A longstanding high-level performer in any ever-evolving industry is a singular achievement. From music, sports and communication to life itself, it is not easy to keep up with the times. Some people try to adapt and fail. Others are so stubborn that they don’t see the need to adapt. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with Jermaine Dupri.
A mainstay in music for more than three decades, the 50-year-old’s disciple-like approach and master-like confidence have resulted in some of the greatest acts and records in hip-hop and R&B. Despite how much the music business has changed, the founder has remained So So Def is true to itself – resulting in the discovery of Kris Kross in the ’90s, Bow Wow in the 2000s, and Ari Lennox’s first hit in the ’20s.
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No one can ignore JD’s role in creating one of the greatest R&B albums of all time: Usher’s 2004 Classic. confessions. The pen game and overall production and music efforts on the project are forever worth fully exploring.
Now, the Grammy winner is standing alongside the duo on DVSN in Toronto. JD is very involved with her latest album Working on My Karma, which was surrounded by controversy due to the polarizing lead single “If I Get Caught”. In the midst of battling criticisms of the poem, he also has to battle skepticism about his catalog in the face of his upcoming “battle of whacks” with Diddy. However, he is confident that people who underestimate him will see the error of their ways.
VIBE caught up with JD to talk about connecting with DVSN, staying true to his craft, his mutual admiration and Diddy’s, and who he’ll be working with next.
Vibe: I was so involved with the new DVSN album. How did this relationship arise?
Jermaine Dupri: The DVSN thing came from Brian [Michael Cox]. Brian worked on one or two songs on their latest album. They were talking to him about me and he was telling me things about them. Honestly, I was a little unacceptable at first because I thought they were going to try to get me to do something I wasn’t doing. For a second in the music industry, younger artists seemed to be going against traditional musical shapes and sounds and wanted every record to sound like trap music. I was just like, “I’ve never made music like this before.” I, unfortunately, can’t make recordings where I transcribe everyone’s music. I just know how to make what I make. Eventually Daniel and I had a conversation and got locked out from there. I knew he wanted to get closer to the R&B bridge. At some point, I began to realize that Brian and I were the gatekeepers in this younger generation getting into that space.
I think if more of your contemporaries took the same approach, it would reduce the number of complaints people have about this current era of R&B, which has a lot of talented people. They might be a little misleading.
I think, for me too, I’m always working with new artists. I don’t have a problem with artists not being superstars before I work with them. Many producers are just looking to get big projects. If anyone has followed my career, they’ll know that every artist I’ve ever come out with, doesn’t have a name. I made them out of the gate. Still a lot of what I do is search for this opportunity. So even with Ari, I saw it as an opportunity once again for Jermaine to give her her first record. I love all those kinds of prizes (Laughs).
With DVSN, this is their fifth album to be released. A lot of people around me, especially here in Atlanta, didn’t even know who DVSN was. I felt the mission was to educate the group and get people to ask me about it. Once you get started, figuring out music is easy, especially when you’re writing some songs. We just had to get them to be talkative.
In the early 2000s, you were working with a lot of great hip-hop artists. More recently, it was just the R&B production credits over the past decade. Is this intentional? Don’t you feel the way hip-hop has transformed?
I feel like hip-hop definitely hurts and needs to be revived. I have to go ahead and say this: Over the past 20 years, Atlanta has always had at least five to six of the best rappers at one time. For now, Atlanta is down to two big-name artists: Lil Baby and Future. There’s still a lot of talent in town, and I don’t want anyone to spoil what I’m saying, but this upper echelon where you have Ludacris and Jeezy and 2 Chainz and Migos and Future and Lil Baby — I mean, at one point, all of this was Atlanta. This was where all the top notch rap artists came from.
I’m not talking about artists who just make songs, but first songs. Artists who feel like defining the game. Rap music for me is getting a little old, but I never really stopped recording rap songs. As a producer, people still want me to make R&B records. It’s interesting how this conversation started [by] I say Bow Wow, which was crazy to me because at one point in my career, I didn’t even want to make kid artists anymore because I felt like I didn’t want to be the guy who made little kid-friendly music. Then I started and said, “F**k this.” I have stopped fighting what comes at me. I want to say this: I’m dropping a rap project with Curren$y. So I got it here first.
