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Turn down for ... Lil Jon's guided meditation album?

Lil Jon finds his calm on <em>Total Meditation</em>, a new album whose reflective title is no joke.
Chelsa Christensen
Courtesy of the artist
Lil Jon finds his calm on Total Meditation, a new album whose reflective title is no joke.

Take a moment now to breathe — in through your nose, out though your mouth. It's surprising how much a little break can do for you. But what changes when the leader of your mental retreat is the guy known for turning up in the club?

Rapper and producer Lil Jon has been focused a lot on meditation recently — so much so that he decided to put out an album that would feature his own mantras instead of music. The king of crunk has been bringing the energy for decades on tracks like DJ Snake's "Turn Down For What," LMFAO's "Shots" and "Get Low" by his own Eastside Boyz. But like he told NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, "You gotta turn down sometimes" — which is just what he does on his new album of guided meditations, titled Total Meditation.

Lil Jon spoke with Rascoe on Weekend Edition Sunday about maturing in music, focusing on health and finding a balance between the extreme ends of the volume knob. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ayesha Rascoe: I practice meditation when I'm feeling anxious and overwhelmed — which is a lot — and it helps calm me down. Is that what started you with your practice? Was it anxiety?

Lil Jon: Yeah, it was anxiety and a little stress from a lot hitting me at the same time: turning 50, looking at my life, looking at my marriage and a lot of things, and trying to move on and get through those things. I would meditate before I go on stage or take little breaths or just take some time for myself. But I found, at this particular point in my life, I really need to go into it a little deeper. And so I would, I would meditate every day and I would say my affirmations every day, and all of that would quiet me — calm those crazy thoughts and emotions that I would have and give me some peace.

A lot of people, of course, have this perception of you as this party guy, the DJ in the club screaming "OK!" Did you want to tell people that there is more to you, that you are a well-rounded person?

I don't just walk around screaming "Yeah! What? OK!" all day, every day. You gotta turn down sometimes. You gotta get rest. You gotta get sleep. You gotta drink a lot of water! You gotta take care of your health. You know, people are having heart attacks and strokes. I know this one guy who had a triple bypass, and that influenced me, initially, to start getting healthy, because I looked at him and was like, "He's 10 years younger than me." So that started me on my health journey, about 2010, 2012-ish.

You still DJ on a regular basis. I read that you've cut down a lot on your drinking, and obviously you're meditating — but being at the club, that's not exactly the most centering experience. So how do you balance that?

You have to look at the club as a release. Some people need to be in social settings around others. Some people need to be with their friends and family. Music is therapeutic as well. Dancing is therapeutic as well. It's good for the soul, good for the mind. So it works out for me, you know — I can still do it. And I'm spreading good energy to people: I'm giving them good times, with the meditation and with the club.

Your music is really high energy, and you can tell how it affects people's moods: I remember, back in the day, if you played a song like "Head Bussa," the women would leave the dance floor because the men would go so crazy. But now, you are obviously doing very calming sounds for this meditation album. Can you talk to me about how you use sound to bring out different emotions?

Whenever I do a song, I have to find the right — I call them characters. This is literally like finding the right voice that connects you with the right mood, the right vibe for the song. It took me a little while to find the right voice, the right tone. One thing that people have told me is that my voice, they were surprised at how soothing and calming my voice was.

What is the hardest part of meditation for you?

I think the hardest part for anybody is to disconnect from the Matrix. It was always hard for me to really formally meditate, because I'm always thinking in the future. But you learn that you can take a pause, and then, when you come back, you're more level-headed. Your mind is clear. Your creative process is sparked even more, because you took a break.

When you think about taking care of the body — Black men, in general, are dying at higher rates from cancer and things like that. So many Black entertainers, especially Black male entertainers, have died at a relatively young age. You've leaned into things like meditation and therapy. And I read you got a colonoscopy recently.

Yeah. I mean, you turn 50, you gotta get it.

Are you trying to send a message to Black men, specifically, to take care of themselves — and that there's no shame in doing that?

100%. And I think releasing this album, too — mental health is really important to me because men, especially Black men, we suffer. And we've, we've been raised to just suffer in silence — you know, "You get over it, you'll be fine" — and just deal with our problems ourselves. "Man up." So this album is showing, hey, listen to this meditation, it'll give you a different perspective on things. Try it with an open mind and see how it helps.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.
Michael Radcliffe