“Eye-unh!,” “Hunh!,” and “Hiuiiii!” were universally accepted as James Brown lyrics before crunk king Jonathan “Lil Jon” Smith was conceived. Dave Chappelle may have elevated the ATLien’s zeitgeist-surfing catchphrase “Yeah! Whuuuut? Okaaay!” to “Where’s the Beef?”–ian proportions but the veritable Niggapalooza of Crunk Juice shows the Promethean famous flame ain’t been passed. Usher-spiced “crunk & b,” “Lovers and Friends,” and “crunk-rock” midwife Rick Rubin’s “Stop F***in Wit Me” aside, the diminutive pimp-chalice-wielding pop-cum-popshot potentate wannabe is precariously poised between magical transformation into 21st-century Superspade brandishing press-on platinum grill and Crunk Caligula perpetuating the bass-heavy partay, despite hip- hop’s gathering twilight outside the chrome gates of SWAT.

Fortunate to have the Georgian armada of Little Richard-JB-SoSo Def-Dungeon Family (plus Floridian “cuz” Luke) behind him, Lil is truly a singles artist and “What U Gon Do” rivals neither the ubiquitous “Get Low” nor sublime if rampantly misogynist “Play No Games.” Crunk Juice attempts to be a united whole, where every track bangs and co-stars include Ice Cube, Usher, Snoop, and R. Kelly (!). Even Chris Rock, whose backhanded compliments on Never Scared first elevated the über-producer above the fray, has been neutralized by the bass Bop Gun, pressed into service on flat skits. LJ&ESB defy sellout accusations by taking refuge in street sensibility, making three-fourths of the disc an exercise in tedium, despite a Spector-esque wall o’ crunk. His Dr. Crunkenstein credentials surface on the good final tracks—sump for dem 60-year-old white grannies who accost him at Lenox Mall with “Whuuuut?! Okayyy!”—beginning with anthemic go-go paean “Aw Skeet Skeet,” a joy to these Chocolate City-bred ears.

The beats orbit hath proclaimed Lil Jon on par with his idol Timbaland, the Neptunes, Dre, and Organized Noize, but sonic gnosis courtesy Kraftwerk plus Clay D may be more apt. LJ&ESB are hangin’ tough for now, keeping many precincts beyond the Dirty Dirty undeniably crunktastic. Alas, po’ Crunkspeare hath got much distracted by keepin’ it real for Bankhead, what with his MTV cartoon, his lucrative and Hennessy-ready Crunk!!! energy drink, and his American Sex Series crunk-porno venture, not to mention providing beats for everybody from Petey Pablo to hotel ‘ho Paris Hilton. Hark the prime directive, son: What’s hip today might become passé. Let Lil Jon’s primordial dancefloor ethics and the more complex persona invoked by Chappelle’s masterful skits steer our booty-bard toward the splendors of iambic poontameter.

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