"I do more than run So So Def," Jermaine Dupri said before a full house at Atlanta's Fox Theater on Saturday night (February 23), "I've produced so many hits for people outside of So So Def." In case there was any doubt, J.D., one of the city's first moguls, proceeded to bring out stars from every phase in his career, ranging from A-town's beloved Pastor Troy to his ‘Money Ain't a Thang' collaborator, Jay-Z.
In the weeks preceding So So Def Recordings' 20th anniversary concert, there was little fanfare. Rumors swirled about low ticket sales. As the date drew near, the buzz grew louder and on the evening of the show, an undercurrent of hometown pride ran through the streets of Atlanta.
"This feels like a mother fucking family reunion [up] in this thang," Lil' Jon shouted, as he DJ'd for much of the evening. He was absolutely right. From Kris Kross and Da Brat kicking the show off, the evening was sure to be a special one for fans of the imprint.
Xscape, sans Tameka "Tiny" Cottle-Clifford and Kandi, continued the momentum by belting out a few of their classics, including "Who Can I Run To" and "Just Kick It." The ladies proved that even when Xscape is halved, they don't skimp on the quality.
The show ran fluidly as J.D. moved between genres and generations: from the R&B Soul of Xscape to the hip-hop/soul of Jagged Edge who performed hits like "Let's Get Married."
Bow Wow, one of So So Def's brightest stars, hit the stage. Although the majority of concert-goers were thirty-plus, they cheered as he blazed through his catalogue, leaning on the support of the women in the crowd. He brought up one ecstatic young lady onstage to engage in his flirtatious set.
Singer Dondria graced the stage to perform her biggest hit, "You're the One." J.D. was certain to leave room for superstars like Nelly, Usher, Mariah Carey as well as those artists who've been with the imprint for a short time such as Lil' Scrappy, Dem Franchize Boyz, Bonecrusher, and J-Kwon. J-Kwon performed his hit, "Tipsy," to a surprisingly receptive audience.
Jermaine Dupri and songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox on the red carpet
Anthony Hamilton proved to be one of the night's best sets. The crowd couldn't be happier to sing along with the Carolina native.
Every word of "Charlene" and "Coming Where I'm From" echoed across the theater, from wall to wall.
When Hamilton finished his set, the surprises promptly continued. "I'm from College Park. Atlanta is my city," J.D. said, "Where's my homegirl from College Park?" Right on cue, Monica took the stage, teasing the crowd with an accapella version of "Love Over Me," hitting every riff and vibrato with precision. "I rock with singers," J.D. boasted, "I do rap too. But real singers..." To add emphasis to the point, Usher took the stage and ran through hits he made alongside Dupri. The number of hits the duo has crafted, while never signing Usher to So So Def, is further proof that J.D.'s legacy runs beyond his accomplishments with the imprint.
With all the stars that were present at the Fox, the "Looking 4 Myself" artist couldn't leave without doing a few of his hits produced by Lil' Jon who was only too happy to take the mic and jokingly thumb his nose at JD who feigned bewilderment, "This is my show. How you gon' do your songs at my show? I ain't make that!"
Ludacris ran out to join in the fun as the three performed "Lovers and Friends" and, of course, "Yeah." The Fox seemed to vibrate in excitement as the synths from the latter started up. From Usher's set to a quick performance of "Welcome to Atlanta," J.D. abruptly ended the show: "I love Atlanta! Good night."
Those who were paying attention to the online chatter over the past week, paid no attention to Dupri's prompt send-off. The majority of the crowd stood solidly, waiting on the Jay-Z appearance promised by J.D. earlier in the week on Twitter. There was also the matter of whether or not longtime friend, Mariah Carey, would be showing her face at all, but at this point the show was upwards of three-and-a-half hours, so whatever else was in store would need to happen quickly.
It wasn't long before the instrumental hit for "Money Ain't A Thang" and the crowd knew -- Jay-Z was definitely in the building. On the third bar of the song's hook, Hov ran out to a screaming audience and launched into his verse following J.D. The two exchanged lines with a chemistry only witnessed in established duos. After "Money," Jay teased that Dupri hadn't brought out one particular A-Town rapper who had been hanging out backstage. "I thought that it being ATL, it would only be right if we bring him out now..."
To his prompting, Young Jeezy hit the stage to perform his current hit, "R.I.P.," and the crowd ignited, bouncing along to the bass-heavy banger. He then congratulated J.D. on 20 years and it was back to Jay-Z, who returned to bless the crowd with a quick performance of "P.S.A.," "Ni**as in Paris," and "Clique."
When many thought the show was over, Mariah Carey strutted her heels on to the stage, rolling out a multi-tiered birthday cake for Dupri and So So Def.
Saturday night couldn't have been predicted by anyone but Jermaine Dupri as no one knew to expect such a phenomenal turnout. Fans and megastars made a special trip to the A simply to pay homage to So So Def Recordings and the man who built it.
At a pre-party on Friday night, JD brought out the likes of producer Jazze Pha, songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox, manager Chaka Zulu, T-Pain and many others.
Inside a large, open-spaced studio on Atlanta's northwest side, a DJ played hits that put the city on the pop-music map in the early '90s – many of which were crafted by Dupri. Even Dupri’s female standout, Da Brat made an appearance and hyped the crowd up throughout the night.
In the back of the space were large flat screens that looped promo videos that made So-So Def and Dupri famous. Screen images of a young Jay-Z, Dupri and Tameka (Tiny) Harris were followed by some of Dupri’s more contemporary hits with artists like Chris Brown.
It was an extension of the dinner Dupri hosted the night before – he kicked off the 20th anniversary weekend by celebrating with Bow Wow, Chris Kelly of Kris Kross, Da Brat, Jagged Edge, LaTocha and Tamika Scott of Xscape, Bonecrusher, Youngbloodx, Dem Franchize Boys and his father, music exec Micheal Mauldin.
The weekend fellowship has been much like a reunion, but Dupri hasn’t hinted at any new music coming from it. A 20-song compilation of the ‘Best of So So Def’ will be released in June 2013, Dupri says.
“Let’s get this turned up for the Fox on Saturday night,” the producer said from behind the DJ booth to the Friday night crowd.