Turn Down for Oxford: Rap legend speaks to Oxford Guild

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Rap star Lil’ Jon spoke to the Oxford Guild on 11th May, following on from the success of Kanye West’s visit to the society in March.

Jonathan Smith, known by his stage name “Lil’ Jon”, engaged in intimate conversation with students, who reacted positively to the event. The globally acclaimed rapper responded to questions considering he music industry, the portrayal of women in music videos, racial issues and politics.

Organiser Sai Ulluri described the event as: “endlessly entertaining” [and one which] “shows how the Guild can get a wide variety of speakers who are good to hear.”

Students Akriti Nanda and Michael Hennel commented that the talk was “so much better than Kanye. Lil Jon came across as a chilled out dude. We like how we got to ask questions”.

Having entered the music industry in 1993, the 44 year old rapper noted that hip hop has grown to influence pop music. Smith spoke of the beginning of his career, starting off as a DJ for a radio show at 3am. He told the audience that “you gotta mess up to learn how to do it correctly.”

When asked about being invited to address Oxford students, Smith asserted his disbelief: “I thought it was somebody playing a damn joke! They want me to come to Oxford? Are you sure? Oxford in London?”

Smith thanked the audience for their attendance and expressed he was “having a good time” since this was “not a lecture like ‘Hey, stay in school.” When asked later on his experience with the students, Smith commented that the student body was “really nice and asked very diverse questions”.

Known as the “King of Crunk”, Smith alleged that crunk differs from traditional rap in the sense that it is more rebellious and involves and big release of energy. He was reminiscent that “people do not party no more…mainly because the main tempo for hip hop went from 90-100 bmp to 60-70 bmp…and if 90 per cent of the records are that tempo, you can’t really get crazy to the tempo”.

Smith also said he was not opposed to music streaming services such as Spotify. He mentions how “technology is amazing. Five years ago we never had anything like [Spotify] and 10 years ago we would never have dreamed of it”.

On being asked about his appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, Smith admitted he “did really well on that” and it showed him he could do anything. He said he applied the marketing and branding skills that he learnt in his career to each task.

Lil Jon is currently working on “some Arabic stuff.” He said: “I travel the world, so I’m exposed to all types of things. I love culture and I love music. That’s how I stay relevant.” He acknowledged he would like to cooperate with Jay Z, Drake and Usher among others.

Smith indicated that he has no intention of leaving the music industry: “God gave me this voice – this talent – I should use it until I can’t use it no more…I want to keep using my voice as long as I can talk to push people…God put me here for a specific reason, [to make people] let loose and enjoy life a little bit.” However he did mention that if he did not enter into music he would have liked to be a psychologist or psychiatrist to help people with they problems.

Touching on racial issues in the United States, Smith denounced the television show Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, saying “people are just acting wild and crazy…I don’t really like the way it represents black folks…they shouldn’t be on TV wilding up like that.”

Regarding the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, Smith noted that “growing up in black America you see all sorts of different stuff. It will take time for those wounds to heal, for people to change.” He said there are “ripples of change”, citing the investment in body cameras for police officers. He also said it goes back to the training for police officers.

Smith related his childhood as a skateboarder in Atlanta, Georgia. He said: “There weren’t no black skateboarders in the 80s. We was like the outcast. Through skateboarding with Latino, Asian and white kids I opened my mind to other types of music: steel punk, reggae, dancehall. We all just liked to skate and listen to different kinds of music. [Skateboarding] opened my mind to how big the world is.”

When asked on the Obama administration, Lil Jon commended him for “doing a great job”, comparing his presidency to restoring an old historic car. Smith pointedly said “the Republicans just like to criticise [Obama]. At the end of the day, it’s just because he’s black.” He further pronounced that his favourite presidential elect for now is Hilary Clinton.

On the topic of women in the hip hop sector, Lil Jon said “if you got the talent it don’t matter male female whoever…hip hop would love to have more female rappers, just not many have broken through yet.” Regarding the problem with media associating rap with scantily clad women in music videos, he said the women, such as Nicki Minaj in “Anaconda” knew what they were doing to garner views and that “she knows what she’s doing…she knows the effect for her to shake her butt in the video.”

It is not known whether the Oxford Guild plan to invite any more internationally acclaimed rap stars to Oxford in the immediate future.

Photo/Ultra Records