Crunk came roaring out of southern clubs in the late 1990s, this infectious mix of unbridled aggression and memorable hooks.
The sound was born of many parents: from the rat-a-tat anthems of No Limit Records in New Orleans, to the ominous synths of Memphis' Hypnotized Minds camp. In Atlanta, Lil Jon's stripped down-but-slick approach helped turn crunk into a mainstream sound that would influence popular music for years to come and set the stage for later sounds like trap. But for a second, let's go back to a simpler time: when wanting to hit a muthafucka and tear the club up was all folks really needed to have a good time.
We picked the 25 greatest songs of the crunk era.
"Go To Church" Ice Cube feat. Lil Jon, Snoop Dogg (2006)
As crunk took over airwaves in the early 2000s, a number of established artists hopped on the wave. One of the most noteworthy was none other than Ice Cube, who teamed with the King of Crunk and The Doggfather for this head-bussin' single.
"Left Right" Drama (2000)
He was crunk before it became cool. A Georgia artist who helped lay the foundation before crunk went mainstream, Drama had clubs around the Peach State (and beyond) bouncing to this monster.
"Stilettos (Pumps)" Crime Mob feat. Miss Aisha (2005)
Whoever thought that these girls would get crunk? Diamond and Princess (along with Miss Aisha) gave the ladies a "tear da club up" anthem all their own with this ode to ladies wildin' out in the club.
"Whistle While You Twerk" Ying Yang Twins (2000)
The Ying Yang Twins brought a humorous and strip club-ready approach to the crunk era. They managed to keep it aggressive while also giving the booty clubs something for the ladies to lap dance to.
"Neva Eva" Trillville (2003)
Trillville's popularity was like crunk for teens; but no less aggressive than what the older heads were doing. And this became a bow-throwin', mean-mugging anthem for clubgoers in the early '00s.
"Throw It Up" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz w/Pastor Troy (2004)
Lil Jon flipped the theme from 2000s uber-depressing drama Requiem For A Dream for this hit from the Kings Of Crunk album. Another track that announced that crunk music had fully merged with the mainstream, as it helped push the album to the pop Top 20.
"Hit A Muthafucka" Three Six Mafia (1997)
Ooooh, this one could cause a lot of problems after some Hennessy in the club. It's probably the most unapologetically violent hook in all of crunk-dom (save for maybe another classic song from this very same album that will be making an appearance shortly.)
"Get Some Crunk In Yo System" Trillville (2004)
It's another great example of how so much of the best crunk music was just aggression for the sake of aggression. Get yo ass up and get some crunk in yo damn system.
"Rock Yo Hips" Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy (2004)
Crime Mob's Lil Jay knows how to craft slick beats, and this was one of the catchiest songs to come out of the peak crunk years. The video pays homage to southern HBCU culture and the track features one of Scrappy's best appearances.
"What U Gon' Do" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz feat. Lil Scrappy (2004)
Another monster hit from Lil Jon, this time from '04's Crunk Juice, it epitomizes how Jon took the sound of crunk music from clubs and made it the go-to arena sound of the time period. Thumping bass and chirping synths? Check. A hook that gets stuck in your brain? Always. Threats of violence for no real reason? Well, of course.
"Bounce" Miracle (2000)
Around the South, this was an inescapable club anthem circa 1999/2000. Miracle was another Atlanta artist who helped sow the seeds for crunk before the mainstream ever got wind of the storm that was coming.
"Who Run It" Three Six Mafia (1999)
Towards the tail-end of the 1990s, Three Six Mafia had gone from southern underground faves to the beginnings of a more mainstream rise to stardom. This song sits at the crossroad of early Three Six and later Three Six and is a good example of how much they defined the sound of crunk.
"Couldn't Be a Better Player" Lil Jon w/Too $hort (1998)
The $hort Dog, like Ice Cube, was another West Coast rap veteran who embraced the Dirty South crunk movement with open arms. Short seemed especially at home, and this was one of the best cross-regional crunk collabs of the era.
"Bia Bia" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz feat. Ludacris, Too $hort, Chyna Whyte, Big Kap (2001)
One of the best straight up posse cuts to come out of crunk, Lil Jon managed to get an ATL superstar in Luda, an East Coast godfather in Kap and a Bay Area legend in $hort all on the same track -- not to mention a fiery newcomer in Chyna. Another bow-thrower for the ages. And Rest In Peace to Big Kap.
"No Limit Soldiers" TRU feat. Mia X (1997)
Back in the days before crunk had a name, the sound of Master P's No Limit Records presaged the emergence of high-energy production and aggressive flows across the South. And this anthem was the official announcement. Did anybody actually call it "crunk" at the time? Nope. But hindsight is 20/20, y'all.
"Never Scared" Bone Crusher (2003)
Bone Crusher made sure the world heard him. And it was immediate. This track is just pure aggression. If you were in a club in 2003 in the South, you might want to find a safe space when this came on.
"Down For My Niggas" C-Murder feat. Magic, Snoop Dogg (2000)
No Limit had helped lay the foundation for crunk in the late 1990s, and in 2000, label star C-Murder planted a flag for the tank as the crunk era firmly took hold. This classic helped remind everyone that No Limit Soldiers helped start this shit.
"Chickenhead" Project Pat feat. La Chat (2000)
An ode to a certain kind of girl in the hood, Project Pat's anthem has become one of the most enduring tracks of the era. Pat and La Chat engage in a classic battle of the sexes, and the song found new life when it was covered by Cardi B in 2018.
"Let's Go" Trick Daddy feat. Lil Jon, Twista (2004)
Trick Daddy wasn't a crunk artist per se , but the Miami rap legend did dabble in the sound. And the best example was this Ozzy Osbourne-sampling, Twista-featuring smash from '04.
"Who U Wit (Get Crunk)" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz (1997)
It maybe wasn't exactly the birth of crunk, but it was definitely the moment the sound found it's name. Lil Jon announced himself in a big way with this club-ready single that became a regional hit at a time when shiny suit rap was still dominating the radio.
"Knuck If You Buck" Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy (2004)
With it's sonic roots in both No Limit and Hypnotized Minds, this ominous classic from Crime Mob would eventually find new life via Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall "Juju On That Beat" in 2016.
"No Mo' Play In GA" Pastor Troy (1999)
It was originally intended as a bodyslam of Master P and No Limit Records back in 1999, but it became the unofficial state song for a generation. Now, Pastor Troy's classic can be heard at virtually any major sporting event in the Peach State.
"Get Low" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz feat. Ying Yang Twins (2003)
Is there a more notorious hook in all of crunk-dom than "awww, skeet-skeet gotdamn!?" No. No there is not. Lil Jon's most infamous single has always been one of crunk's most indelible tracks.
"Tear The Club Up '97" Three Six Mafia (1997)
That menacing flip of LL COOL J's "I'm Bad." That disregard for people and property. And a hook that made club owners around the South ban the song from DJ's sets. It's everything great crunk songs should be: loud, aggressive, and ign'int as hell.
"Damn!" YoungBloodz w/Lil Jon (2003)
By 2003, crunk was officially taking over the mainstream. And there was no single, no anthem, that better summed up the genre's move from hole-in-the-wall clubs in the South to stadiums around the world than this classic from YoungBloodz. Proof positive that crunk was truly the sound of an era.