Jermaine Dupri Talks ‘The Rap Game,’ Aretha Franklin and Creating the ‘Kid Version of Coachella’
"I feel like when you get off the plane in Atlanta, you should hear my song playing."
Jermaine Dupri has worked with and discovered some of the biggest artists in the music industry. His first major success was producing the multiplatinum debut of teen rap superstars Kris Kross, and once he started his own label So So Def Recordings in 1993, he launched the careers of Xscape, Da Brat, Jagged Edge, and Bow Wow, among others. When JD wasn’t discovering new talent he was producing and writing number one albums.
Dupri wrote and produced Usher's classic 2004 album, Confessions, which sold over 20 million albums worldwide. The following year, he helped push Mariah Carey's comeback, with the smash hit "We Belong Together." The single was number one for fourteen weeks and won a Grammy for Best R&B song.
He talked to The Boombox about working with young artists, and his ongoing success with his hit show The Rap Game.
On The Rap Game, you have 13 weeks to find a winner, how do you manage to keep the competition from becoming redundant?
Certain things in the show have to happen over and over again because I'm trying to push artist development. Makeovers like hair and clothing, interviews with the press, shooting videos, these are things artists will always have to do.
And we’ve had these conversations about if it’s getting redundant and if it’s something that people will be like, “Ahh you did this already.” But each artist makes it different, but we try to come up with little twists and turns every time so it's not the same. But certain aspects are arched in as far as artist development and creating artists.
You have produced, discovered, and worked with so many stars, what do you look for in new artists?
Somebody that wants to be in their own space. Now people have lists of artists that they start saying you gotta be compared to. So you have Bow Wow, Da Brat, Jagged Edge, Xscape this person and that person, but it’s gotta be something super special about you that separates you from those, so it looks like you’re coming with your own thing.
How important is it to have a big social media following? Should new artists try and step their social media up or should they focus on the music?
Social media is very important, having a big platform can change the whole spectrum of your life. It can make you go from a nobody to a somebody really really fast. You just have to learn your posting and learn what time people are most on your site and watching your page. What interests people the most, you have to really pay attention to it.
Are you interested in creating The R&B Game?
Yeah, one hundred percent. We talked about it, I don’t really know exactly how it would be at this point. I have a lot of ideas about it but I’m not sure right now.
The Rap Game is 13 weeks long, is there any point in the show where you know who is going to win or does it change week after week?
Yeah it always changes, well, it doesn't always change but this last season it changed every week. I was like, “Oh my God...oh wow.” You don’t know how good a person is actually getting because I’m challenging them week by week. So I’m saying to myself, “Damn if this person wins this week and they get better they could take it all.” It just depends on how it’s run.
You once said you want the So So Summer tour to be like the kid version of Coachella, what did you mean by that?
As it keeps getting bigger, I hope to turn it into the Coachella for kids, where kids can come and have a good time and enjoy music the same way artists want them to. Artists think they are giving music to these kids and the kids are enjoying it but they’re not. They don’t have places to go with it, they’re just sitting at home, kids don’t really have anything to do. I’m just trying to give them something that they can actually do.
What act was the most challenging to help break?
I think they all are challenging, they all have their certain challenges. You just gotta find a home for them, I’ve always tried to find a home for these artists as soon as possible. Somebody that really truly likes them and understands what’s going on, and then I just lean on that person or that fan base.
When it comes to artists, is it easier to work with kids or adults?
It’s easier to work with kids, much easier. Because they’ll try anything, they’ll go with the flow of what you assist them with–they’ll go with that flow. Now if it doesn't come out right then it’s on you as a producer. Older artists are trying to dictate what they wanna do, not knowing, thinking they know exactly what they should be doing.
You’ve worked with so many stars, what advice would you give to young artists who are trying to become the next Usher or Bow Wow?
Just keep pushing hard, each person has a different story, and everybody ain't gon be fast, everybody won’t be slow. Usher’s story was a little slow, he put his first album out and it didn’t really go. He met me for his second album and that’s the one that actually turned his career around. If you can’t take that first album not being a super success then you might not be built for this industry because each story is not going to be the same.
Looking back over your career, can you pinpoint any specific moment/time as the most influential on the man you've become today?
I was in the studio with Aretha Franklin and she was recording vocals and I wasn’t saying anything. She hit her button and was like, “Yo, are you going to tell me what to do?” And I was like, “That’s Aretha Franklin.” And she was like, “I didn't hire you to sit in the studio and hear me sing. I hired you to produce me.” From that point on it crushed my window of respecting an artist from far away. I have to respect them as artists that have me in the studio working with them so I gotta give them what I gotta give them. And Aretha Franklin, she put me on point.
There's a popular saying in Atlanta- "Atlanta Influences Everything"- what's your take on that and the role you specifically played in its prominence?
For as long as Michael Jackson “Remember the Time,” Atlanta has been a heavy influence of the culture. I keep throwing Atlanta in people’s face as much as possible, but I still feel like we need more solid artists to make sure we close it out the right way.
There was a recent NPR article that talked about how the Atlanta business infrastructure has sort of failed to support hip-hop in the same way that it has the film industry-What's your take on that?
It’s not the same, it’s definitely a spoiled mentality to it. I feel like when you get off the plane in Atlanta you should hear my song playing. If it was Nashville you would hear, “Welcome to Atlanta,” playing in the airport. I feel like it’s a couple of holes that the city has to get fixed–plus the highway.
What’s playing in your headphones?
I listen to everything, I listen to playlists that are on Spotify. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of that because that’s the best source to know what’s going on out here.
What's the hottest record that you’ve heard in 2017?
I would probably say "Bad and Boujee."
Can you give some advice to artists who are trying to make their dreams a reality?
Just stay focused, don’t mirror another person’s career hoping that it does the same thing. We all have different stories, and it’s set up like that for us to have our own story. And if you don’t go with the flow of your story you might not get all the blessings that were basically built into your story. If times get tough, and of course they do, you have to find your way through it.
The Rap Game: Season 3 Finale Performances [WATCH]
Jermaine Dupri and Miss Mulatto on The Rap Game [WATCH]