By Jef With One F
By Bob Ruggiero
By Corey Deiterman
By Marco Torres
By Angelica Leicht
By Angelica Leicht
By Charne Graham
"Come on everybody get on up," sang Mary J. Blige over a driving beat in the 2001 hit "Family Affair." "'Cause you know we gots to get it crunk."
This was a turning point in hip-hop history. Blige dropping a C-bomb may not seem like such a big deal today -- after all, the whole nation has since been crunk-ified. Labels from coast to coast are cranking out crunk compilations. Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boyz and a bunch of other Atlanta acts and other Dirty Southerners have made the word crunk only a shade less familiar to the mainstream than other crossover hip-hop terms such as bling (see below) and diss. Crunk anthems such as Jon's "Get Low" and "Yeah!," his collaboration with Usher and Ludacris, have taken turns at or very near the top of the pop charts. Locally, the Box and especially the Party play tons of crunk rap.
But three years ago, Blige dropping crunk in a song was a very big deal. After all, she was an established, New York-based superstar, and for once the East Coast gave the Dirty South some props.
"It made us feel like we accomplished something," said Lil' Jon to a reporter from Murder Dog. Not without justification, Lil' Jon calls the Eastside Boyz "the Kings of Crunk," and he is the subgenre's most famous and biggest-selling practitioner. Since that's true, we'll let one of the Eastside Boyz explain what crunk means. "High energy," Jon's bandmate Lil' Bo told Murder Dog. "Yeah, man, like in the club a lot of pushing and shoving like mosh pits at a rock concert. Hype."
So much for crunk as a vibe, a metaphysical concept. What does crunk music sound like? Well, crunk is to rap as heavy metal is to rock. It's rap boiled down to its most essential, elemental ingredients. Fat, repetitive, three- or four-note keyboard riffs drive along the lyrics from one rowdy screamed chorus to another. The lyrics are generally about being drunk at a club and tearing the fuck out of the joint. "Move Bitch," by Ludacris, his posse Disturbing Tha Peace and Mystikal is perhaps the ultimate crunk single, though any number of Lil' Jon, Bonecrusher or Youngbloodz tunes come close. Of Houston's rappers, Lil' Flip is the most prominent nationally as a crunkster -- with David Banner, he had a hit with "Like a Pimp" last year, and has another this year in the downright thrilling "Tear It Up," which also features Banner, DMX and Yung Wun, backed by what sounds like the entire TSU Ocean of Soul marching band. (Man, I've been wanting to back rappers with marching bands since about 1990. Sigh.)
The word's etymology is murky. It's supposedly a contraction of two words, but which two? Crazy/drunk, chronic/drunk, crazy/funk and cool/funk are three potential answers, though crack/drunk has been generally discredited. (For what it's worth, my money's on crazy/drunk.)
And while Atlanta is undoubtedly Crunk City, USA, the Houston area has to be the second-crunkest city in the U.S. Hell, the word might well have originated here. Google Groups archives its newsgroup posts chronologically back to the early 1980s, and some of the earliest uses of crunk (or "krunk," as it is sometimes spelled) came from people around here along about 1996. Bun B of the Underground Kingz rapped that "I know that make ya mega crunk / And make ya make it man it make a nigga wanna pop trunk" on "Good Stuff" off UGK's Ridin' Dirty album in 1996, a year before Lil' Jon made his first trip to a recording studio, and there's anecdotal evidence that the term was in use here five years before UGK put it on wax.
Bling-bling and its shortened variant bling are a few years younger and infinitely more tired than crunk.
By now, everybody knows that bling is all things gem- or chrome-crusted; hell, the word has even cracked the august pages of the Oxford English Dictionary. (As for the etymology, I guess you could say bling is a case of false onomatopoeia -- bling is the sound a jewel or precious metal would make if it could be heard.) Thanks to two key recordings, bling's origins are easier to trace than those of crunk.
The first was New Orleans rapper The BG's cut "Bling Bling" off his 1999 album, Chopper City in the Ghetto."Bling bling," went the chorus, "Ever' time I come around your city / Bling bling." The BG may have brought the bling out of the ghetto, but it was Pink who took it to the world, as it was her 2000 cut "Most Girls" ("Most girls want a man with the bling bling/ Got my own thing, got the ching ching / I just want real love") that launched bling-bling into the British and European lexicon. Ali G -- the Chingo Bling of London -- championed the term early and often on his TV specials.
As crunk is a vibe, so bling is an aesthetic, and here is where Houston's role becomes prominent. Chopper City in the Ghetto came out on Master P's Cash Money label, and -- as was almost always the case for a Cash Money release in those days -- the cover was designed by Houston's own Pen and Pixel Graphics. Even before the word was in common usage, Pen and Pixel's covers defined bling: boxy letters that resembled gold studded with diamonds; tricked-out Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Lexuses; columned plantation-style mansions; platinum dollar signs; and jewelry-draped rappers smirking while talking on cell phones, often with scantily clad hotties looking on lustily. Pen and Pixel's covers created the necessity for a word to describe them, and bling is it.