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Even in 2023, Jermaine Dupri is in a zone.
The impresario has spent the past few months embarking on a lengthy, albeit overdue, award tour, basking in the acknowledgement of his accomplishments and contributions. Prestigious honors such as Atlanta’s Phoenix Award, the Otis and Zelma Redding Award of Respect, and the Black Music Action Coalition’s Clarence Avant Trailblazer Award are a mere shortlist of the hardware that’s been bestowed upon Dupri in the midst of his ongoing victory lap. The spoils of a hometown hero awaited upon his return to Atlanta, as MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) custom-wrapped the bus that rides along Route 89 and through Dupri’s College Park stomping grounds in his likeness, with the phrase Welcome To Atlanta emblazoned along the side.
The following October evening, many of the label’s landmark acts, including Da Brat, Bow Wow, and Dem Franchize Boyz, joined him and affiliates Ludacris, Nelly, Chingy, and Tyrese onstage for a historic performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, commemorating So So Def’s milestone 30th anniversary.
Jet setting across the country to these various events in such a short span can take its toll on even the most hardened traveler, but the 51-year-old has remained unphased. It isn’t that surprising, being that he was thrust into the eye of the storm of success, debauchery and celebrity at an age when most young adults are toiling over FASFA forms and collegiate exams. He’s used to the grind, better yet, built for it. It’s all he’s known for longer than many music fans have been alive. This is evidenced even further by the fact he kicked off the week DJing at the Angel Ball in New York City before heading back to the A to be inducted into the Black Walk Of Fame days later. Only to hop back on a plane and trek to Virginia to spin as the guest DJ at Hampton University’s homecoming the following day.
The celebrations and exploits further crystalize the fact that Dupri is not only the man of the moment, but a living monument. He’s helped lay foundational bricks in musical empires aplenty, but continues to build, entertain, and, of course, make you dance at a seemingly endless rate. While other producers often rest on the laurels of their classics of yesteryear, JD is forever on the hunt for the next hit, as helping develop young, fresh talent has become not only a thrill, but borderline addictive to the veteran. Having navigated the stormy waters of longevity in the face of evolution, Dupri is now imparting his wisdom and lending his sound to a new generation of Hip-Hop and R&B artists, many of whom were raised on and inspired by his older catalog. His keen eye and ear for talent with the ability to blossom into megastars is paralleled by few and is a skill he intends to utilize while introducing the next generation of So So Def. According to JD, after an independent stint, he’s currently working with a new roster of artists and is in the process of securing a distributor for the label.
“I’m working on a new situation where I’m going to start putting out new artists,” Dupri tells VIBE. “I don’t know how long before I can really say this and when it’s gonna happen, but I’m just gonna crank back up and finish doing what I started,” he continues. “It’s artists out here that have come from So So Def that are out here making their way and doing what they gotta do…brand new artists and [me] putting people out here, I love it and it is no reason for the stop and and ain’t nobody else doing it. Next year, look out for so much shit. I finally got the cover of VIBE now, too. I’m gonna go crazy on ni**as.”
While the future and present appears promising for JD and So So Def, his past excellence, professional turmoil, and drama has made for a captivating career filled with rollercoaster moments of euphoria, uncertainty and the gamut in between. In part two of our cover story for VIBE’s 30th anniversary ‘Juice’ issue, we delve deep into Jermaine Dupri’s relationships with his artists, love, and rivals while looking forward to his next chapters.
What comes to mind when you think of Monica?
A boss. She’s one of the first young girls that I’ve seen really start taking her career and doing what she wanted to do with it. She really had a vision for where she wanted to go. It probably got a little rocky for her at one point because she was a young girl and she was trying to maneuver in the industry and turn into a mom and all of these other things. But she actually got her hands on it and became a real boss and that’s what I think about when I think about Monica.
How did y’all meet?
We’re from the same neighborhood. We’re both from College Park. So that was a thing that was always burning with us, that Dallas Austin signed her first. He’s from College Park, so it was just mutual. We are from the same city in Atlanta, so automatically, you just end up knowing people that’s from your neighborhood.
We heard that you actually had a chance to sign TLC?
