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10 Years, 100 Songs: #5. “Done Came to the Club ‘Bout Fifty-‘leven Times….”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 24, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Interestingly, often the best way to tell when a song is truly paradigm-shifting is that it sounds fucking horrible on first listen. That was my experience when it game to “Get Low,” anyway. The first time I listened to it, I could barely make it through the whole thing–I might even have turned it off in the middle, I’m not sure. It sounded brash, grimey, menacing, incomprehensible and sonically assaultive. A few months later, I still agreed with all of those descriptors, except that I would then have intended all of them as compliments. Today the greatness and importance of “Get Low” can almost be considered as a given–it just took a fair bit of acclimating to, because it sounded pretty much nothing like anything that had been popular in hip-hop leading up to that point. Hell, listen to JD and Ludacris’s “Welcome to Atlanta”–released in 2002–and imagine how vastly different it would sound if it would have been recorded just a year later. The landscape of 00s hip-hop was altered irrevocably in 2003, and it was all thanks to Lil’ Jon.

In many ways, crunk was the first true mainstream pop movement of the 00s. It was around 2003–then a healthy chunk into the Naughty Oughties–that “What kind of music will this decade by defined by?” discussions started popping up on music discussion boards. Crunk seemed like the only logical answer at the time–the New Rock Revolution clearly had no legs, grime and garage were probably never going to take off stateside, and the mashup craze had already started to enter its backlash period. But not only was crunk huge–“Get Low” peaked at #2 on the charts, and the floodgates opened from there–it just felt like the first real commercially viable sub-genre that could only have come from this decade. Hell, unless you came from Atlanta, you probably hadn’t even heard the word before Mary J. Blige used it in the chorus to “Family Affair.” (Personally, the first time I was conscious of it was when Lil’ Jon talked about getting crunk as a presenter at the ’03 VMAs–I assumed he was making some kind of dirty pun I didn’t understand).

And yeah, it sounded really fucking weird back then, too. Or maybe not so much weird as defiantly underground–it was closer to the kind of hip-hop that I had gotten accustomed to hearing on my local hip-hop station the rare times I turned to it past 9:00 on weekends, when the faint of heart had long since tuned out and only the fans that really meant business were listening. Debaucherous, sleazy, threatening, vulgar, and just really really loud–coming off a period in hip-hop where “The Thong Song” was about as scandalous as it got in the Top 40, to think of “Get Low” rubbing elbows with Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake on the charts was more than a little bit mindblowing. Lil’ Jon deemed crunk music the “black punk rock” on occasion (and was supposedly something of a skate-rat himself back in the day), and while the two genres divurged wildly when it came to message and intent, in terms of pure culture shock the comparison always felt pretty apt to me.

Meanwhile, Lil’ Jon himself was arguably the greatest character produced in this decade of pop music. The dreads, the big glasses, the pimp chalice and cane,  the blinding grill-laden smile–he looked like a hip-hop Muppet, a cartoon character whose behavior was even more outlandish than his appearance. It took years and a bunch of hits from Lil’ Jon to figure out that the dude never actually really rapped–he just rabble-roused emphatically over the chorus, and let the guest artists (whoever they were) and the East Side Boyz (whoever they were) do the mop-up work of actually providing song content. Didn’t matter–no matter what he actually did on them, Jon was still by far the most memorable part of any of his songs, and was well on his way to becoming one of the decade’s definitive pop culture icons.

The song itself has maybe tamed a little over the years, but really, it still pulls no punches. Whistles, high-pitched wails, synths that sound like air-raid sirens, and a non-stop barrage of drunk horny asshole chanting, over a deceptively long 5:30 running time (the full-length, anyway)–the thing can be exhausting if not listened to in the right context. But as far as adrenaline-raising music went in the 00s, “Get Low” was like getting a shot of HGH straight to the forehead, a jam that instantly put you in the red like no other song this decade (save, of course, our #76 single). Not that I ever heard the song in its real proper context–I missed out on the ATL strip-club rite of passage of my youth, for better or worse–but I’ll tell you that the song was probably the biggest crowd-pleaser at my senior prom, and is guaranteed to be the song that absolutely brings the house down at my ten-year reunion. (We’ll probably even get to play the uncensored version at the latter, finally.)

And as crazy as the music was, it was the lyrics that were really educational. Hate to bring up Shakespeare for the second entry in a row (I’d like to blame it on being a half-English major, but that would imply that I actually did the reading in those classes), but you could call it semi-genuinely-Bard-like the number of catchphrases which continued to percolate through the rest of pop culture which can be traced back to this song. “To the window, to the wall.” “Clap yo’ ass like hands.” “Tig ol’ bitties.” (Radio version only). And of course, everyone’s favorite new term for ejaculate, “Skeet.” About the term’s meaning, Dave Chappelle famously quipped that when white people actually “figure it out, they’ll be like. ‘My God, What have we done?” Sure enough, I remember having conversations around poker games in my high school about what the word did mean–but not only were the theories proffered dirtier than I expected, they still weren’t nearly dirty enough to match what we eventually found to be the truth. What could possibly be more rock and roll than that?

