The ambition level of Crunk Rock, Lil Jon’s long-delayed follow-up to Crunk Juice, is revealed almost immediately, in the 50-second bumper track that kicks off the album. “Crunk Rock” finds him on a stage somewhere, bombarded by the screams of his fans, who he stirs into a frenzy with a quick call-and-response exercise, unleashing all his signature exclamations in rapid succession: “What?!/Yeah!/Okay!”
Apparently satisfied with being known as a walking catch phrase, Jon uses his comeback to remind us of the shape of his character, gathering up an arsenal of cartoon signifiers and surrounding himself with familiar collaborators. The whole thing might seem inherently tragic were it not so certain of itself; started back in late 2005, Crunk Rock was intended as a shot in the arm for a flagging career. Roughly five years later, it arrives feeling like a hastily packed time capsule that was never actually buried.
The fact that Jon has clearly been fussing around with these tracks for years, adding up-to-the-minute guests like the weirdo hybrid LMFAO and Gucci Mane disciple Waka Flocka Flame, belies how old some of the material probably is. Initial lead single “Snap Yo Fingas” came out way back in February of 2006, a period when, for context, James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” was topping the charts. “Snap Yo Fingas” doesn’t even appear here, already consigned to TVT’s 2006 Crunk Hits compilation.
All this holdup has morphed Crunk Rock into a kind of career assessment in motion, mashing Jon’s past together with his present in songs that have been gestating for years. It also functions as a broad, if limited, crunk reunion that assembles many of the subgenre’s principal players. If it doesn’t necessarily remind us why Jon was vital, it does reassert why he’s so bizarrely likable, helming a production style that hasn’t changed much since he initially pioneered it. The songs here are thick, silly concoctions, glazed with bass and defined by endless repetition, whirlwinds of chants and shouts that circle like demented carousels.
In terms of star power, the most Jon can muster is a strange cast of incidental characters, exemplified by the stomping “Killers,” which features Ice Cube, Game, Elephant Man, and Whole Wheat Bread (a strange rap-punk act that has toured with both Bouncing Souls and Wu-Tang’s Killah Priest). The song is as much of a mess as it sounds like, dominated by loud background presences and a lot of hollow attitude. But it’s also a lot of fun, adding to a party atmosphere that ends up being defined by its total lack of substance.
Other appearances are less surprising: The insufferable Ying Yang Twins provide one of several Atlanta links, appearing on the perversely one-note “Ride the D,” while Soulja Boy offers a connection to the relative present, showing up on the twisted, amusing “G Walk,” a funhouse mirror of the young rapper’s usual material. It’s a neat summation of the entire album, which takes Jon’s defining affectations and compresses them, creating a completely frenzied environment, all hoarse shouting and pimp chalices spilling over. It’s through this constant level of noise that Crunk Rock drowns out all complaints, its overbearing silliness putting it almost beyond criticism.