This is Lil Jon’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it. When people say this sort of thing it’s usually to indicate a celebrity’s level of industry clout and/or swagger, but in this case it’s actually kinda true. The period of time during the mid-aughts when Lil Jon and crunk music dominated the zeitgeist continues to reverberate throughout pop culture. He was the first superstar to make his name by kicking down the barriers between rap music and what would come to be known as EDM, creating a hybrid that’s more or less defined the sound of our current decade, and the club-wrecking hedonism that he so effectively promoted has become pop’s default stance. If Lil Jon had never existed, rappers would probably be popping molly and rave kids would probably be wilding out to southern rap music, but the catalyzing effect he had on these phenomena can’t be underestimated.
Lil Jon’s spent most of the past decade outside of the recording studio, appearing on TV shows and maintaining a side hustle as a superstar DJ, and generally turning the business of making rowdy radio hits over to his spiritual descendants. But about a month ago he reappeared on the Hot 100 with a song by French EDM producer DJ Snake, who’s best known for his association with Diplo and his single “Bird Machine.” Their collaboration, “Turn Down For What,” is a big-room EDM track whose beat is drawn from trap and moombahton but whose overall theme of staying permanently turnt-up comes straight out of crunk. Currently it’s sitting pretty nicely at number 42.
The song itself is a pretty standard representative of contemporary EDM, and aside from Lil Jon’s vocal contribution it’s not particularly memorable, although I bet that in the context of a Vegas megaclub it’s just about perfect. What is notable about the song is the fact that although it was officially released by Columbia in December (a couple months after it first showed up online), “Turn Down For What” made it into the Top 40 (number 37 at its peak so far) without any apparent label promotion. From what I can tell there isn’t even an official video. The unauthorized YouTube clip I posted above has racked up nearly six million views, though, and a handful of other ones add up to about two million more.
Since the track has no real radio presence as far as I’m aware, it must be digital streams like this that have put “Turn Down For What” halfway up the Hot 100. And since Columbia seems to be taking an extremely hands-off approach to promoting it, whatever virality it’s achieved has probably been the work of club DJs, who, between their rising profile as a group and Billboard‘s use of numbers not connected to radio and retail when compiling its charts, are now able to make songs into chart-level hits in a way that they never have before. I suspect you can give some credit for this to Lil Jon as well.