by Ashley Lyle
“You never know who our future leaders are going to be, who is going to create the next technology to change our world.”
On Tuesday night at E.P. & L.P. restaurant in Los Angeles, Lil Jon kicked off the new initiative from Pencils of Promise, donating his birthday to help build a school in an impoverished area. Starting off with a cocktail reception on the second floor, guests were treated to a hosted bar along with an opportunity to experience in VR the short minute and a half clip (produced in collaboration with RYOT) of a classroom in a developing country.
Around 8:15 p.m., guests were seated for a complete dinner along with words from Lil Jon on why he donated to PoP, as well as a few remarks from retired All-American football player and board member Lewis Howes. Notable names in attendance included singer Usher, manager Scooter Braun and SKAM Artist Inc. founder and CEO Sujit Kundu.
Lil Jon spoke to Billboard briefly about what inspired him to get involved with PoP. “I've been working with them since 2011. It was really early on. For me, education is so important. So of course I was definitely wanting to be a part of it and help. But it was recently, I went to their gala in New York and I was blown away. They raised a million dollars in an hour. I was talking to some of the PoP people about what they've done, and how much does it cost to build a school and so forth. I had my mind set that I wanted to work with them in a bigger way and build my own.”
Expanding on the value of education, Lil Jon notes, “I don’t think kids should be deprived of an education. Education is very important. And if you look at what's going on in the world today, you can see how even more so, education is important. You got a lot of dumb people out here.”
When asked how he feels about President Trump, he told Billboard, “He's in the office now. There's nothing we can do about that. He's got to show and prove to the American people and all of these people he made promises to, even in his campaign, even in his inaugural speech, bringing America together. he's got to really show and prove that. And if he doesn't, then we have to take steps to really make America better.”
Speaking on his past interaction with Trump -- as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice -- he notes, “I never had any problems with him [back on the show]. He always showed me the upmost respect. On the last show I did, he gave me extra money for my charity and called me out, gave me praises. So I don't have a personal problem with him. I just don't like the way his platform is set up."
He is, however, happy to see public figures in hip-hop taking a stand and speaking out on political issues. “I look at guys like T.I. and Killer Mike, guys that I came up with around the same time. Seeing them speaking their minds is like wow. I never thought I would see T.I. talk like that. I've known Killer Mike for years, and I just see how even more intelligent he is than I thought he was.”
When asked if he plans to politically engage more now that Trump is in office, he said, “Everybody has their purpose and what God put them here to do. But I don't know, we will see how that plays out.”
Proceeds from the night went toward building a school in Ghana. Find out more information about Pencils of Promise's Birthday Campaign here.