Crunk is a subgenre of hip hop music that emerged in the early 1990s and gained mainstream success during the mid 2000s. Crunk is often up-tempo and one of Southern hip hop's more dance and club oriented subgenres. An archetypal crunk track frequently uses a main groove consisting of layered keyboard synths, a drum machine rhythm, heavy basslines, and shouting vocals, often in a call and response manner. The term "crunk" is also used as a blanket term to denote any style of Southern hip hop, a side effect of the genre's breakthrough to the mainstream. The word derives from its African-American slang past-participle form, "crunk", of the verb "to crank" (as in the phrase "crank up").
The term has been attributed mainly to African-American slang, in which it holds various meanings. It most commonly refers to the verb phrase "to crank up". It is theorized that the use of the term came from a past-tense form of "crank", which was sometimes conjugated as "crunk" in the South, such that if a person, event, or party was hyped-up, i.e. energetic – "cranked" or "cranked up" – it was said to be "crunk".
In publications, "crunk" can be traced back to 1972 in the Dr. Seuss book Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!. He uses the term "Crunk-Car" without any given definition. The term has also been traced to usage in the 1980s coming out of Atlanta, Georgia nightclubs and meaning being "full of energy" or "hyped". In the mid-1990s, crunk was variously defined either as "hype", "phat", or "pumped up". Rolling Stone magazine published "glossary of Dirty South slang", where to crunk was defined as "to get excited".
The term was in part popularized on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 1993, though it was spelled differently and used in a different context. Writer Dino Stamatopoulos came up with the term "krunk" to epitomize the most offensive word to ever be said on network television, with the joke being that network censors, baffled by the word, were unable to cut it from the broadcast. "Krunk" became a recurring theme on the show between Conan and various guests. Ice-T was one of the first guests to use the word on air, as it was joked that the word was not offensive sounding enough, and Ice-T was the one person who could make it sound offensive.
Outkast has been attributed as the first artist to use the term in mainstream music, in the 1993 track "Player's Ball". A seminal year for the genre was 1996, with the releases of Three 6 Mafia album Chapter 1: The End (featuring "Gette'm Crunk"), and Memphis-based underground hip hop artist Tommy Wright III's album On the Run, which featured the Project Pimp track "Getting Crunk".
Artist Lil Jon was instrumental in bringing the term further into the mainstream with his 1997 album titled Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. He later released other songs and albums using the term, and has been credited by other artists and musicians as galvanizing use of the term as well as mainstreaming the music genre itself.
Lil Jon further popularized the word with his 2004 album Crunk Juice, and has been credited with inventing the potent alcoholic cocktail by that name. This use of "crunk" became synonymous with the meaning "crazy drunk". Non-alcoholic drinks, to which alcohol could be added, were manufactured and marketed under the Crunk brand name, with Lil Jon as spokesman.
The term has continued to evolve, taking on a negative stigma with police, parents and the media. In 2011, the company which manufactured "Crunk" drink brought out an alcoholic version named "Crunk Juice". This drink was allegedly marketed towards 19- to 21-year-olds - those under the US legal drinking age - resulting in Crunk Juice drinking being blamed as a cause of crime or becoming a victim of crime. The mainstream media began publishing stories in which the term "crunk" was used to refer to "crazy and drunk" criminals.
Musically, crunk borrows heavily from bass music and 1980s-era call-and-response hip hop. Heavy use of synthesized instruments and sparse, truncated 808 drums are staples of the crunk sound. Looped, stripped-down drum machine rhythms are usually used. The Roland TR-808 and 909 are among the most popular. The drum machines are usually accompanied by simple, repeated synthesizer melodies in the form of ostinato, to create a hypnotic effect, and heavy bass stabs. The tempo of the music is somewhat slower than hip hop, around the speed of reggaeton.
The focal point of crunk is more often the beats and music than the lyrics therein. Crunk rappers, such as Lil Jon, however, often shout and scream their lyrics, creating a heavy, aggressive style of hip hop. These lyrics can often be isolated to simple chants ("Where you from?" and "You can't fuck with me" are common examples). While other subgenres of hip hop address sociopolitical or personal concerns, crunk is almost exclusively party music, favoring call and response slogans in lieu of more substantive approaches.
