Turn Down (For What)
The following is an analysis of Lil’ Jon’s magnum opus “Turn Down (For What)”.
The buildup features a beat with a Shepard tone in the background building up the tension. One gets the impression that this is going to be a fun time. Lil’ Jon doesn’t take too long to come in and at the 16 second mark we hear him proclaim “Fire up your loud - another round of shots”. The implication of course being that it’s time to party and clearly they’ve had at least one round of shots already. This seems like it’s going to be a good night. After the music drops Lil’ Jon grabs your attention with the question “Turn down for what?”. It’s a question he wants you to ponder. What is there that would make you want to ‘turn down’? Now turning up is taken to mean having a crazy good time partying typically by means of large amounts of alcohol and/or illegal drug use. Lil’ Jon can’t find a reason one wouldn’t want to turn up. He asks the question five times in total. He is demanding an answer and you have failed to provide one. He is searching for meaning in this life and failing to find one he turns other means to numb the pain he feels. Notice that he is not alone during his inquisition. There are clearly others having a good time in the background calling out “eh” and making some fun sounding noises! He has his posse there but is still searching. He crew isn’t quite enough for him. He wants to know why somebody would turn down but can’t think of a reason.
Failing to get an answer he proclaims once again “Fire up your loud - another round of shots”. This is at least the third round of shots in the song. He isn’t slowing down either and his search for meaning hasn’t slowed down either. He once again asks “turn down for what” five more times. What seemed like a party anthem is quickly turning into a cry for help. One really connects with the pain and the longing that Lil’ Jon is expressing through the repeated asking of this simple question.
Just then it seems like he has given up hope in finding an answer because he starts again with “fire up your loud - another round of shots”. But he doesn’t stop. Just like Miley he can’t stop. Again he yells “fire up your loud - another round of shots”. And once more “fire up your loud - another round of shots”. Six shots at least so far in this short period of time. Just when you start to think he has to slow down eventually he picks up the pace and does “fire up your loud - another round of shots shots shots …” repeating shots at least thirty times. He is downing these shots and one has to hope they are either watered down or tiny, tiny shots because he is going to end up in the hospital if he really did consume that much hard alcohol in such a short period of time. That very well might be his goal. This is quite clearly a cry for help. He is desperate and seeking an answer by any means necessary even if that means death via alcohol poisoning. How much pain has this young man felt? What else has he tried in his life that he found to not be a suitable replacement for turning up? Was it a lover that hurt him? A rough childhood that he wants to forget? Does his place his hope, like the philosopher 50 cent, in the goal to “get rich or die trying” but hasn’t been able to satisfy this lust for money? Whatever is causing his pain you can feel it in this song.
After sinking into this depression and trying to kill all feeling you would think that he just wouldn’t care anymore. Lil’ Jon is full of surprises though because just when you think he’s down and out he turns philosopher once more. He asks the question “turn down for what” five more times. However, the last “turn down for what” sounds different. It is pained. It sounds like death. Could this be an attempt to symbolize the death of hope that we thought we saw so many times in this song already? There are no more lyrics to shed any light on this. All we are left with is a simple beat. And like all things in life - that too must end.