Crunk is a genre of hip-hop music. Unlike the East Coast and West Coast style of hip hop, crunk has a high-energy and club-oriented feel. While other hip hop styles might involve a more conversational vocal delivery, crunk usually involves hoarse chants and repetitive, simple refrains. Lyrics are based on a rhythmic bounce, which is very effective in a club environment.
The crunk genre originated in the early 1990s but did not become mainstream until the early 2000s. The first notable crunk single is commonly believed to be "Tear Da Club Up '97" by Three Six Mafia which appeared in 1997 and reached #29 on the US Rap charts. In the year 2003, the crunk genre had surprise hit singles with "Never Scared" (Bone Crusher, featuring Killer Mike and T.I.), "Salt Shaker" (Ying Yang Twins, featuring Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz), "Damn!" (YoungBloodZ featuring Lil Jon, and produced by Lil Jon), and most notably "Get Low" (Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, featuring the [Ying Yang Twins), which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. By 2004, crunk was in such high demand that superstar R&B singer Usher enlisted Lil Jon to produce his single "Yeah!" which went on to be the biggest hit of 2004, according to Billboard magazine. Lil Jon produced another #1 hit in 2004 with "Goodies" by R&B singer Ciara, featuring Petey Pablo. By 2005, however, it was widely perceived that crunk was on the wane, with its appeal primarily confined to its birthplace of Memphis and in places in Atlanta.
Looped drum machine rhythms are usually in the forefront of the mix, with the Roland TR-808 being especially popular. A typical crunk song uses four bars of music generated by electronic drums and synthesizers that repeat throughout the song, but sometimes includes a break towards the end of the song. Many of the drum machines and rhythms they produce were previously well known in specialty genres of dance music.
The first popular figures to use the word were Atlanta rappers Outkast, who in their 1993 song and accompanying video "Player's Ball" said, "I gots in crunk if it ain't real ain't right". Outkast also mentions "crunk" in the song "Hootie Hoo" (which was released in 1994 on the same album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik). The lyrics state "Follow the funk from the skunk/and the dank that is crunk in the Dungeon."
Contrary to popular misconception, there is no evidence at all to suggest that crunk derives from krank (ill) in Yiddish or German. Similarly, there is no evidence to suggest that Jewish shopkeepers introduced the word to black communities in the southern United States.
Traditionally, crunk meant a hoarse, harsh cry. The term is often used as slang to mean intoxicated. Folk etymology suggests the modern usage of crunk originated as a portmanteau of the words "crazy" and "drunk" or having been "cranked up" to a level of excitability at which one becomes "crunk". Rapper Lil Jon defined crunk as a "state of heightened excitement".
Webster's Dictionary defines "crunk" as a "word of fluctuating meaning used during the 1990s in lyrics of the rap groups OutKast and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, a style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms."
In 1993, Conan O'Brien used the term "krunk" (an apparently invented nonsense word) as a multipurpose expletive on his television program Late Night with Conan O'Brien. (In this sense, the word was very similar to "smeg" in the Red Dwarf universe.) The term was used throughout the first two seasons of the show as a replacement for the infamous "seven dirty words", with the explanation that it was the most profane expletive of all time. The running joke was that the word was so new, television censors wouldn't know about it, thus allowing a curse word to go out over the airwaves. The show exhibited video clips of various people using the word, including one of Ice T (notorious in his rap persona for his use of expletive-laced language) sitting in the show's guest chair saying, "Wow, that's krunked up, man." Viewers at home were also encouraged to use "krunk" in conversation, so as to bring the word into common use. According to Late Night writer Robert Smigel, the word was invented by fellow writer Dino Stamatopoulos.
The exact relationship between "crunk" and "krunk" is unclear. However, when American Idol judge Randy Jackson appeared on O'Brien's show on April 30 2004 (nine years after O'Brien's endorsements of krunk), he used the word "krunked", but O'Brien seemed to have no recollection of the word.