That was my group before they signed with LaFace. I had TLC and Kris Kross at the same time. But I was more around the guys than I was with the girls and it felt like to them that I wasn’t into them as much as I was with Kris Kross. Once I got Kris Kross signed, I always had plans to go back to TLC, but I didn’t have a label. Kris Kross was on Ruffhouse, they weren’t on my label. So I didn’t have a place to put TLC immediately and right at that moment is when LaFace came to Atlanta and they started looking for artists. So TLC just happened to be open for LaFace to sign and have an opportunity right on the spot where I didn’t have that. I had an opportunity, but I didn’t have a place to put them.
Describe your relationship with Da Brat and what she means to So So Def and you, personally?
I mean, that’s my sister. She is the rest of the house. Xscape built the house and Da Brat put the roof on the house and everybody else at that point walked into the house. But those two, Xscape and Da Brat, they basically built the house that So So Def is. Da Brat lived at my house. Da Brat became like my little sister. Just more than music. It’s just really me and her is completely more than music and Da Brat understands what most people in the music industry stopped understanding. I didn’t have to sign Brat, I wasn’t forced to sign Da Brat. I actually didn’t want to sign Da Brat. I didn’t have to put Da Brat on the Mariah remix with Xscape.
There’s a lot of things that I didn’t have to do that I did and Da Brat will never allow me or anybody else to ever forget that. And she’s probably the most genuine friend that I have because she reminds me of this shit all the time. Like, ‘You made me successful. You gave me a life that I didn’t have in Chicago and no matter what you go through or whatever happens, I’m So So Def forever.’ And she’s actually one of the only people that’s ever told me that.
Speaking of Da Brat, her partner recently gave birth to their first child and they’ve been embraced for just living freely and being in the public eye. Knowing Da Brat so closely and and the stigmas surrounding female rappers and sexual orientation in the past, how was it been seeing them being embraced by Hip-Hop?
It’s amazing. It’s amazing to see Da Brat take control of her life and actually get to a space of comfort. It’s not Jermaine driving her, it’s not somebody else telling her, she’s doing exactly what she wants to do. I always want that for any of my artists and once they find that space, I feel like that’s the golden era of your life. So me seeing her do that…me walking her out on her wedding, all of that, I feel like that was all genuine. It’s not something that’s made up and it’s not fake. This is who she is, who she wants to be. It’s the life that she wants to live. So I’m completely happy.
Mentioning those names, it’s clear you’ve had an immense impact on the careers of some of the best-selling artists of the past generation. Do you feel you’re overlooked for being a King and Queen maker?
Yeah, 100%. I feel like that stigma of Jermaine Dupri being from the south and just people not knowing much about me and not knowing the true story. I feel like that makes people jump from one thing to the other instead of focusing on a lot of things that they should focus on. Like say, for instance Da Brat. Da Brat being the first solo female artist [to go platinum], that’s one of the biggest accomplishments in Hip-Hop ever, right? Because like all of these female rappers that’s out right now, I don’t even ever hear people talk about this. When Da Brat went platinum, this wasn’t a thing. We’re not doing things that other people was doing, we were doing sh*t that’s never been done. So yeah, you think about it from that perspective. And then people make me think that I’m trying too hard to get credibility for something. But I’m like wait a minute, when I see other things do sh*t that’s never been done before, people talk about this forever. They never stop talking about it. Da Brat, it’s the 50th Anniversary Hip-Hop, she’s probably the least celebrated female artist in the game.
She did the impossible at a time when it was impossible. It was Salt-N-Pepa and nobody else. That was it. [Queen] Latifah, no. Monie Luv, no. Nobody had done what Da Brat did numbers wise, selling wise, none of that. Not Antoinette. Not Boss. Not none of these girls. So you look at female rap and how credible it is now and how many people talk about female rap, I barely hear people talk about Da Brat the way I feel like they should. So yeah when you talk about stuff like that 100%. Do people look over Jermaine Dupri? 100%.
F**k, people argue about if Kris Kross was the group that blew it up for Atlanta. People always want to give it to OutKast. When people do that, they don’t even realize that OutKast got booed at The Source Awards. When OutKast got booed at The Source Awards, Kris Kross was already at five million records sold. So who broke the ground in Atlanta first, as far as selling records as rap music? People don’t actually put two and two together when they talk about me. So yeah, when you ask that question and you start putting these pieces together, just look at it. It’s sitting right there in front of you. It’s just people got into a habit of ‘Oh, that’s Jermaine Dupri. Let’s talk about everybody else. Oh, yeah, I forgot about Jermaine Dupri.’ They can’t physically get over the fact that Jermaine Dupri is that person. And I don’t know why it’s like that, but I just definitely know.
