“A person like myself will keep challenging to see if I can keep doing it over and over again,” says the hip-hop mogul, Jermaine Dupri, who will be honored at the upcoming Global Spin Awards with the Breaking Barriers Award. “That’s the goal right there.”
Despite his groundbreaking success in the music industry, public recognition has been long overdue for the 45-year-old hitmaker, who first broke onto the scene as a backup dancer for Whodini in the mid ’80s.
With music still on the forefront of his mind, Dupri continues to expand his creativeness into the television lane, as the fourth season of The Rap Game on Lifetime has kicked off and it is their most diverse group of kids yet. The “Welcome to Atlanta” artist believes the latest talent involved mimic the music marketplace with kids who have embraced their wide-ranging musical influences.
To commemorate the 45-year-old’s Songwriters Hall of Fame nomination, Billboard caught up with the So So Def CEO to detail the studio sessions that led to crafting 1998’s “Money Ain’t a Thang” with JAY-Z , and penning “We Belong Together” for Mariah Carey in just one night.
Check out our conversation with Dupri below, where he also gives an update on Usher‘s upcoming album and discusses receiving the Breaking Barriers Award at the Global Spin Awards, which will air through REVOLT TV on February 22.
Billboard: You’re going to be receiving the Breaking Barriers Award at the Global Spin Awards next month, what does that mean to you?
Jermaine Dupri: Pretty much everything. Being a DJ, and having dreams of doing that, and to be accepted by that community and honored by them means a lot.
The Rap Game on Lifetime just kicked off season four, what can we expect with this upcoming season?
It’s a lot different this season with the kids. It feels like the girls are a little bit more focused here than the guys. You see a lot more competitiveness between the female rappers. I think that Jordan is the first backpack type of rapper I’ve had on this show. He mimics a lot of those backpack guys, and those are people he looks up to. It’s just that the styles are different, and I want people to see and understand that, because these kids let the older people know what’s going on out here. With a Jordan liking a J. Cole at age 15, it’s special to me ,and means that every kid isn’t totally trapped out.
Then, you got the trap kids and the argument everyone keeps claiming about mumble rap — and I feel like Street Bud is in that lane. He embodies everything that comes from that element. You can’t ignore it. I took Deetranada’s music to play for Kevin Liles and he said that “She raps too much.” I found that interesting, that she was almost over-rapping. We live in an era that people are not as receptive to people rapping as much. In order to have a future, you need to make sure you’re hitting on everything going on. So, season four is more close to what’s actually happening in the market space than last season.
Your daughter is starring in Growing Up Hip-Hop: Atlanta this season. What do you think of her entering the entertainment lane at a young age?
My daughter is the true definition of a person that has grown up in hip-hop. She was born in hip-hop, and everything that’s happened since she’s been born has been hip-hop dominant. She could give a better perspective of growing up hip-hop to anybody if people ask her, “What’s life been like?” She’s seen it all.
With 2018 marking the 25th anniversary of So So Def, do you have anything special planned?
We’re going to celebrate everything. This Global Spin Award is the beginning of the 25th anniversary celebration. This is how I got started. DJing is how I got into So So Def. Everything you’re going to see me doing this year will be a celebration of 25 years of So So Def. We are going to do a concert and a bunch of other things. Everyone is going to be paying attention to how we roll it out.
Scooter Braun is someone who got his start under you during the early So So Def days, before branching off to start his own company. Do you wish that relationship ended differently?
As an employee, you can’t work for someone forever. Scooter had aspirations to do a lot of things. He was ambitious and wanted to do as much as possible. Me and Scooter are great. It’s like high school, you can’t do away with where you graduate from. That’s going with you the rest of your life.
Is there something you saw in him early on that led you to believe he could become this big?
One hundred percent. I knew it before he knew it.
How did the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix with the Falcons come together?
The Falcons do [a new anthem] every year. I think last year they did something with Samuel L. Jackson through their rise up and brotherhood campaign. [Falcons coach Dan Quinn] actually created the “rise up” mantra to keep the fans and players together moving as a unit. This year, they wanted me to do it and use “Welcome to Atlanta” as the background to create hype and that emotion. They already use it at the stadium during games, so I think it’s just appropriate.