You and Diddy plan to have a “Battle of the Blows”. When the topic was first brought up, a lot of people on social media were like, “JD can’t keep up with Diddy” and then she spoke up. How did it make you feel when people didn’t really know everything you did?
well, one, Turquoise By itself an east coast driven platform. I feel, personally, that anytime Jermaine Dupri is mentioned in the same place as any New York producer, people start saying no against me and that’s fair enough, I get it. A lot of the records you made were probably southern records that people in town hadn’t heard. A lot of times I was in New York, I used to be like, “Damn, I’ve got a number one record, but my record doesn’t sound on Hot 97 the way it should.”
It doesn’t really bother me because I know what would happen if we did it this way. I am a student of the game and I know the winning game. I also feel, and I’ll say this on the record, that one thing people underestimate in my catalog is the age of Bow Wow. When this conversation happened, people started saying, “Well, what would JD do? Play girl-boo-wow songs?” In the meantime, these are the songs you guys really know. This is not something I made up.
I will agree with that. Bow Wow felt like the biggest thing in the world to me when I was about four or five.
That’s what I say. This is an era. I don’t think people understand that. From 2001 to 2005, I’ll say Bow Wow up to confessions. People always talk about Jermaine Dupri from the ’90s, but 2001 to 2005 was the very dead Jermaine Dupri era. These are documented things. No one can tell me a single Bad Boy artist who had a feud with Bow Wow in 2001-2002. It’s the same thing he could say. Puff could say, “What artist did Jermaine have that was trending with Peggy?”
It is very normal now for New York artists to collaborate with Southern artists or West Coast artists. In your era when these records occurred, you were all about to go wild. Jay-Z has worked with people in the south and the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix featuring Diddy and Snoop Dogg was unprecedented. In those moments when those records came together, how did it feel?
I was so amazed that I was doing something no one else was doing. I was the guy who was bringing Jay-Z to Atlanta. I at least introduced my neighborhood, College Park, to Jay-Z. I can’t take credit for the rest of the world. Same thing when Puff put on “Welcome to Atlanta.” This is amazing Turquoise The conversation was already happening at the time which was the reason I put it out there. People kept trying to set me and Puff up against each other; I was trying to make sure people realized that I loved what Puff Daddy did.
I’ve been along with Biggie and Puff this entire trip. I never wanted people to start thinking I feel like the Southern version of Puff or whatever. I get to hear a lot of craziness and say, “Guys, listen. First of all, for the record, I started before Puff Daddy.” “I don’t think people even really realized that when Kris Cross came out, Puff Daddy didn’t have any record on the radio.
As a producer, I often think that people don’t pay attention. What I was doing in Atlanta coincided with the same thing he was starting to do. We had a lot of similarities, but I never felt threatened by Puff. I always felt inspired by him. I told Puff a couple of days ago, I was glad he was running around New York doing this song [“Gotta Move On”]. What Puff also does is show these young artists how to make a record that you actually believe in. You don’t let this record go. Don’t go and compose another song. That’s why we do remixes. I have always studied, paid attention and been inspired.
If you could put together a Mount Rushmore producer, and you could include yourself, who would the four producers be?
Teddy Riley has created an entire genre of music. Berry Gordy created the music, period. Dr. Dre, without a doubt, created a whole wave and took out the entire coast. Quincy Jones is without a doubt the greatest producer of all time. This is Mount Rushmore Producers. They cover the ground that none of us cover. As long as they’re even in my sight, I’ll never put myself out there.
Who are some of the current artists that you admire that you haven’t worked with yet and would be interested in working with?
I think Brent Fayaz is interesting. I think he and I are going to make a record that will change his life, not that he needs it (Laughs). It pops. I think his voice is interesting. I’m still trying to fully understand it, but I’d be interested to see what music we make for it.
Another one drake. I feel like Drake didn’t actually make the R&B record he wanted. I think he makes great music. If I get a chance to collaborate with him, I think we can offer Drake something he didn’t interfere with that might make him do something we haven’t seen either.
kendrick [Lamar]. I want to make a record with Summer Walker. I think I could do a song for Summer Walker that would be one of the biggest songs ever.
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