Your relationship with Janet Jackson regained headlines when you debunked rumors y’all were dating again. Describe that period of your life and the impact it had on you outside of music?
It was a learning lesson about the entire world that we live in. It was an interesting time because it showed me that people were actually into relationships for no reason. They weren’t into relationships for love and they weren’t into people, they was doing it because of clout and what could come along with it. I learned a lot from her just from being who she is. And a lot of ways that I move and a lot of ways that I started moving and a lot of ways that I started doing things, I learned from her. So it was more that’s a learning lesson. It was a fun learning situation.
You’ve said that you consider your peak to be when you worked on Usher’s Confessions and Mariah’s The Emancipation of Mimi albums.
It’s crazy because a lot of times people say ‘Jermaine, you was hot in the 90s.’ But that 2000s era, right there in that space, I don’t know how many records I was making at that point in time. But you can’t bring up the Mariah record and Usher album and leave out the Bow Wow [Wanted] album, because that album was huge for him, as well. I made all three of those records in that same period.
What spurred that outbreak of creativity?
I don’t know. It’s funny because at the same time period, I remember Nelly coming to my house saying ‘you keep giving all these ni**as number one records. I’ll be damned if you don’t give me one.’ And we made “Grillz.” I made “Grillz” in that same period. I think it was just a hot spurt for Jermaine Dupri and people was just like ‘Let’s get one while we can.’ And everybody that came and that I was giving records to, they just became big records.
People associate you with the City of Atlanta, but you also spent some time living in New York during the ’80s. What was that experience like and how would you describe it’s impact on you as a person, a creative and your view of the culture?
Me living in New York was probably the best part of my journey because it was a teaching [moment]. I didn’t finish middle school. So there’s a lot of life that that New York travel taught me and showed me and explained to me about a lot of different things that I was encountering at that time. But also that I would encounter down the road. People don’t know how Hip-Hop I am because they don’t understand. They don’t know my story and my time in New York. When I was in New York, all I was doing was everything Hip-Hop. Whatever it was. I was running around the streets in New York with Cey [Adams] and Cey was teaching me how to tag and I wanted to be a graffiti artist.
I was a great dancer. I wanted to make beats, I wanted to rap. I was just out in the streets, almost like a homeless person. I wasn’t homeless, but for the most part, I didn’t care where I stayed at. I didn’t care where I was sleeping at. I stayed at Davy DMX’s house in Queens, I slept on the couch at his house. I think I didn’t give a f**k where I was at as long as I was consuming Hip-Hop. And those times of my life really impacted what happens to Jermaine Dupri now. So when you hear me sample records and I chop records and I have a knowledge of finding breaks and things, all of that stuff came from me being that guy and being out there and being in that space. If I was in Atlanta, I would have never learned none of that stuff that I learned.
You’ve been vocal about the lack of respect afforded to you and the south as a whole throughout your career, particularly by New Yorkers. Would you say you have a love/hate relationship with New York City?
No, I love New York. I never really felt like New York disrespected me. I just know what I went through to get my music broken in New York. I had to go head up with people telling me that the South was country. They weren’t gonna play our music. Ni**as in Atlanta don’t know nothing about rap, niggas in Atlanta ain’t Hip-Hop. I’ve had people tell me this directly. So it’s like of course, I’m gonna have some kind of feeling about it, but I don’t have a love/hate [relationship]. I love New York. I wish New York would have stayed the way New York was and wouldn’t have adopted Atlanta culture. I used to go to New York and get so much information and learn so much. Set so much teaching from New York because it was so different than where I lived at. So no, I have no hate for New York at all.
Your rivalry with Diddy has become prominent in recent years, but your history goes back decades. When did you first meet or hear about Puff and what were your first impressions?
I heard about Puff from Silk of Silk Tymes Leather. She was out hanging out and she used to go to New York a lot more than I did back then because the girls from Silk Tymes Leather were dating Whodini. She’s like ‘This guy named Puff Daddy be having these parties in New York. Jermaine, you should go.’ I think the first party I went to was the [Mary J. Blige] What’s the 411 album release party that Puff had. I don’t know who I talked to get in, but I got in. The party was crazy. They maced the door, you know, the New York crazy party, people getting in, whatever. Wild scene outside, but that was my first encounter with me and Puff.