Crunk music arose from Miami bass music before 1996 in the southern United States, particularly in African American strip clubs of Memphis, Tennessee. One of the most prominent pioneers of crunk music, Lil Jon, said that crunk appeared as he decided to fuse hip hop and electro with electronic dance music. Memphis-based hip hop group Three 6 Mafia were "instrumental for the emergence of the crunk style" in the mid-to-late 1990s. Two mixtape DJs from Memphis, DJ Paul and Juicy J, started making their original music, which was distinctive with its "spare, low-BPM rhythms, simplistic chants... and narcotically repetitive, slasher-flick textures". This duo soon became known as Three 6 Mafia. Frequently featuring rappers such as Project Pat, Lord Infamous, and Gangsta Boo on their releases, they became instrumental in the formation of crunk music.
In 1997, in Atlanta, Lil Jon, with his group The East Side Boyz, released their first album titled Get Crunk, Who U Wit. These were the first of six albums released by Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz. Lil Jon said that they were first to use the word "crunk" in a song hook; he claimed that they had started to call themselves a "crunk group" due to this album. Crunk originates from African American strip clubs in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the case because of Three-Six Mafia came out of Memphis, Tennessee so their music was played local before it went nationwide. However, The New York Times denied that Get Crunk, Who Are You With was the first crunk album ever. He was one of the key figures in popularizing crunk during 1998 and 1999, and produced two gold records independently, before signing to TVT Records in 2001. After being named the "King of Crunk", Lil Jon went on to make collaborations with many popular artist such as Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ludacris and Britney Spears. Nevertheless, crunk was not exclusively associated with Lil Jon and Three 6 Mafia. In its early stages, such artists as Ying Yang Twins, White Dawg, Bone Crusher, Lil Scrappy, Trillville, Youngbloodz and Pastor Troy from Atlanta, and David Banner from Mississippi also helped to popularize crunk music.
In the early to mid-2000s, some crunk music hits like "Run It!", "Get Low", "Goodies", "Yeah!", and "Freek-a-Leek" produced by Lil Jon climbed to the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Other hits produced by Lil Jon included "Okay", "Cyclone", "Girlfight", "U and Dat", and "Touch". "Yeah!" and "Goodies" were the first tracks to introduce the substyle of crunk music and contemporary R&B, called crunk&B, to the public. Those two tracks (performed by Usher and Ciara, respectively) were mainstream hits of 2004. Since then, crunk&B has been one of the most popular genres of sung African-American music, along with electropop, the genre that replaced crunk and crunk&B in the charts by 2008.
The song "Get Low" (2003), performed by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz with the Ying Yang Twins, is credited as the track which put crunk music into the national spotlight. "Get Low" reached the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart; overall, it spent more than 21 weeks in the charts. Though rappers not from Dixie had tended to avoid being associated with Southern hip hop music before, Busta Rhymes and Nelly accepted offers to perform on remixes of "Get Low". Lil Jon's album, titled Kings of Crunk, which contains "Get Low", became double platinum.
In 2004, independent label Crunk Incorporated signed a major distribution deal with Reprise/Warner Brothers Records for the crunk group, Crime Mob dropped the platinum single "Knuck if you Buck". They followed this with their 2006 hit, "Rock Yo Hips". In March 2004, The R&B singer Houston released his crunk&B hit "I Like That", which reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2005 crunk&B reached the Billboard Hot 100 number one position with the song "Run It!", performed by Chris Brown. In 2005 and 2006, crunk and crunk&B conquered the American R&B charts (and other charts specializing in music with rapping) and replaced hip hop and older styles of contemporary R&B. Atlanta R&B group Cherish also gained prominence with their summer 2006 song, Do It to It where the song debuted at number 86 on US Billboard Hot 100 for the week of May 20, 2006. where peaked at number 12 for the week of September 2, 2006 and stayed on the charts for twenty-one weeks.
The growing interest in crunk music among music producers outside the Southern hip hop scene led to the development of various subgenres of crunk, including eurocrunk, crunkcore, crunkczar, aquacrunk, acid crunk and most recently, trap music. By the end of 2009, crunk has seen a relative decline in mainstream American music, mostly due to the rising popularity of trap and drill music subgenres during the 2010s. In 2015, American singer Tinashe incorporated crunk elements in her single "All Hands on Deck," featuring Iggy Azalea. The song contains themes of girl power and self empowerment.