It’s close to midnight when Sean Paul Joseph, the 26-year-old half of the Atlanta-based Youngbloodz, pulls his black BMW 760 up to the AMF American Bowling Center in Conyers, Ga., a rustic Atlanta suburb the YBz now call home. Donning a fedora and Cartier sunglasses, Sean Paul steps out of the car just as his rhyme partner, Jeffrey “J-Bo” Grigsby, 28, arrives, his white Lincoln Navigator vibrating to the beat of some recently recorded tracks.

The bowling alley is technically closed, but the manager, recognizing J-Bo from prior visits, makes an exception and keeps the near-empty facility open an extra hour. Joined by several members of the YBz’s newly formed GMC (Get Money Crew) clique—MCs Mr. Mo (a former member of the rap group Jim Crow) and Ben Hated, along with in-house producer J-Mil and their burly security guard, Big Dude—Sean and J-Bo set up camp at two nearby lanes.

“I’m a bowling champion,” proclaims Sean Paul, as an attendant programs the scoreboard screen. “Watch this.” Grabbing a ball with two hands, Sean Paul steps forward and makes a silly, underhanded throw toward the pins. The ball rises high in the air, lands on the wooden surface with a loud smack and rolls slowly down the lane. When it reaches its targets, though, all 10 of them fall. Sean turns around and smiles wide. “What I tell you?”

J-Bo, characteristically in the background sipping on a beer, jumps up for his turn. Clad in a do-rag, ATL Braves fitted and an oversize jersey, he grabs a ball from the rack and pauses. Crouching low in a squat-like stance, he skillfully sends the ball down the lane, scoring a resounding strike. With a smug grin on his face, he too returns to his beer amid a flurry of high fives.

Unfortunately, the Youngbloodz have been having less luck knocking down the proverbial pins in the music industry than they have here at the AMF. You would think that after sparking mass crunk hysteria with the smash hit
“Damn!,” Atlanta’s beloved Youngbloodz would be having an easier time issuing their current Jive Records LP, Ev’rybody Know Me. After all, “Damn!,” produced by crunk god-father Lil Jon, ruled the airwaves in the fall of 2003, and propelled the album Drankin’ Patnaz to sales upward of 700,000 units. But drama tends to surround the Youngbloodz every time they drop an album, and apparently Ev’rybody Know Me is no different. The lead single, “Presidential,” ran into trouble before it was even officially released.

“Lil Jon couldn’t even be on the song,” says Sean Paul, of the ubiquitous producer who reunited with the Youngbloodz to produce the track—lacing it, as he always does, with his signature exclamations. “He did the beat, and was originally on the song. But then he couldn’t be on the song or in the video. So it’s a bunch of bullshit going on, but we understood it.”

Somehow, the Youngbloodz have found themselves embroiled in Lil Jon’s public dispute with his label TVT Records. Although Jon was unable to comment on the matter for this story, the multiplatinum artist claims TVT owes him royalty money, and was quoted in Ozone magazine saying he’d never record for them again. Meanwhile, TVT retains rights to Jon’s recorded material, and they’ve never cleared his vocals for inclusion on “Presidential.” So last June, when the song was leaked and began garnering some buzz, Jive, fearing legal action, sent out cease and desist letters to radio stations and DJs instructing them to stop playing the song.

“All the DJs that were playing the record were calling me like, ‘What is this?’” explains Sean Paul, trying to stay calm. “They were confused. A lot of people backed up off the record. You don’t do that to your own group.”