Ah yes, speaking of Mr. Chappelle, he had a litlte to do with the runaway success of this song, and of Lil’ Jon himself as a celebrity. As if challenged that no comedy bit from this decade could become more annoyingly over-quoted than the dudes from the “WASSSUUUUUUPPPP!!!” commercials, Chappelle introduced a recurring bit on his show where he posed as an only-slightly-tuned-down caricature of Jonathan Mortimer Smith, engaging in dialogue with reporters, airline attendants and other folk where his part was entirely reduced to his three go-to catchphrases. (I don’t need to quote them, right? You remember them–it hasn’t been that long…has it?) The skits became so incredibly massive that Dave Chappelle’s imitation of Lil’ Jon arguably became more famous than Lil’ Jon himself, until at times in future Lil’ Jon songs, it was impossible to tell if he was actively trying to play into the caricature of himself that Chappelle had created, or if that was what he was actually like.

Of course, all this talk of Lil’ Jon as a character downplays the fact that he actually had more to do with crafting the pop sound of the 00s than almost anyone. After “Get Low” took off, not only did Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins (who actually do pull their weight in the song, including getting the best rejoinder: “Lookin’ at a nigga wit yo’ palm out / Bitch, I ain’t even see you dance!“) become temporary hit machines, but Jon’s production and/or endorsement became a guaranteed recipe for commercial success. You know those shots in Behind the Music where to demonstrate how popular an artist was, they show a graphic of a Billboard chart, and then gray everything out but the songs the artist was responsible for, which they highlight and expand in size? That was Lil’ Jon for the entire two-year period of 2003-2005. Pick a pop chart from any week in that span and it was guaranteed to have somewhere between six and ten hits of varying size on it. The guy was unstoppable, not only in proliferating his own stable of crunk artists to the masses, but tagging previously famous artists from other genres as well, even briefly popularizing the term “Crunk n B” for a spell.

Thus, an unavoidable question is raised: What the hell happened to Lil’ Jon? For that two-year stretch, there was no personality in pop music more unavoidable. And then all of a sudden, it was 2009, and I realized that I hadn’t heard anything from him in four years. The last time I saw one of the Chappelle’s Show skits about him when I was watching a couple of months ago with a friend who somehow missed the show when it was popular, and had no idea why the skit was supposed to be funny. “It, uh…it made more sense at the time” I stammered, coming to the realization My god, this skit is going to make absolutely no sense to anyone in a couple of years. I didn’t even have a clue until five minutes ago that Lil’ Jon actually produced Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me,” one of the biggest and best pop singles of ’09–a half-decade ago, it would’ve been unimaginable for Jon to produce such a surefire hit and not be a constant looming presence over its chorus and video. It makes me wonder if the overwhelming presence of T-Pain these last five years–nearly spanning the complete period of Jon’s absence from the spotlight–supplanted him somehow. Another alien-looking producer dude with a flamboyant dress style, a distinctively imitable voice and a predilection for strippers…maybe we only have room for one of these guys at a time in our pop culture. (And bonus fodder for you conspiracy theorists: What was T-Pain singing in his most famous hook? “Shawty got low, low, low….” Coincidence?)

But if crunk was truly the first music that could only come from the 00s, then perhaps we shouldn’t root for Lil’ Jon to make a comeback with his oft-delayed Crunk Rock album this next decade after all. The 2010s will have their fair share of great pop movements, and great pop characters to go with them, no doubt. Let’s leave Lil’ Jon for the 00s time capsule–he’s ours, and no other decade can take him from us. At the very least, I bet you Chappelle would appreciate never having to go YEAAA-AAHHHHH!!!” “WWWWWWHAT???” orOOOOOKAAAYYYYY!!!!!” ever again. (OK, I finally said them. You happy?)

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside
10. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z – “Umbrella
9. Sum 41- “Fat Lip
8. R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)
7. Eminem f/ Dido – “Stan
6. Avril Lavigne – “Sk8er Boi
5. Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz f/ The Ying Yang Twins – “Get Low”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #5. “Done Came to the Club ‘Bout Fifty-‘leven Times….””

  1. There is no better coda to Lil Jon’s Naughties reign than this.

  2. Garret said

    I enjoyed his work on “Let Me See The Booty.”

  3. Bobby said

    Let’s not forget this fine gem. With the decline of crunk and the rise of more electro/dance pop, maybe we should look to Lil Jon again to pave the way forward for pop music

  4. MBI said

    I was aware of this song in 2003 (who wasn’t?) but being mostly pop-illiterate at the time, it took a more recent listen to this song for me to really absorb it, and goddamn. I’m not even a huge fan of club-bangers, but this song is fucking monstrous. Literally; they sound like monsters. This is what Snake Plissken or Mad Max hear when they infiltrate the evil apocalypse gang’s underground party.

  5. Collin said

    the song i thought might make it to number one is still alive….i’m crossing my fingers here.

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