And then I think that I started making records, doing what I was doing and then Puff, when he got fired [from Uptown Records], had to come to Atlanta. That’s when Puff started doing more moving around Atlanta and trying to maneuver himself into a better position of what he was going to do with Bad Boy. He was with Dallas [Austin] and LaFace, but when you come to Atlanta at this time period, it’s my city. So he was coming to the city and I know he heard what was going on with So So Def, so we started doing these Bad Boy and So So Def parties and basketball games and all of these things. So it was never like a rivalry. It was more or less about just camaraderie of he got a company, I got a company, let’s do something people like. We’re trying to get the people out.
I think the Usher record created this conflict of people thinking that it was a battle between the two of us. Because even I heard you say something about Usher’s first album where it didn’t do as good as people thought it was gonna do. Me, I had no expectations for Usher’s album. Matter of fact, I wasn’t even paying attention to Usher’s album when Puff did his record. But I think people look at it like ‘Puff f**ked up Usher record, J.D. made it right.’ That was never something that was even in my mind when I did My Way. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I gotta make sure I do this better than Puff.’ Puff wasn’t never in my [mind]. I’ve always known that he and I made records 100% differently than each other. The way he produces records compared to the way I produce records is like night and day.
I never had anything to say about the way he produced records because I felt like what he does and what he gets out of people and where his records live and how they live was always a vibe. I wanted to have a piece of that as well. But I never saw a rivalry between us. I always supported Puff. Once me and Puff became cool from being in Atlanta, he would always call me and be like ‘JD check this out.’ So it was just like we kicked it, we talked and we became real friends that understood that it was a rivalry in people’s minds, but we ain’t never really acknowledge it. We always just kicked with each other. I know from my side, anyway, I always just kicked it with him because like I said, I never paid no attention to that rivalry because it don’t matter. It don’t bother me. It don’t do nothing for me. I know what I do and I know what he does and I feel like [it’s] vice versa. So I have always felt like that. Like I said, I think that Verzuz happen and of course they’re gonna put me in Puff up against each other, that’s natural. But other than that, it’s never really been a real rivalry.
When you first challenged Diddy to a Verzuz, a lot of people counted you out as if you couldn’t compete. What was your initial reaction to that talk?
It more angers me because when people started talking about the me and Puff thing back and forth, I have a Song of the Decade. I have things that Puff don’t have in his arsenal. And if we’re going off stats in like basketball or we’re going off stats in like a sporting event, I’m very competitive like that. If you do the numbers and you look at the percentage between the two people, my percentages are different than Puff’s. You can say if they’re better or not, whatever, but I think when people started talking about us battling, just because Puff has Big, ni**as is just like he was sweep the battle and I’m just like that’s disrespectful to me in a lot of ways. Because Biggie is Biggie, don’t get me wrong. That’s my man, I love him to death and the whole world does. But if you’re gonna put me up against him and we’re gonna go song for song, he can’t play 20 Biggie songs [laughs]. If y’all allow that to happen, then it ain’t no need to even don’t talk about this, right?
That’s what pissed me off. I’m like ‘Damn, y’all act like every song I play, he’s gonna play a Biggie record.’ So I had to start breaking down his Biggie records as well and just let him know the records that you’re playing, they’re good records. They’re cultural records. [But] is “Warning” bigger than “Funkdafied?” Not in numbers wise [laughs]. In a cultural dominance? Of course. Is “Who Shot Ya” bigger than “Money Ain’t A Thing?” If we’re doing the numbers and we’re talking about it from that, it’s different. Some people have it weighed out how they have it weighed out. So yeah, of course, that bothered me because it was like out of all the work that I’ve done, out of all the records I put out. And I know you f**k with the music, how you just gonna start saying [he’s gonna] get washed? You can at least say damn, you know, it’s gonna be a good fight, but washed? Come on man? That ain’t about to happen with nobody. I might get beat, and by the way, I’ve already said that. I know how Hip-Hop work, that ni**as is gonna [say] one Biggie song equals like two records to people in in the culture. That’s just how it goes. But me getting washed, I never had that in my mind. Like, you can’t [say that]. If that’s how you feel then that’s just how you feel.
One factor I’d say has affected the perception of you in Hip-Hop is not breaking or being closely associated with a rap icon. Puff had Biggie, as well as Ma$e and The LOX. Dre had Snoop and later Pac. Do you ever regret not honing in on finding that flagship emcee for So So Def?
