Ironically, during Jon's seven-year tenure with JD, one of his greatest misses was not signing the MC who eventually rapped on his biggest hit record.
Lil Jon and Ludacris
"It's funny, he vetoed Ludacris," Dupri says. "I asked everybody in the office about Ludacris and [Jon] ain't give me the nod I needed. Ludacris would have been signed to So So Def, but [Jon] didn't think Ludacris was going to be who he is today."
Jon did shine, however, on a small project Dupri green lit for $100,000 back in 1996. It was a compilation album of unknowns dubbed the So So Def Bass All-Stars. Jon spearheaded the project and the album went on to spawn the Ghostown DJs hit "My Boo" and sell over a million copies. Two other Bass compilations followed in '97 and '98.
Did you know ...
Sam and Bo do a lot more than just act as Lil Jon's hypemen while onstage. The two East Side Boyz are actually an integral part of the collective's hitmaking project. The ESB are pretty nifty when it comes to the pen, writing all the hooks for the group. "Skeet, skeet, skeet." ...
Sam Norris, a.k.a. Big Sam
Wendell Neal, a.k.a. Lil' Bo
"That was his biggest claim to fame," Jermaine recalls. "I wanted to see him take his lane. I started noticing he had the knowledge to go out there and get records made. I don't even know how them records was made. I left it to him."
Jon couldn't be confined to an office for long, though — he had bigger dreams. In 1999 he was eventually amicably let go by Dupri, but that turned out to be a blessing. Jon and the East Side Boyz had already been putting out their own records independently (beginning with 1997's Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album) as a side gig, and by 2000, Jon was garnering heavy buzz.
"I was in Atlanta meeting with [producers] Organized Noize and a couple of other people who were hot at the time," TVT Vice President of Urban A&R Bryan Leach remembers, sitting in his label's offices. "Jon's name kept coming up. I would go to the clubs and keep hearing 'Just a Bitch' — which was the original 'Bia', Bia' ' — 'Who You Wit' and 'I Like Dem Girlz.' I was like, 'Who the f--- is Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz?' They were controlling the underground. He sold 100,000 singles and 40,000 albums on his own."
Bryan Leach and Lil Jon
Leach quickly signed Jon's group. In 2001, the trio released their TVT debut, Put Yo Hood Up. Not only did it solidify Jon as a force in the South, it broadened his appeal to the North with the blockbuster breakthrough "Bia' Bia'," which featured Ludacris.
"We quickly realized we were at the forefront of a movement nationally," Leach says. "Jon didn't create the crunk movement, but he was at the forefront. It was groups like Three 6 Mafia and Sammy Sam who were doing crunk music before him. It got more and more exciting as Jon grew because it was hard as hell to get the records played at first."
"We went from no press, no TV, no nothing to a whole heck of a lot of press and TV," Jon said in 2001 as "Bia' Bia' " was taking off. "We just did a show in Salisbury, Maryland. We never thought we would be doing shows [as far north as] Maryland. The reaction is incredible."
Jon's work was obviously not done yet, though. A year later, in late 2002, he and the ESB came back gritty as ever, but now with the right mix to have pop appeal, with Kings of Crunk and the smash "Get Low."
After two singles and videos and 500,000 records sold, TVT finally put out a video for "Get Low" and Jon's rise to superstardom was fast-tracked.