In the late 90s, Memphis producers DJ Paul and Juicy J were making mix tapes with bare-bones drum machine beats and anthemic vocals overtop music with slasher-movie vibes. This new style had a slowed-down Miami bass groove with aggressive vocals, and although it didn’t have a name yet, it was laying the foundations for crunk. The sound made its way to Atlanta where Lil Jon and his Eastside Boyz shared it with the masses on their album Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album in 1997.
Crunk gets its ‘cranked-up,’ throbbing low end from Miami bass while grabbing its staccato snare from late 90s Memphis mixtape DJs like Three 6 Mafia. The genre’s chanting vocal style and deep bass can also be traced back to certain early reggaeton tracks like “Tu Pum Pum” by El General.
Crunk has a slow grinding tempo, with lyrics that are either call and response, or aggressive chanting. The lyrics also tend to take a backseat compared to the beats on a track. Crunk often features simple, hypnotic drum machine beats with massive bass lines that are guaranteed to get any party dancing.
Ying Yang Twins – “Whistle While You Twurk”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2000
The Ying Yang Twins bring out one of the first mentions of ‘twerking’ (an ideal dance move for crunk music) in a song title with “Whistle While You Twurk”.
Ludacris – “Get Back”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2001
Along with Andre 3000, Ludacris is one of the most notable names to come out of the ‘Dirty South’ rap scene. This single didn’t get much traction on the charts, but it did solidify Ludacris as a talented player in the hip hop scene.
Three 6 Mafia – “Chickenhead”
Memphis, Tennessee, 2000
Known for their mixtapes that first featured the distinctive crunk sound, DJ Paul and Juicy J bring another crunk classic on Three 6 Mafia’s “Chickenhead”.
Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz – “Get Low”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2002
Lil Jon might not have been the first artist to release crunk music, but with his distinctive growl and bombastic personality, he quickly became the poster child for the genre.
Bone Crusher – “Back Up”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2002
Bone Crusher brings a touch of gangsta rap’s swagger and violence into the crunk sounds of “Back Up”.
Lil Scrappy – “Head Bussa (feat. Lil Jon)”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2003
Lil Scrappy got some help breaking into the industry from fellow Atlanta rapper Lil Jon, but he’d achieve even more fame from his own time on the reality tv show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.
David Banner – “Like A Pimp ft. Lil’ Flip”
Jackson, Mississippi, 2003
David Banner and Lil’ Flip bring the gangsta vibe with foreboding synth stabs over a heavy beat on “Like a Pimp”.
Trillville – “Some Cut (feat. Cutty)”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2004
Like a lot of crunk songs, “Some Cut” seems like it was primed for the club scene with its explicit content and infectious, slow groove.
Soulja Boy – “Crank That”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2007
The internet-savvy Soulja Boy was dropping massive hits like the reggae-inspired “Crank That” in the late 2000s. “Crank That” is also a good example of snap music, a micro genre that evolved from Atlanta’s crunk scene.