“I want you to pay attention to what you said because this is a thing that I really feel like this article needs to make people understand. In Hip-Hop, those were the rules. That was the rules. The rules was producers like Dr. Dre get an older ni**a to be their rapper. The producer like Puff Daddy, gets an older ni**a to be the rapper. That was the rules. Here comes Jermaine Dupri with a new set of rules. And his rappers are not old ni**as, but his rappers sell just as many records as these old ni**as, right? So when people say that, it’s crazy to me. The only reason people don’t equate Bow Wow and Ma$e in the same space when we talk about this is because Bow Wow was 12 years-old, right? So when people be asking me recently, ‘Jermaine, how you want people to remember So So Def, I want ni**as to give me the credit for being the person who ushered [in] young in Hip-Hop.
Because prior to that and still to this day, people still equate Hip-Hop to old people. Jermaine Dupri brought youth to rap. I’m the one who brought young ni**as and made it possible for young 16-17 year-old ni**as to be able to make money in the rap game. I am that person and I want that as my title and I want that is my tag. And I’m cool with that because that’s ultimately what happened. It wasn’t about me not finding older rapper, it was just I liked making music and I saw the vision for younger ni**as. I thought younger ni**as was Hip-Hop. I saw Hip-Hop going where hip hop is now. Right now, Hip-Hop is so young now that hen I’m trying to find artists, it’s ni**as telling me ‘O.G., you know this a young man’s game.’ I’m like dog, do you know who the f**k y’all got that from?’ You know why you can even say it’s a young man’s game now is because of me. That’s the one thing that I want to make sure that we get across in this article.
Yes, you’re right, I didn’t have an older rapper. That was Dre. That was Puff. That was anybody else. Jermaine Dupri came in the game and he decided to go with teenagers, people that was younger. So when I look at what DJ Drama and them is doing with Generation Now, they wouldn’t even be able to say that sh*t if it wasn’t for So So Def. They wouldn’t even be able to have that mentality if it wasn’t for what I was doing with the young artists that I’m with. So me, personally, when that comes up, I look at it like yeah, I could have had an old rapper and I could have did the same thing everybody else was doing. But I chose to try to break somebody else.
How would you describe the nature of your relationship with Bow Wow, with the ups and downs between the two of you over the years?
Well, it’s no ups and downs. What it is, is that Bow Wow embodies the sh*t that people have given me, but Bow Wow has tried to combat it. And then the shit that people have given Bow Wow, I fought it off a lot myself when I was side by side with Bow Wow. Once I became not side by side with Bow Wow, he had to realize all the sh*t that people was throwing at him. Jermaine was basically blocking a lot of that sh*t from happening. When I moved away from being side by side, he had to take all of that. So here you are, you have a guy that’s a kid that grew up [famous]. What, “Bounce With Me” came out, Bow Wow was 12 years-old. So since 12 years-old, Bow Wow has been a superstar. Like Mike came out, Bow Wow was 13. That sh*t did 50 million at the box office. He don’t know nothing else besides entertainment and business.
So when people are coming at him, people are coming at me, his frustrations are way way deeper than mine because he can’t understand it. Because at one point, everybody loved him. Then the next point, everybody don’t love him. It’s just a crazy dynamic for Bow Wow. And then he also went through this phase where people turned on him. It was like ‘If it wasn’t for Jermaine, you wouldn’t be sh*t.’ So then he had to start fighting that off. And it’s just like…when you’re fighting, you just start throwing sh*t just so you can protect yourself. So Bow Wow says these things about me that ultimately, he’s come back and said ‘Man, I’m sorry I said [that].’ And me being the person that created Frankenstein, I have to understand exactly what it was. I created this kid from nothing and this guy goes and turns into this space. And know, like I told you about my career, nobody told me how to deal with it. Once I got to a space, I stopped telling him how to deal with it.
That era of Hip-Hop and Bow Wow… Ni**as really be acting like that wasn’t monumental to the culture. The Bow Wow era and 106 & Park being a piece to get the music heard and me having that artist and bringing that artist to life, that was an era in Hip Hop that to get down, you had to get down with it. If not, you was gonna get left out.
