The plan seemed so simple: spend a weekend hanging out with multiplatinum hip-hop star Lil Jon at the Miami mansion where he’s holed up for six months, recording his new album. But two weeks beforehand, things started getting a little scary. The rapper’s record-label rep, independent publicist, and personal assistant were all worried, and in a series of increasingly unsettling conversations, they repeated the same two questions: ”Do you like to drink? Do you like to party?” His publicist sounded especially nervous. ”I just want to let you know: Lil Jon likes to drink,” she warned. ”And he likes to party. Party hard.”
This admonition starts to sink in around 4 a.m. on my first night in Miami, when Lil Jon pours yet another round of tequila shots and starts screaming in my ear. ”C’mon, man,” he bellows, his dreads tickling my neck. ”If you wanna party with us, you gotta drink with us!”
We’re at South Beach’s massive dance club Crobar, surrounded by an entourage that includes Ludacris, Ja Rule, and Timbaland, as well as various glute-shaking groupies clad in assorted well-ventilated outfits. A quick look at the buff and beautiful crowd leads me to conclude that if there are any other skinny, bespectacled white guys out on the town tonight, they didn’t make it past the enormous bouncer at the front door. One particularly nubile girl with blond locks and a belly-baring T-shirt steps up to Lil Jon and asks him to sign her stomach. He grins, flashing his platinum-and-diamond-capped teeth, and whips out a Sharpie. Ja Rule is having an intimate conversation with a short woman bursting out of a micro-miniskirt. Ludacris pours himself a vodka and cranberry as OutKast’s ”The Way You Move” booms from the speakers. Lights flash. Bodies writhe. The room starts to spin. I head to the bar for a drink of water, wondering how I’m going to convince my wife it was Lil Jon’s idea to have three of his female ”friends” grind against me like they’re auditioning for a Beyoncé video.
When I get back, Lil Jon is standing up on an enormous speaker cabinet, waving a magnum of champagne in the air and sloshing bubbly into random girls’ glasses. Then he steps down and starts shouting in my ear again: ”This is the real Lil Jon! This is how we party! This is getting crunk!”
True to his name, Lil Jon is a small guy, a fact he tries to compensate for with oversize clothing and wraparound Oakley shades. His long, thin dreadlocks reach the middle of his back, and the exaggerated incisors of his platinum teeth fronts make him look like a funkified vampire.
Over the past two years, he has turned this distinctively goofy look and over-the-top party animal persona into one of hip-hop’s biggest success stories. He’s the tireless foreman of a rap assembly line, producing and rapping on a slew of singles recorded by oddly named nobodies whose tunes invariably end up on the charts. Recent hits include Ciara’s No. 1 smash ”Goodies,” Pitbull’s ”Culo,” Lil Scrappy’s ”No Problem,” and Petey Pablo’s ”Freek-A-Leek.” Lil Jon is also the man behind this year’s biggest single, Usher’s ”Yeah!”