Lil Jon on Turning Down, Vampire Weekend, Prison and Donald Trump

MC talks about his comeback hit and raising a teenager

Lil Jon
Steve Granitz/WireImage
Lil Jon
By |

Last summer, Lil Jon was laying down vocals on an EDM track by the French producer DJ Snake when he thought of the line that resurrected his career. "The beat just made me want to party," says the rapper, 42. "The first thing that came to mind superquick was 'Turn down for what?!'" The song of that name – a volcanic anthem exhorting listeners to keep partying and never "turn down" – has become Lil Jon's biggest hit in nearly a decade, reaching Number Four on Billboard's Hot 100. "People just won't let the song go away, from little kids to grandmothers," he says. "I've even seen Vines of animals going crazy to it."

Turn Down for What? Why EDM Is Entering Its Punk Phase

You make a strong case against turning down. Is there anything for which you would, in fact, turn down?
Two things: Turn down for sleep and the police. You gotta get some rest, or you won't be able to turn up at all. And it's not cool to go to jail.

The video shows guys smashing flower­pots over their crotches. Would you recommend trying that in real life?
Nah, not unless you got a cup on!

You have a 16-year-old son. Has he ever tried to use "Turn Down for What" as an excuse for acting wild?
I've never even heard him say that phrase. Even though it's a smash record, I'm still his dad. I think he feels like it's uncool if he acknowledges it. I tried to give him a TURN DOWN FOR WHAT T-shirt, and he was like, "I can't wear that."

You've been in the game for years. Have you ever thought about dropping the Lil and just going by Jon?
No. I'm definitely not 25 anymore, but that's what the people know me for. That would be like me cutting my dreads off – people wouldn't look at me the same, because I have such an iconic image.

One of your first big hits was "Get Low," in 2003. Do you ever regret rapping about your ball sweat?
[Laughs] Well, I didn't talk about my ball sweat – Ying Yang Twins sang that part of the chorus. But people still love to say, "Till the sweat drop down my balls" when I perform that song. When Sandra Bullock was rapping "Get Low" in The Proposal, dancing with Betty White, that was a gigantic moment for me.

Donald Trump has been threatening to run for president again. You were on Celebrity Apprentice twice. Would you vote for him?
Depends who's running. He gets a lot of flak, but that's just because he speaks his mind. He's a really good guy deep down.

Seriously? Even when he went full birther on Barack Obama?
People made a big fuss about that, but that's just politics. If Obama wasn't black and Mr. Trump said the exact same shit, nobody would have said nothing.

I saw that you've been watching the new season of Orange Is the New Black. Who's your favorite character?
Crazy Eyes. She's crazy as fuck.

Ever been to a women's prison?
I actually have. When I had my label, one of my artists, Chyna Whyte, had to go to prison for something. We shot the video for my song "Bia Bia," and then after the shoot we had to drive her straight to federal prison.

I heard you were friends with the band Vampire Weekend, who shouted you out on their song "Oxford Comma." Is that true?
Yeah. They're cool cats. I like their first album – the one they mentioned me on – and I got the next one, but I never did listen to it. We're cool, though.

It's been 10 years since Dave Chappelle did his impression of you. Do you still get people coming up to you and shouting, "What?!"
I mean, that's never going to go anywhere. They're going to say that at my funeral. I get tired of it sometimes – when I'm at the airport, and it's 7 a.m., and I'm tired, and they're screaming at me. It's like, why can't people just say hello? Hello is cool.

Do you feel trapped by the perception of you as a guy who just screams a lot?
You know, it's funny. People who know me know that you've got the crazy crunk Lil Jon guy – and then you've got Jon. I'm not going to say I'm the smartest guy on the planet, but I've got some intelligence. I'm not an idiot.

What?!
Oh, wow. Come on.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.
It's all right, man. Everybody does it.

This story is from the July 31st, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1214: July 31, 2014