I made that record for this reason. I kind of got mad a couple years ago when people weren’t using it. I made this record for Atlanta. It’s something Atlanta could use to celebrate and be proud of our city.
The 20-year anniversary of “Money Ain’t A Thang” is coming up later this year. Could you walk me through the creative process behind that record with JAY-Z?
JAY-Z had took from the Dru Hill “In My Bed” So So Def remix for his mixtape. When I said “You wanna dance? I’ma make you dance. You wanna move? I’ma make you move” at the beginning of the record, I heard him take that for a mixtape. I was like, “Damn, JAY-Z is paying attention to what I’m doing.” So I saw him and told him, “I heard what you did on that mixtape, we should make a song together.” JAY is like, “Whatever. Let’s go.”
So JAY-Z is flying to Atlanta, and when I was supposed to be picking him up at the airport, I had already started on the beat. I tried to start, because I didn’t want to be sitting around, and I had the idea for this — the “Weak at the Knees” beat — and nobody really rocked it like the way we were going to. I know Ice Cube had used it on an N.W.A. album.
I started on the track, and when I got in the car I was listening to [JAY-Z‘s] “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” and on the song he says, “I’m deep in the South kicking up top game….Screaming through the sunroof, money ain’t a thang.” If he wouldn’t have said “deep in the South,” I probably wouldn’t have used that, but that part of the rap spoke to me.
When he got in the car I was like, “Yo. I heard in this song you use ‘deep in the south, money ain’t a thang.’ We should use that for the hook.” He’s like, “Okay.” So we go back to the house and I played the beat in ten minutes he was like “I’m ready, let’s go.” I say “What are you talking about?” [JAY-Z] goes, “I got my raps already. I already thought of it in the car, when you told me what you wanted the song to be about.” That was my first time seeing him do it without a notepad. I was thinking, “I’m going to learn this trick and not ever write again.”
That line in his song basically made the hook, and the rest is history.
Do you have any insight into Usher’s next album? Will it be titled Confessions II?
I don’t know if that’s going to be the name of it, but there’s definitely a new Usher album coming. It’s not a Confessions II. I don’t know when it’s coming, but it’s definitely on the way.
I see you’ve been promoting Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams on Instagram recently in hopes of getting him to the All-Star game. How did that relationship start?
Lou is from Atlanta and went to high school in Atlanta. I used to go to his games in high school. He’s like my little brother. I’m the first person to take Lou Williams to the strip club. For me, to watch from high school to the NBA is already amazing, but to see what he’s doing now — I feel like he’s found his spot. It’s time for him to be recognized.
He’s been doing what he’s doing for a long time. He’s found his comfort zone in Los Angeles. He’s putting up the numbers to definitely make it to the All-Star game. He’s a great player and he hasn’t been out here with any of the craziness. I’ve been rocking with him since high school.
You’ve been nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame for penning hits such as “We Belong Together” with Mariah Carey. Can you walk me through that studio session?
The majority of my records that become big records are usually done in one day. No playing around with the time — let’s get the song finished and “We Belong Together” is one of those songs. Mariah came to the studio at 10 p.m. and we worked through the morning until she got on another plane at 9 A.M. We stayed in the studio from 10 until 9 in the morning. I was so tired.
There was this one line that they had a space for and she said, “Come up with a line, Jermaine.” I came up with the line, but I was so tired that I didn’t want to put the line down. But she was like, “No, I need this song finished right now.” It was so crazy, because her energy about the song was almost felt like she knew it was going to become what it did.
Do you have any goals left for 2018? What projects are you working on this year?
One hundred percent. A person like myself will keep challenging to see if I can keep doing it over and over again. That’s the goal right there, to keep doing it. I’ve got a lot of new artists coming out. There’s a bunch of new artists I’m working on. I’m working on the Usher album, we’re trying to make a statement with that album. I definitely feel like we have to. I’m in a position to make a statement with an artist like him, so I’m trying to put a lot into that. Just to continue what I’ve always done, and put my hands in as much as possible.