By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Mainstream culture, as it is with most other hot hip-hop trends, was embarrassingly late in discovering the bombast and distinctive synthesizers of Lil Jon. His 2001 major-label debut, Put Yo Hood Up, definitely wasn't the first example of crunk, a style of booming drawl-rap pumped up by house beats and repetitive, shouted choruses. But it caught fire at the right time.
The next few years would see similar ATL artists ride the crunk wave--Ying Yang Twins, in particular--but Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz stood out with hyper-aggressive hooks that piled dozens of shouts on top of each other. The effect is hypnotic, particularly on the 2001 CD's title track. When Lil Jon shouts "Represent your shit, mothafucka!" over and over, you're almost willed to yell it back. Hey, even if it's inexplicably angry, it's still memorable.
But those who only saw Lil Jon on Chappelle's Show might be surprised after actually listening to his tracks; the Dallas Police Department certainly was when it tried to explain the senseless shooting deaths of Lendl Carey and Kenneth Haggerdy on Sunday, July 16.
Police reports claim the shooting in front of downtown nightclub El Angel was gang-related and that witnesses told police the violence was ignited by "Put Yo Hood Up"; other witnesses have refuted those claims, but The Dallas Morning News was happy to take the allegation (and the Lil Jon lyrics handed out at the police news conference) to great heights when columnist Steve Blow declared, "This time the link between the music and the dead is irrefutable."
My thoughts on that Blow column--and the belief that music should really be held accountable--can be found at our Unfair Park blog under the title, "Steve Blow is an Idiot." But as I said on the blog, the Tipper Gore blame game is played out (and probably insulting to the surviving families of the young men, to boot). What's more interesting here is that the news has cast a spotlight on the surprisingly tough job of the Dallas hip-hop club DJ.
"The whole purpose is to get people to buy drinks," says DJ Whiz T, a longtime local producer who regularly spins at Dallas dance clubs such as Blue and Club X. "That's what the club owner wants you to do: get people in there, have a good time, get the guys to buy girls drinks. You have to have a festive atmosphere to make that happen."
The bigger hip-hop dance clubs (the ones previously listed, along with Nairobi and Palm Beach Club) are known for choosing DJs who play top-40 tracks and "banger" cuts (bling, gangstas and dumbed-down booty tracks). If Dallas DJs want a paying gig at a club, they better have Lil Jon and other aggressive/crunk hits waiting in their crates. Otherwise, club owners will just find another DJ.
The way Whiz T puts it, there might not be a harder tightrope to walk--get the crowd moving (and drunk) with a limited palette of songs, too many of which are potential powder kegs. Sure, a drunk patron is unstoppable if he's got stupid on his mind, and most of the time--huge surprise!--nothing bad happens because of the music. But Whiz T recognizes some responsibility: "You can't just give the crowd what they want to hear. That's where your ability and talent as a DJ has to come through. Some DJs get so far off into the fight music that they let it take over. Sometimes, the music can dictate the situation...I might have this click in here, this gang in here. If I throw this [song] out, it might cause a fight."
Clicks? Gangs? I just wanna hear that new Strange Fruit Project joint, sheez. But for Dallas DJs, the vicious cycle is there--no large clubs support local hip-hop, forcing quality DJs to pander to top-40 tastes at oversized, over-liquored dance clubs. And public opinion is now putting a ridiculous burden on hip-hop DJs, people who just love music, to somehow act as crowd control.
Until a legitimate club consistently gives voice to the local hip-hop community--which has never sparked a conflict and controversy like this, by the way--all I can do is recommend the rare flashes of local brilliance that the scene gives out in concert, like this weekend's Final Friday gig at Gypsy Tea Room. Dow Jones and Boondox headline the bill, while DJ B-Smoove will man the tables...but please don't be the jerk who asks him to play "Put Yo Hood Up."