Veteran mega-producer Jermaine Dupri is a survivor of the music industry’s most complex, yet ever changing phases. He’s seen it all. The Atlanta Native and founder of SoSo Def Records is credited for introducing a new flare of southern Hip-Hop and R&B artists to mainstream audiences in the mid '90s.
The multi-faceted businessman discovered Kris Kross, Bow Wow, Xscape, Da Brat, Jagged Edge and produced a slew amount of platinum selling records for TLC, Janet Jackson, Monica, Ciara and Alicia Keys amongst several others.
Additionally, the 43-year-old hit-maker and DJ is the mastermind behind releasing, the viral hit, Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo.” You know that groovy record all the youngsters are doing the Running Man Challenge to? “I’ve been watching you… At night, I think of You.” Yep, JD was responsible for that record 20 years ago.
Jermaine’s newest projects will take this summer by storm. The Grammy award winning producer is starring alongside fellow rap pioneers Birdman, Dame Dash and Snoop Dogg in “Music Moguls” (BET), a new reality series exhibiting the everyday grind of maintaining a successful music empire.
Turn the channel and you can find he's also embarking on his second season of highly rated series, “The Rap Game” (Lifetime), on a determined mission to find the next big child rap star.
Jermaine is coming for what he deserves, so feel free to throw some respect on his name!
JD recently talked music industry politics, striving as the underdog, his successful partnerships in the studio, and reality TV endeavors with NBCBLK contributor Alex Titus. Here are excerpts from their dialogue.
MUSIC INDUSTRY: THEN VS. NOW
Jermaine got his start in the business as a background dancer for legendary rapper Whodini.
The music industry has totally changed since I started. Rap wasn’t a dominant genre, people didn’t listen to music as much as they do now. Every genre was autonomous, none of them ever crossed each other. Now people who listen to country, listen to R&B. Rock fans are hip hop fans and pop listeners like jazz. All genres bleed into each other in so many ways.
I founded SoSo Def in ‘93 and was inspired by Russel Simmons, who owned Def Jam and Berry Gordy who had Motown. I said if they have their own labels, well then I want mine. Plus, Kriss Kross was on Ruff House, but it was SoSo Def Productions, so I didn’t want to continue making so much money for another label by giving them my artists. I wanted to do that for my own company.
I think the music industry should be more taken care of because they allow anybody in it. There’s no rules and it allows that anybody to take the business in any direction they want to take it in. It’s great that it gives a lot of people opportunities with jobs and they can be things that they wouldn’t normally be.
However, you can’t just go to Hollywood, get a directing job and want to become the next Steven Spielberg overnight, then start saying crazy things to Steven Spielberg himself. You can’t even get in the NBA like that, there’s a draft for that, there’s levels. All these other things that we watch and consume have rules and it’s harder to get into those businesses as opposed to the music business.
When I often bring up this concern, they say, “Oh Jermaine, you’re hating, you don’t want to give anyone a chance!” It’s really not about a chance away from anyone, it’s about having some criteria in place. More than just some scared executive giving some person that’s never done anything in music, a deal with a few hundred thousand for an advance.
SUCCESS WITH “THE RAP GAME”
Season 1 of Lifetime’s The Rap Game was deemed the #1 Cable series in its Friday 10P time slot.
I see the same type of determination with Season 1 winner Miss Mulatto as I did with Bow Wow when we first put him out. The difference with this is that I have to make a few more believers. Once it connects, she can be just as big.
It’s been 15, 16 years since Bow Wow came out. Queen Latifah (fellow executive producer) and I started this show because there are no young artists in rap that still cater to this type of younger audience. Even if it’s not Miss Mulatto, and someone beats me to the punch with a younger artist and bigger Bow Wow. If you pay attention and do the right thing, it can happen. It’s not easy, it’s just a lane that’s completely wide open.
BET’S “MUSIC MOGULS”
Jermaine has built a multimillion dollar empire based off of producing alone. So why doesn’t he get ranked with the Jay’s, Diddy’s and Dre’s of music?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s me by myself and the music industry is a copycat industry. Therefore, when you have someone else doing something that nobody else can do, then that person doesn’t get their credit, especially in hip-hop. You see more people try to erase that person’s legacy or accomplishments. If they credit the person, they’re putting them further ahead of the curve.
I’ve been blessed to be the only hip-hop producer to attain Billboard’s Song of the Decade (We Belong Together, 2005) and the only producer to chart #1, #2, #3 at the same time on the Billboard Hot 100. But no one really talks about that, at all.
Even with the “My Boo” nobody would’ve probably given me the credit for putting that song out, if they didn’t see me reposting those videos on Instagram. I’ve had to take my own credit. You’ll get to see some of that on the show.
RESURGENCE of GHOST TOWN’s “MY BOO”
The viral phenomenon dance trend, “The Running Man Challenge”, introduced his ’96 hit to younger generations.
I was confused like, “What the hell is going on right now.” I kept asking myself, “Why did these kids pick this song?” I’m part of the Hip Hop community and I’ve never seen a hip-hop record come back like this. Say, for instance, Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was the first most popular hip-hop record and lasted a long time. It still didn’t come back like this- where the younger generation didn’t know who the artist was and they thought it was a new song. They don’t even know this song existed nearly 20 years ago. They just thought this song came out a few months ago. I kept saying, “This has to be a joke.”
Then I’m like maybe somebody used it in a television commercial, but it couldn’t’ve been that because they would’ve had to contact me for clearances. Someone told me these kids just got on YouTube and it just took off from there. That’s the definition of having a hit record. Not even a hit record, a MONSTER record. I don’t know this has happened or if it will ever happen again. Billboard said that this only happens with when people are dead. Ain’t nobody dead, Thank God (laughs)!
WRITING PROCESS WITH USHER AND MARIAH
Although he’s worked with every artist in the business, Jermaine has garnered the most success producing for Usher and Mariah Carey.
Usher is the R&B version of myself. If I made R&B music and was a singer, the records that you heard from him would’ve been my songs. The cadence and how he was singing, was basically me and how I thought would sound right for him. As we worked together, it became a sound that he developed for himself so I could play more along with it.
With Mariah, I only help her with cadence. Lyrically, she’s a beast and has always been. The places where she goes to write, mentally speaking, I wouldn’t even use those type of words in my everyday language (laughs).
Her vocabulary is verbose and is different than anyone else in the business. That’s why we work so well because I respect her as a writer and I do my best to push her. She does what she does and I do what I do, and we’ll meet in the middle. If we do what we’re supposed to do, then the records will come out sounding as great as “We Belong Together.”
DRAWING THE LINE BETWEEN PRODUCER AND MANAGER
Jermaine uses his executive experience to lend a managerial hand.
My passion is going into the studio to create and produce beats. The thing is, I have a close relationship with almost every artist I work with, so the managing factor is something that comes naturally.
Someone asked me the other day, “Why don’t you do what Jay-Z does with Roc Nation?” When I play both manager and producer, then the labels look at me like I’m trying to monopolize something and I’m really not.
When somebody like myself starts to come try and do as much as I can do, the structure comes. People then get scared because they think they don’t want to feel their job is in jeopardy. I want the music to work more than I want to receive an award for being someone’s manager.
“Music Moguls” airs on BET and “The Rap Game” airs on Lifetime. You can follow Jermaine’s blog Global 14 to catch up on the latest trends and news in music.