So at that point, it’s him trying to deal with it the best way he knows how. And he didn’t go through Hip-Hop crash course the way I did. He didn’t live in New York. He’s from Ohio. He moved from Ohio to L.A., from L.A. to Atlanta and he’s just been trying to navigate this the best way he can. It’s kind of like when I watch Tyrese on TV. The stuff that Tyrese is going through and stuff that Tyrese talk about, it’s like people don’t understand these guys. They’ve been in this entertainment sh*t their whole life. They don’t know regular life. So they don’t actually know how to deal with some of the things outside of what’s happening in this world the way they should. So they deal with it the best way they know how. And sometimes they don’t come off the way people want it to come off.
Any hopes of working together again in the future?
Bow Wow is So So Def. He’ll always be part of So So Def. It is what it is. It’s funny to me because Bow Wow grew up right in front of y’all and y’all watched him grow up in front of y’all with me as his mentor, right beside him. So people don’t know nothing else, right? Bow Wow does his own thing, but we’ll eventually make music or we’ll do something. Bow Wow was part of this festival and Bow Wow’s part of the shows that I’ve got coming up and all of that. So, he’s always going to be a part of So So Def.
You also drew criticism for “dropping the ball” on Latto, the winner of your Lifetime competition The Rap Game. In your view, what led to the two of you parting ways and are there any regrets?
We put the record out independently and basically that’s what it was. Her single came out through So So Def, I promoted it. The fact that people know who Miss Mulatto was is because they saw her with Jermaine Dupri. From that point on, I never had any interest in doing more than what was supposed to be done with the TV show. I always thought Latto was a good artist, though. She definitely was well ahead of her class when it comes to young artists. So the second season, I put her on the next record with MANI Da Don, the kid that won that was from L.A. I put her on the record with him and DEETRANADA, the girl from Baltimore. That was the second record I put out [with Latto]. And then I did The Rap Game tour and I took all of them on tour. Nobody actually knows who the f**k these artists are. If you watched the TV show, cool, you know, but for the most part, nobody had a hit record. It was a completely different lifestyle than what Jermaine Dupri and So So Def had ever went into the world and did. So I go out on this tour and I’m pushing this. I’m trying to make sure that we have a tour, I’m trying to make sure these kids got tour buses and they’re out on the road and they’re doing what they got to do.
A couple of cities we get to, the tickets don’t sell the way the tickets are supposed to be selling. And by the way, I want people to know this because other artists’ stories like Ray Charles and all of this type of stuff. They have all of this information in their story, when you talk about Jermaine Dupri, people leave a lot of this stuff out. And it just goes into a space as if none of these other things happened. So The Rap Game tour went on the road, majority of the cities, it was successful. A lot of other cities, they weren’t successful. I was not the promoter, I was just fueling this trying to make this happen. And I was trying to make sure that these guys got money in their pocket and all of this. But it was some nights where promoters didn’t make no money and they couldn’t pay the artists. So somewhere in that mix, Latto and her father, they targeted me as the person that was not paying her the money and not doing what was supposed to be done. And like I said, I’m not getting ready to go into my pocket and pay y’all if your show don’t work. This is something that as an artist, you have to learn about touring and doing shows, period. Like that’s what it is. If I was the promoter, it would have been different, but I wasn’t the promoter.
So long story short, we never had no beef. I did everything I was supposed to do with Latto. I put her first record out. I never was into the fact of me trying to do an album with her and hold onto her. When Mark Pitts signed her, he called me and said ‘JD, can I sign Latto? Are you cool if I sign her?’ I said ‘It’s cool, whatever you want to do, you do it.’ Me and Mark is cool. I actually let Latto go do that deal without me having any points or anything. I ain’t wanna have nothing to do with it because like I said, I felt like I had done what I had did. Also, my mind was elsewhere, I wasn’t even thinking about it. I provided kids a TV show that nobody else was giving nobody. But everybody just wanna talk about the fact that Latto blew up and we’re not together. They gotta stop looking at that part and understand the actual whole facts behind the situation.
Have you had a chance to speak with her since then?
Nah. Once she’s out doing her thing, I let her do her thing. It’s not even in my space because one thing I truly don’t care about is the fact that it’s not about ‘Oh, she’s popping now, she should’ve been with So So Def.’ I did my job, that’s all I can do. So her doing what she’s doing now, it has nothing to do with me and it’s not even something I think about. So it’s no need for me to even talk about it, it’s just that other people bring that up all the time.
