Part Two: The Billboard Q&A with Jermaine Dupri
After writing two songs for Weezer's 'Raditude,' the songwriter/producer/label chief wants to keep rolling with rock. By Mariel Concepcion
When Rivers Cuomo penned the opening lyrics to Weezer's "Buddy Holly," he probably never imagined he'd be making a fan out of R&B/hip-hop producer/songwriter Jermaine Dupri.
"When I heard Rivers saying, 'What's with the homies dissin' my girl/Why do they got to front,' I became a big fan," says the Atlanta-based music mogul, who has crafted tunes for major artists like Usher, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. "He was talking my type of language in a rock record and it always stayed with me. They talk like I do, but to a different crowd-we're basically speaking the same words."
The admiration has now turned into collaboration, with Dupri getting a songwriter's credit on Weezer's latest album, "Raditude," released Nov. 3 on Geffen Records. Dupri talked to Billboard about jumping genres in his songwriting-and how his label, So So Def, is expanding into branding.
This is the first time you ventured outside of hip-hop and R&B and wrote for a rock act. How did "I Can't Stop Partying" come about?
I was in the studio one night and I was on my wild shit, like, "I can't stop partying"-that's exactly how I felt that night. Like, "This is my life. This is what's going on." So, I recorded myself playing the drums and singing, freestyling, and then I had my engineer put some guitar licks on there. I immediately got into it and I asked someone to get it to Weezer.
Were you just trying your luck? Or did you really think Weezer would go for it?
I didn't think they'd do the song at all. This is the first time someone's taken a song I wrote from a different genre-it was a shot in the dark.
Plus, I'd done this a hundred times before-I go in the studio, I write what I'm feeling, and sometimes I just throw that stuff away. That's actually what happened with [Usher's] "Confessions"-that's what I was going through at the time: I had to confess to my girl I had a baby by someone else. I write songs all the time and don't give them to others, but this time I talked to [producer] Dallas Austin and I told him I had rock songs that I wanted to get placed.
Have you always been a rock fan?
I've been a big rock fan all my life and Nirvana is probably one of my favorite groups. But I also pay attention to lyrics. If you listen to "Let It All Hang Out'-the other song I wrote for Weezer-I have Rivers quote a Jay-Z line ["I feel like Jay-Z/This can't be life"]. I thought about it for a minute and I wondered how people were going to take it. But, I kept referencing the "Buddy Holly" record and I knew we spoke the same language. It was a perfect marriage.
How did Lil Wayne end up on the track? And how did Polow Da Don become the producer on it?
I don't know how they got Polow to do the beat. I think the label had it remixed to make it a bit more dance and rock, and that's how it came about. It's kind of funny because I was in the studio with Usher and Polow was working with him and he was like, "Did you hear the song you wrote for Weezer? I produced it." It was weird. It was the first project where I didn't have my hands all over it, but, this is how it feels to be a songwriter and it's something I definitely want to do more of. Now I hope I've opened the door for other producers to ask me to write songs for them.
Universal is also responsible for getting Lil Wayne on the track. I think with Wayne wanting to do rock, it is a smart move.
How does it feel to get songwriting credit apart from your production work, especially on a rock project?
It just feels like I personally went somewhere else in my life. I'm always watching what people say and speak about me, and I'm always known as a producer. Even with Mariah and Usher's records-I wrote all of those and they never talk about me as the writer. But this time Polow did the beat and I wrote it, and it just puts me in a different place. That's what longevity is about in this business. I've written millions of records, but this is my first time experiencing this feeling. It's like Jermaine Dupri coming from a whole different place. It's definitely one of the most proud moments of my career because I get to do something that hasn't been done in my era. It's a beautiful thing that I can be a part of something I believe will turn into something big.
Now that you've attained this feat, what's next for you and So So Def?
So So Def is independent now. The brand is worldwide and for the things I want to do and the places I want to take my artists, I don't have to have major-label backing anymore. Right now I want to help introduce my first female artist in a long time: Dondria. I found her on YouTube and on Nov. 23 I'm putting her first single out titled "You're the One." I'm very excited about her project. We also have [producer/songwriter] Johnta Austin's album coming soon after.
I have a new watch, Nu Pop Movement, available now. I started this company with Pascal Mouawad and it's inspired by pop music. Mouawad came to me with the idea. He already had a luxury line of watches with diamonds, and although people always used to think of me as the flashy money guy, I felt like I wanted to do something else. So, we're starting with a digital watch with a big face and loud colors that runs for about $150. It's in the same neighborhood of G-Shock and Swatch watches.
How about your own songwriting and producing?
Aside from my weekly DJ'ing residency in Vegas, I'm also on upcoming projects by Usher, Monica and Nelly. But, for right now, I want to go back and focus on finding and creating my own artists-that's the So So Def mentality moving forward.
I just want to find ways to continue to make it exciting or else I won't be around anymore. I've been doing it the same for the past 20 years, but now I want to promote Dondria and figure her out. I want to reach people and have them see something I've created.
If you don't have this social networking and blogging game figured out, then you're dead in the water. Labels aren't taking care of artists like they used to. People have to get with the new way of promoting artists and music and I, for one, am definitely not trying to be left out.