Nearly eight years after last visiting the Top 10 of the Hot 100 chart as a lead act, Lil Jon returned last week with “Turn Down The What,” his manic dance banger with DJ Snake, which jumped 15-10 on the tally. The surprise crossover hit, which also reaches No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart last week, is Lil Jon’s first major hit as a lead artist since “Snap Yo Fingers” in 2006, and the producer tells Billboard that it “definitely feels good” to return to the Top 10 after years of experimenting with EDM music.
“Some people think I just disappeared off the face of the earth,” says the 42-year-old Lil Jon, “but other people in the EDM world know that I’ve constantly been on hit records over the last couple years. It’s great validation to the fact that I’m still around, I’m still doing my thing, and I’ve got a classic voice.”
Indeed, after becoming arguably the most recognizable face of the crunk rap movement in the mid-00’s thanks to smashes like “Get Low,” Usher’s “Yeah!” and “What U Gon’ Do,” Lil Jon began dabbling in dance music and scored three tracks on the Dance Club Songs chart from 2009-2012. He views his energetic 2007 collaboration with Pitbull, “The Anthem,” as a pivotal moment that “opened up a world that I didn’t really know about,” and that song was followed by dance cuts like Pitbull’s “Krazy,” his remix of David Guetta’s “Sexy Bitch” with Chuckie, LMFAO’s “Shots” and Paradiso Girls’ “Patron Tequila.”
Lil Jon, who began his first Las Vegas DJ residency in 2010 and has become a regular at Ultra Music Festival, says that fans shouldn’t have been surprised when his musical focus started shifting toward electronic music.
“I have always been a person who has not wanted to be put in a box, so I was the always the artist and the producer that did stuff that normal hip-hop artists don’t do,” he says. “I like to collaborate with all kinds of artists, so this is nothing new from what I’ve been doing my entire career… I make club music, whether it’s rap or dance. I make music for people to dance to and party to. It doesn’t matter the tempo, or who the artist is.”
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Lil Jon first met French producer DJ Snake “a couple of years” ago through DJ/producer Clinton Sparks, and when Snake sent him the beat for “Turn Down For What” last year, it originally had a Redman vocal sample that Jon was supposed to redo for his friend. Deeming the sample incompatible with the track, Jon decided to record his own catchphrase over the instrumental, and “turn down for what” immediately came to mind.
“The genre of the song is dance, but it’s really a hip-hop beat,” says Jon. “It captures a moment with people — they listen to the song, and no matter what they’re doing, it pushes them to do something. If you’re in the gym and it comes on, it’s like, why are you going to stop? Work out harder! If you’re out partying and the song comes on, it’s like, let’s have another shot!”
After he spends the week on a DJ tour through Asia, Lil Jon will be in Las Vegas spinning at Wynn and Encore this summer, with some Europe festivals scattered in between his residencies. He has collaborations with Flosstradamus, DJ Kronic and Tyga in the works, and possibly a new album — his first since 2010’s “Crunk Rock” — coming shortly.
“I think it’s about time to put an album in the next couple months,” says Lil Jon, “so we’ll see what label wants to come and sign me up.”