In 2018, you were the second person in Hip-Hop to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. What was that moment like?
When it first happened, Big Jon [Platt] called me and was like ‘Jermaine, you got in.’ I was just like ‘I got in what?’ He’s like ‘You got into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame,’ and I was kind of like blown away, man. Because one, I don’t think about the time that I’ve been writing songs. I never really thought about it like ‘Damn, I’ve been writing songs for 20 years. That times just going by. Then just the level of writing. I never knew what my position was in songwriting. When I went to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I realized that this institution had been around for 40 years. And in 40 years, they never seen nobody like Jermaine Dupri. What I mean by that is, I was the first of my kind to be a songwriter that had written rap songs and R&B songs. Babyface never wrote a rap or a number one rap song. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis never wrote a number one rap song.
I mean, you can go down the list. Berry Gordy, whatever. They’ve all written songs in one genre. Here comes Jermaine Dupri, his first record was the number one rap song. His second record was the number one R&B record. His third record was the number one rap song. So it’s like I was the first of my kind to go into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Even like Hov. I think Hov might have started writing songs for Beyonce somewhere down the line, but not full songs. Not full R&B records. So even with Jay Z going in [first], he and I still were different songwriters. He was a songwriter that had written all rap records, where I was the one that had written in both genres and been successful on both sides. So it was amazing and it was also enlightening as well because people won’t tell me that I’ve been doing this and people won’t say this stuff to me. So I have to go through these types of things for me to really start realizing the sh*t that I’m doing. Because for the longest, people continue to try to make what Jermaine Dupri does not special and not something that amazing. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m not cocky. I mean everybody say I’m too humble, ni**as always saying I’m too humble. So it’s not because I’m trying to boast. I don’t know why they do it like that, but it’s always presented as if it’s not that special.
You’ve recently worked with younger artists like Ella Mai, Summer Walker, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and more. How have you been able to connect musically with those artists in spite of the Gap in age?
When it comes to R&B music, my music is the most played in this era of time right now. I believe in all of these R&B parties that’s out, they’re playing Xscape, they’re playing Jagged Edge, they’re playing Usher. Fifty percent of my music is getting played the most at all of these R&B parties and I’m not saying this, the DJs be telling me this. And with that being said, that means that my music is closer to the music that these new artists want to do. The music that me and Brian-Michael Cox make is more or less the music that these younger artists want to make and they feel like we hold the secret to them getting to that space. So it’s not hard. It wasn’t hard once I realized it because when Ari and them wanted to work with me. It’s not something that I was reaching out to them It was like people without her management wanted me to get the studio with them once I realized why and what these artists wanted, I just was like I’m gonna open the floodgates and just work with everybody.
When I saw Summer Walker and London on the track remade “You Made Me Wanna,” I was just like ‘Oh okay, y’all remixing the stuff I made 10 years ago. Y’all just remaking my music. So then Usher called me and he’s like, “Jermaine, I want you to write the verse for this new Summer record.’ When he sent me that, I was just like ‘Word? You want me right a new verse on one of my old songs?’ It was something that I had never done before and I don’t think I had ever seen people doing this. So I was just like shit let me do it. So I step into that space of me writing the verse for the Summer Walker record and that record worked, then became her biggest song to date. I just felt like I’ve seen it, it’s a lane. These kids, these artists, they want that sound. It’s a natural thing for me to make records to sound like this, I know how to do it. We just dropped Muni Long’s single last week. Her new record me and Bryan-Michael Cox did. And then a new record with me and Jacquees drops on Friday. So yeah, I’m in that space.
Can you speak on the partnership that you and Brian-Michael Cox have?
We have a relationship that’s a respect relationship. I understand what he does, he understands what I do. I allow him to do what he does and he allows me to do what I do. We both just play off each other and we’ve been able to just continue our motion from from day one. Once we learned that working relationship, it’s just been that mode since forever.
You teamed up with Curren$y earlier this year for the For Motivational Use Only, Vol.1. Describe your chemistry with Spitta and your experience making an album?
Amazing. What Spitta did was he made me realize all the shit that I have done and how much it’s impacted hip hop. He was one of the people that really, really made me realize how much shit that I’ve done that people paid attention to. Because he said he was the one of the ones that was paying attention to it. So being around Spitta, he made the appreciation for life got better to me. My appreciation for my life got better by me just being around Spitta and making that first EP. Part two is on the way, though.
