Jonathan Smith (born January 17, 1971), better known by his stage name Lil Jon, is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and international DJ who was a member of the group Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz. Lil Jon formed the group in 1997, and the group released several albums between then and 2004. He then went solo and released a new album in 2010 called Crunk Rock. He was also featured on Celebrity Apprentice during its 11th and 13th seasons.
Life and career:
Born and raised in Atlanta Georgia, Smith graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta. After working as a DJ for Atlanta night clubs, he started working for So So Def Recordings between 1993 and 2000.
Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz:
Smith took the stage name Lil Jon and formed musical group Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz with hype men/rappers Big Sam (born Sammie D. Norris) and Lil' Bo (born Wendell Maurice Neal). The group signed to the Atlanta-based Mirror Image Records and were distributed by Ichiban Records. In 1997, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz debuted with Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. It included singles "Who U Wit?" and "Shawty Freak a Lil' Sumthin'", the latter of which came out in 1998. Both singles charted on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at No. 70 and No. 62 respectively. In 2000, Jon took part in starting up his own label BME Recordings and signed a distribution agreement with Norcross, Georgia based Southern Music Distribution. There he released his breakthrough album titled We Still Crunk. Among the tracks on that project was the hit single "I Like Those Girls," which reached No. 55 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart.
After hearing feedback that Lil Jon was "the new guy" from street team people in the markets where he was attracting his biggest audiences - namely Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis and Dallas - A&R at TVT, Bryan Leach, went to one of his Atlanta shows and was blown away by the immense energy of the experience. 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." Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz signed to TVT Records in 2001 and debuted there with Put Yo Hood Up, which combined previously released tracks with new ones. The group's first nationally played single was "Bia' Bia'", which featured rappers Ludacris, Too Short, Big Kapp, and Chyna Whyte. "Bia' Bia'" peaked at No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 47 on the Billboard R&B chart.
In 2002, the group released Kings of Crunk. "I Don't Give A..." was its first single; it featured Mystikal and Krayzie Bone and peaked at No. 50 on the R&B chart. The group's next single, a collaboration with fellow Atlanta hip hop group Ying Yang Twins titled "Get Low", became popular in nightclubs nationwide and reached the top ten of the Hot 100.Crunk Juice followed in 2004, led by "What U Gon' Do" featuring Lil' Scrappy. "What U Gon' Do" peaked at No. 22 on the Hot 100, No. 13 on the R&B chart, and No. 5 on the rap chart; its follow-up, "Lovers & Friends" featuring Usher and Ludacris, peaked at No. 3 (Hot 100), No. 2 (R&B), and No. 1 (rap).
Solo career and production:
In addition to leading Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, Lil Jon has also produced many hit urban singles. From 2003 to 2005, while still with The East Side Boyz, Lil Jon produced hits like "Salt Shaker" by Ying Yang Twins, "Yeah!" by Usher, "Freek-a-Leek" by Petey Pablo, "Shorty Wanna Ride" by Young Buck, "Shake That Monkey" by Too Short, "Let's Go" by Trick Daddy, "Girlfight" by Brooke Valentine, "Presidential" by YoungBloodZ. Lil Jon entered the San Francisco Bay Area hyphy music scene in 2006 with his collaborations with Bay Area rapper E-40: Lil Jon produced E-40's single "Tell Me When To Go" and had E-40 and Atlanta rapper, Sean P of the YoungBloodZ, on his own "Snap Yo Fingers". During that same year he produced a song called "Go to Church" for Ice Cube. In 2006, Lil Jon severed his negotiation with record label TVT. He vowed never to record for TVT Records again, alleging that TVT owner Steve Gottlieb was shortchanging him. He also began recording a rock music album, Crunk Rock
MTV News reported in March 2008 that Crunk Rock was taking more time to complete than Lil Jon already planned. As part of TVT Records' 2008 bankruptcy auction, Lil Jon withdrew his multi-million dollar objection to the TVT sale proceedings and agreed to TVT's transfer of his artist agreement to The Orchard. In return, The Orchard released Lil Jon from all future obligations and returned the rights to the master recordings of Crunk Rock. Crunk Rock was finally released on June 8, 2010 and it features artists such as LMFAO, Soulja Boy, Ying Yang Twins, Waka Flocka Flame, R. Kelly, and many more. In March 2011, Lil Jon took part in the fourth season of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC and was eliminated in the Final Four. In July 2011, in a recent interview has said that he is working on a new studio album called Party Animal and has released a song with LMFAO called "Drink", which was used in the trailer for the film The World's End. In 2013, Lil Jon partnered with Zumba Fitness to create a new nightclub tour titled "Zumba Nightclub Series". For Zumba Fitness, he released a new song called "Work". In December 2013, Lil Jon collaborated with DJ Snake and released "Turn Down for What" on Columbia Records. In January 2014, the single entered the top 5 on the Dance/Electronic chart and debuted No. 38 on Billboard's Hot 100. The song was certified gold in February 2014.
Musical style and influences:
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". With the guest performers featured on that album much more than the East Side Boyz, Birchmeier remarked: "The end result is an album that resembles a street-level mixtape rather than a traditional artist-oriented album". He 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". Lil Jon has also found influence in rock music, having worked with Rick Rubin and Korn. This influence embodies itself 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 also used to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd 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".
Lil Jon has been a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice, finishing 4th in its 11th season 3rd in its 13th season, The All-Star Celebrity Apprentice.
Lil Jon married Nicole Smith in 2004. They have a son named Nathan (born in 1998). He was an avid fan of the NHL Atlanta Thrashers franchise until they relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.