Mogul Talk: Jermaine Dupri on Bringing His Story to BET's 'Music Moguls' & Bosses Who Inspire Him

Jermaine Dupri
Jonavennci Divad

Jermaine Dupri

Music moguls aren't born. Their entrepreneurial endeavors, behavior in the boardroom and the guidance and mentorship they offer to up-and-coming artists are just a few traits that make them VIPs in the music industry. You’re more likely to see their accomplishments in an album’s liner notes than in the public eye.

On Tuesday (June 28), BET is shining the spotlight on music's biggest bosses with Music Moguls, a new docuseries starring Birdman, Dame Dash, Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri. Helmed by L. Plummer Media's CEO Lemuel Plummer and executive producer Chad Greulauch, the eight-episode series follows each mogul as they navigate through the hip-hop business while balancing their personal lives. Dupri is a veteran rapper, producer and esteemed exec behind the careers of Mariah Carey, Usher, and Bow Wow. He also recently teamed up with Queen Latifah for Lifetime’s The Rap Game.

In episode one of Music Moguls, Dupri meets 14-year-old wiz kid Carson Lueders for the first time before taking him under his wing. Viewers also catch JD in sit-down meetings with co-star Dash in Los Angeles, discussing his latest ventures and learning game from him. Speaking to Billboard from Atlanta, Dupri talked about how Common’s manager, Derek Dudley, encouraged him to get involved with Music Moguls, broke down his meeting with Dash and described how Lueders and Bow Wow share similarities as kid stars from different genres.

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Who initially reached out to you to do Music Moguls?

One of my old managers, Derek Dudley, who actually manages Common. He basically hit me and was like, "JD, they really want you to do this show." He was telling me how important he felt it would be just for my story. I work so much and I’m in the studio so much, creating artists -- that aspect of what I do is never seen on TV. I’m really behind the scenes as a producer when I’m making my artists, creating the right songs and finding artists. When he explained it to me like, "Yo, it’s an opportunity to show the world what you actually really do. People don’t really understand what Jermaine Dupri does than other people that people call moguls." When he said it to me like that, that’s when it kind of clicked for me. "OK, I’ll do it," he said. 

You are on the show with Birdman, Dame Dash and Snoop. Have you worked with these guys before the series?

Oh, of course. I did "Money Ain’t a Thang" with Jay Z. We had to do that. That was a collaboration between me and Roc-A-Fella. I’ve been knowing Dame for the longest. I’ve known Snoop before he even came out. Snoop is my homeboy. Snoop was the one who actually gave me Bow Wow. And Birdman is from the South. Me and him have done a lot of s--t. Lil Wayne was on Bow Wow’s album before Lil Wayne blew up. All of these dudes are my friends. 

In the episode, you have a meeting with Dame and he’s coming at you a bit for not following his moves. Were you surprised by how he reacted?

Nah, I’m a producer. He did exactly what I wanted him to do. Basically, I wanted to have a conversation with him. Like I said, I saw this TV show that he was doing. I wanted to ask questions. One thing people don’t understand about Jermaine Dupri is that I’m a sponge of the music industry, the hip-hop world, all of that s--t. Everybody that’s a mogul or that you consider a mogul, I watched and I listened to their moves. I don’t copy what they do. I just watch and I use it as motivation and inspiration.

I don’t think that Dame really knows that about me. I don’t think he knew that’s what I was basically saying, "Yo, I’m watching you. I see what you’re doing so I’m asking you questions about what it is 'cause I’m curious and I want you to be motivated." Dame has been a mover and shaker in this hip-hop world for a long time. I respected him, regardless of how people thought he was and if he was an a--hole. He took his brand so serious and made sure he fought for everything that he wanted. Some people take that as you being an a--hole, I take that as that man is being serious about his business and he ain’t gonna do anything to let him f--k up his business.

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Coming up, was there a mogul you were influenced by?

As a producer, I was influenced by Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor and then Teddy Riley. If you look at the way I created my company, it was based on what Hurby had with Salt-N-Pepa, Kid 'N Play and Kwamé, and just having multiple groups after multiple groups. He didn’t take it as far as I took it but the way he was putting out artists was what I looked at. They was doing different s--t and they was all under his umbrella. I used to talk to Hurby and his brother. We was all cool.

The only way people were really paying attention to you is if you had No. 1 records. I was just trying to figure out the Teddy Riley route. This dude made non-stop No. 1 records. There was no way nobody could f--k with him. I’m trying to figure this out: how do I make No. 1 record after No. 1 record, but at the same time have the groups be separate [apart from the solo artists] like how Hurby had his situation with Salt-N-Pepa and Kid 'N Play? Them two guys are really what I was paying attention to from the business standpoint.

In the first episode, you meet Carson Lueders. What do you look for in new artists?

Something that ain’t here right now or something that’s needed – more or less than anything. Something that’s needed or something’s that not in our face at that particular point in time.

Do you see any similarities between Bow Wow and Carson?

Carson is definitely a pop star and he’s only 14 years old. He’s not really privy to the real history of Jermaine Dupri until you start really, really directing the energy and telling him what that is. That was my first time meeting him on the show. That’s the one thing I like about Music Moguls because it is real organic like that. That’s a real meeting — not staged or nothing like that. It’s crazy because when I met Carson, the thing that he says on episodeone  is, "Well, Melinda [Bell] told me you played in a celebrity all-star game." And I’m like, "What does that have to do with us making music?" He was like, "Did you play in a celebrity basketball game with like Chris Brown and all these other guys?" And I’m like, "Yeah." He was like, "Oh my God, I can’t wait to do that. That’s what I wanted to do." I’m like, "We here to talk about music." His whole focus was to play basketball. At that very moment, that’s when I had a Bow Wow flashback. That’s what Bow Wow was. That’s why we did Like Mike because that’s what Bow Wow cared about. He didn’t care about s--t else. He was just like, "Yo, I wanna play basketball."

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You’re known for encouraging Kriss Kross to rap after you were impressed by their swagger at an Atlanta mall. Do you still get that feeling when you meet someone?

I have seen it with girls but you know Carson has 1.3 million Instagram followers so I guess that would be equivalent to what I saw with Kriss Kross at the mall. Carson has more Instagram followers than me and he don’t have one hit record out so of course I’m saying the same s--t in my mind that I said when I saw Kriss Kross. I’m like, "Yo, if this guy gets a hit record, this dude is gonna be huge!" I said the same thing about Kriss Kross like, "Yo, if these guys get a hit record and they already got girls in the mall acting like this and they don’t have no music out, what’s gonna happen when they get a record out?" Of course, I had the same feeling. Of course, that’s exactly what I am thinking.

Music Moguls airs on Tuesday, June 28 on BET at 9 p.m. ET.