A lot of producers have been putting out compilation style albums. Has that been something that you’ve considered?
This album that I’m doing with Mass Appeal is a compilation album of like R&B and Hip-Hop records. Me and Spitta are going to do part two of For Motivational Use Only, that’s gonna happen and that’s about it. Those two records I feel like allowed me to do a lot of that. But for the most part, I don’t really need to do that because I’m producing so many artists. And I got new artists that I’ve been ready to put out as well. So I don’t really have to do a compilation records. I’m putting out more music than the majority of the producers that do that.
Any timetable for those releases?
The Curren$y record will be before the end of the year. I don’t know when the Mass Appeal album will be finished. I just know now that I got the single, now the gas is on because I was trying to get the single out first. So dropping this single, that means now I gotta get back to the studio and finish this album [laughs].
Since launching So So Def, the South has grown into a super power and many would argue Atlanta has become the epicenter of Hip-Hop. How does it feel to see your efforts in leading that charge having paid off?
It feels amazing. Especially when I look at how people don’t even understand it .When I made “Welcome to Atlanta,” I made it for that reason and that reason only. I felt like ‘Damn, here goes a great city. A beautiful city, a beautiful place that’s had so much cultural impact on the world and so much culture inside this city, but we don’t have our own song. “Georgia on My Mind” is Ray Charles singing about the state. I’m talking about the city of Atlanta. You got “New York” by Frank Sinatra and the “I Love L.A.” song that the Lakers play, but Atlanta never had a song that spoke about Atlanta that said Atlanta.
Not [a song] that was like ‘We’re from Atlanta, you’ve got to figure that out.’ I want you to say Atlanta, so I made “Welcome to Atlanta” to basically be that and to put this city in the same spotlight I felt like other cities were in. So knowing that these are my efforts and I tried to do this from the beginning, to see Future, Lil Baby. To see QC, to see Migos and all of that sh*t popping, that’s what I wanted. I wanted Atlanta to become this place and I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself. I knew that the energy had to come from other people as well so it could become what it is. So yeah, I love seeing it.
30 years of legacy is a great accomplishment. What do you feel when you look back on the road traveled?
Really the only thing that I look back on is that I got cocky at one point in time. And I should have been more of a person that was reaching out, trying to pull people in to see more because I was cocky and I didn’t care that people didn’t know. And a lot of that is like going to get the people from Sony and bringing them to Atlanta making sure that they came and saw what was happening. I wasn’t the guy. I never was concerned about bringing people to see me do these things and now it feels like that’s what I should have done. Because probably people would be saying, ‘Okay, Jermaine. Damn this ni**a did this and this ni**a did that.’
That’s the only thing that I regret probably is that I didn’t care to be rewarded with saying ‘I started this and I started that.’ I don’t really care to do that. If I tell my truth and I do an interview, I can’t lie and hold it back, but for the most part, I’m not out here like ‘I’m the first ni**a.’ I don’t care to do that. If you don’t know, you just don’t know. And some of that’s not good though, ’cause I see a lot of people that like Khaled and like the way that they bring people into things. They are ushering ni**as into the lifestyle to make sure they know. With me, I’m like sh*t, if they don’t know, they just don’t know. If you ain’t coming tonight to see what’s happening when I’m doing this, you probably don’t know and I don’t care. So some of it’s like my nonchalance. I regret when I was young because I was really cocky and nonchalant. So I regret some of that but that’s about it.
What’s next for Jermaine Dupri?
All my entrepreneurial ventures will be out. JD’s Vegan Ice Cream will be back in full. I have a RTD drink coming out called 1472. It’s basically a tequila ready-to-go mixed drink [with] four different flavors of that. I have all of the artists [I’m working with] that’s coming.
I’ma do a podcast soon. I’ve been really contemplating about doing it because I feel like everybody’s doing it and it’s become like a fad…but I also feel I have a space in the world of Hip-Hop that only I can speak about. When I talk about the young artists and I talk about me being the leader of the new school and all of this type of stuff, it’s a voice that needs to be heard. And there’s no need in letting Hip-Hop continue to be going and me acting like I don’t care. Like I said, that was something that I regretted me doing before. I wanna show that I do care, so I’m gonna go ahead and do some type of podcast show that’s coming, too. So next year, my plan is to flood the market like I’ve always done. At least try [laughs].
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