Jermaine Dupri: Back In Business

posted May 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 29 comments

Since the early '90s, Jermaine Dupri has never been out of business. Whether dancing, rapping, producing or running boutique labels to the most powerful imprints of the past and future, JD remains at the top of his game with an inventive ear and a groundbreaking business acumen.

Now with his TAG Records shattering the status-quo, the face of So So Def takes it one step further. HipHopDX pauses to revisit the makings of a man that made so many classics both in the background and foreground. With corporations investing in urban music at a crippling time too, Dupri provides the answers to keep the culture forward-moving, and remind us to be patient. The game don't wait, but as he carries the torch, Jermaine Dupri reminds us that he hasn't forgot where it comes from, and you can trust him.

HipHopDX: I read that your first big performance was dancing with Diana Ross when you were nine years old. How crazy was that?
Jermaine Dupri:
Yeah, I guess thats what people wanna call my first big performance, but it wasnt planned so I dont look at it like that. It was like my discovery of what I wanted to do in life. It was my first taste of what stardom would be like, because I went onstage and the Omni was packed. When I danced, the audience went crazy, so hearing people cheer for me was like, I think I like this!

DX: As a producer you've obviously influenced a lot of Hip Hop artists. Who were the artists who inspired you to get into music in the first place?
There were no artists; it was mostly producers. I was very intrigued by what Teddy Riley and Herbie Luv Bug were doing before me, and those were the guys that actually got me into it and put me in the position of wanting to have a crew to create an album with. I learned the craft of sound through Teddy Riley, and I learned how to create a crew through Herbie, who had Kid n Play and Kwame on his team of artists. I created whats now called So So Def based on the model of what he did.

DX: You got a record contract for Silk Tymes Leather when you were just 14. What advice would you give today's young people hoping to make it in the music business?
First Id let them know that its not everything it seems to be, and second Id tell them to let the love of music be their motivating factor. If money is your motivating factor, the music business isnt the place you wanna be. If anything besides the music is motivating you, this business will destroy you. If youre young and really in focus, you need to be willing to do things without getting paid. Its one of the hardest tests of being in this business, and only the strong survive it. When I first started I wasnt even thinking amount money or trying to pay a bill, I was just doing my thing. If youre not prepared to work hard, you should do something else, and thats a hard thing for young people to hear.

DX: By the time you turned 20, you'd already produced several multi-platinum artists, not to mention starting your own successful label. What were the best and worst things about achieving that kind of success so early in life?
The worst thing is still the same today: Im still the youngest label CEO/president in the music business, and theres still people who dont wanna listen to me even though Ive made all these hits and all that. Theres always people who wanna challenge you based on the fact that youre still a young dude. I dont carry myself like these old-ass men out here who think you only get a chance to see them once you make it big. Im still out there in the strip clubs and in the streets, remaining as vital as anyone else out there. It puts me in the strange position of being a boss amongst other bosses who dont act like me, which can make it hard to function as effectively as I want to. But I came into this business believing in handling myself a certain way, and nobody has shown me a better way so far.

DX: As one of the early architects of the ATL's urban music scene, how do you feel about the state of the dirty south sound today?
I think its still incredible today, but a lot of these younger artists are only in it for the quick dollar. They need to understand that theyve gotta create artists, whether within themselves or with the people they work with. You cant have a record as big as Party Like a Rock Star and not have people remember the groups name [Shop Boyz]. If were gonna keep leading the way in music, we have to change and create artists, not one-hit wonders. People blame me for putting out Snap music with Dem Franchise Boys, but I broke that sound and expected that people would take it and make it bigger and better. But they didnt: They just kept doing what I was doing, and it became stagnant. For me, it feels like thats where we are right now, with a lot of artists having potential theyre not really living up to yet. In order for Atlanta to remain a music mecca, weve got to prove that were more than bubblegum music. We need more OutKasts.

DX: You've obviously had your frustrations with the major label game in recent years, and spoke out pretty strongly about the way Janet's labels failed to promote her projects properly. Do you think urban music has less respect for veteran artists than rock does for bands like the Rolling Stones?
Yeah, totally, and Im still trying to figure out why. I think its the people who are guiding the ships who arent paying attention to the veterans. I blame the label presidents, because they dont treat [urban music legends] like they treat The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones last record didnt sell shit, but theyre still treated like royalty, while Michael Jackson cant even get a record deal right now. Prince isnt really signed to a record company right now. The people that owned these companies back in the day had more love for music than the people who run them today.

DX: What do you think major labels need to do in order to adapt to the changes facing the music industry today?
Let younger people run em!

DX: Whats your overall mission for the TAG Records label?
My mission is to use this platform in the right way, to create artists with the potential to have at least three or four hit albums under their belt. Thats first and foremost. Secondly, I want to create music that people really like, and Ive never had too much trouble doing that. [Laughs] But most importantly, I want to create a stable of artists that the fans truly like, because every other record that comes out, people are mad at the artists. Like when I put out this new artist, Rocko [click to read], nine times out of 10, the blogs that I read were calling him fake and cheesy. So Im trying to find that artist that people are gonna connect with. People feel like rap music is just the same ol thing over and over again, and theyre tired of all the hustlers. Were all looking for the next Biggies and Tupacs instead of acknowledging that incredible artists like that just dont get discovered every day. Thats why theres only one Biggie, one Tupac, one Jay-Z. We gotta get the idea of finding artists like that out of our minds and focus on building incredible artists. Fans are impatient: If OutKast came out with Southernplayalisticadillacmusik today, do you think audiences would even give them a chance?

No way.

Theyd tear them down before they even got an opportunity to create Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. What Soulja Boy did was incredible he wrote all his lyrics, produced his own album and created his own hype at the age of 16, got a record deal, sold a platinum album and a shitload of ringtones in todays market. He created a positive and lucrative movement, but people still say his music is crap and talk shit about him! Give the kid an opportunity to turn into somebody! It was his first album! Hes 16! Lets give him a chance and see what he turns into, not knock him down before he even gets an opportunity to prove himself.

DX: What advantage does teaming with a company like TAG provide to the artists who sign with you, as opposed to a traditional label?
Well, I have a marketing budget like nobodys ever had. Thats the craziest thing. Artists are always looking for sponsorship, but with this theyre automatically coming out of the box with sponsorship, so youll see that artist in commercials, hear them on radio spots, basically whatever TAG Body Spray does to promote their product.

DX: How do you think this, and Jay-Z's new deal with Live Nation, are emblematic of the ways artists can benefit from the new music industry business model?
What this deal does for me personally is to create excitement within the music industry. The industry has lost that sense of excitement. Thats what I liked about going to Island Def Jam the label itself was newsworthy and people were always writing about what was going on at the label and who was gonna be the next president. That creates excitement. When I announced the TAG deal, it was a little overwhelming to me because I didnt think people were gonna get hyped up like that. But now people are excited to see what I do with this music and where I take this label, because hopefully its gonna be the stepping stone for the next era. Apple keeps the computer business exciting every time they put out new products, and I think me and Jay-Z have pumped some freshness into the music business.

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