to raise money to cover expenses for the marching band to travel to New Orleans to march in the annual Mardi Gras parade. To his surprise, Killer Mike not only responded voicing his support, he also recruited fellow alumni Lil Jon and T.I., who both jumped at the chance to help out their alma mater. Together with additional donors, the trip was covered for the students.[47]


Lil Jon's general marketing logo, used since 2001

Solo albums[edit]

with The East Side Boyz[edit]


Grammy Awards[edit]

A Grammy Award (stylized as GRAMMY) is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievement in the music industry.

Year Recipient Category Result
2005 "Yeah!" (with Usher and Ludacris) Record of the Year Nominated
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Won
Best R&B Song Nominated
"Confessions" (with Usher) Album of the Year Nominated
2015 "Turn Down for What" (with DJ Snake) Best Music Video Nominated

MTV Video Music Awards[edit]

An MTV Video Music Award (abbreviated as a VMA) is an award presented by the cable channel MTV to honor the best in the music video medium.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2014 "Turn Down for What" (with DJ Snake) MTV Clubland Award Nominated
Best Direction Won
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Best Art Direction Nominated

American Music Awards[edit]

The American Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony created by Dick Clark in 1973. Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz has received two nominations, winning one for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Band/Duo/Group.[48][49]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
American Music Awards Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Band/Duo/Group Won
2005 Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Band/Duo/Group Nominated


Television appearances[edit]

Video game appearances[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Birchmeier, Jason (2006). "Lil Jon – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  2. ^ "Lil Jon:Artist Page". Recording Academy. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Gold and Platinum Certifications". RIAA. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Sarig, Roni. "Lil Jon heralds a new Southern music movement". Creative Loafing. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  5. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (November 28, 2004). "Lil John Crunks Up the Volume". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  6. ^ "Billboard Music Awards Full Winners List". Billboard. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  7. ^ DJSnakeVEVO, DJ Snake, Lil Jon – Turn Down for What, retrieved January 28, 2019
  8. ^ "Top Billboard Music Award Winners of All Time (1990–2016)". Billboard. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  9. ^ Presno, Caroline. "Lil Jon Talks Fatherhood, Marriage, and His Hit Party Anthem "Turn Down For What"". HuffPost. Huffington Post. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  10. ^ "So So Def at 20: How it all began". Creative Loafing. February 21, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "Gold & Platinum". RIAA. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  12. ^ "Heard and Unseen: The Oral History of Ghost Town DJ's 'My Boo' | SPIN". May 26, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  13. ^ "Heard and Unseen: The Oral History of Ghost Town DJ's 'My Boo'". Spin. May 26, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  14. ^ "Ghost Town DJ's' 1996 Hit 'My Boo' Reaches New Hot 100 High Thanks to Viral Dance Video". Billboard. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  15. ^ "So So Def Bass All-Stars, Vol. 2 – Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  16. ^ "So So Def Bass All-Stars – Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  17. ^ "Lil Jon". Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  18. ^ Reid, Shaheem (November 1, 2004). "Lil' Jon: Big Chips (page 2)". MTV News. Archived from the original on November 12, 2004. Retrieved May 18, 2010.
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Lil Jon > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  20. ^ a b c Mean, Jean-Francois. "Interview with Bryan Leach". Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  21. ^ a b c "RIAA Certifications". RIAA. The Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  22. ^ "Lil Jon Readies Rock Album". Archived from the original on September 12, 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2006.
  23. ^ "TVT to file for bankruptcy". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  24. ^ VIBE: Lil Jon Goes to the Orchard Archived September 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Anitai, Tamar. "Video Premiere: Lil Jon Featuring 3OH!3, 'Hey'". MTV News. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  26. ^ "Ellen DeGeneres to dance with tWitch on 'SYTYCD' finale". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  27. ^ "RIAA – Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – November, 2016". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  28. ^ "iTunes – Music – Bend Ova (feat. Tyga) – Single by Lil Jon". iTunes. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  29. ^ Kevin Goddard. "Lil Jon – Bend Ova (CDQ) Feat. Tyga". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  30. ^ "Take It Off (feat. Yandel & Becky G) – Single by Lil Jon". July 22, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  31. ^ Chloe Melas. "Lil Jon did a Christmas song with Kool-Aid Man and the holidays will never be the same". CNN. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  32. ^ "Lil Jon Launches His Own Label, BME Recordings". February 3, 2004. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  33. ^ Leight, Elias; Leight, Elias (November 28, 2018). "The Squeaking Bed Sample: How Hip-Hop's Horniest Sound Effect Conquered the World". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  34. ^ Birchmeier, Jason (May 22, 2001). "Put Yo Hood Up: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  35. ^ Henderson, Alex (2002). "Kings of Crunk: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  36. ^ Reid, Shaheem (May 12, 2004). "Lil Jon Bangs Head, Creates 'Crunk-Rock'". MTV News. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  37. ^ Reid, Shaheem (May 17, 2006). "Lil Jon Wants To Double His Gold By Becoming King Of Rock". MTV News. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  38. ^ III, Robby Seabrook. "Today in Hip-Hop: Dave Chappelle As Lil Jon on 'Chappelle's Show' – XXL". XXL Mag. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  39. ^ "Lil Jon on Bud Light Commerical [sic], Pressures of Being the Life of the Party & New Music". Billboard. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  40. ^ "Lil Jon | TV Guide". TV Guide. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  41. ^ Rodney Ho, Radio and TV Talk. "Whaat? Yeaaahh! Okaaay! Atlanta 'Walking Dead' super fan Lil Jon shows up on "Talking Dead"". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  42. ^ "Cardi B, Lil Jon & Steve Carrell Are Way Better Than Just 'OK' in Pepsi Super Bowl Commercial: Watch Full Ad". Billboard. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  43. ^ "SPOTTED: Lil Jon & His Wife & Son Have Family Dinner At Katsuya". The Young, Black, and Fabulous. Retrieved January 30, 2014.
  44. ^ Presno,Caroline. "Lil Jon Talks Fatherhood, Marriage, and his Party Anthem "Turn Down For What"". HuffPost. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  45. ^ Joe Yerdon (February 8, 2012). "Your moment of zen: Lil' Jon hanging with the Montreal Canadiens". NBC Sports. Retrieved January 30, 2014.
  46. ^ Melas, Chloe. "Rapper Lil Jon breaks ground on second school in Ghana". CNN. CNN. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  47. ^ Poole,Sheila. "Rappers,others to help high school band get to Mardi Gras". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  48. ^ "2003 AMA Nominees". Billboard. September 16, 2003. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  49. ^ "AMA Award History". RockOnTheNet. Retrieved June 21, 2018.

External links[edit]