A Long Convo With… Jermaine Dupri: ‘[Usher] Seems Disrespectful”
Jermaine Dupri is a quote monster. Never one to mince words, the veteran music producer and label mogul has had his ups and downs during his 20-year career. But the brazen Dupri, who has fostered the careers of Kriss Kross, Xscape and Da Brat and accumulated studio time with such superstar acts as Jay-Z, Usher and Mariah Carey, is a survivor. With his longtime imprint So So Def now independent and a buzz-heavy protégé Dondria making noise, we caught up with the man known as JD to discuss his thoughts on VIBE’s Greatest Hip Hop Producer of All-Time; his beef with Usher; his ex-girlfriend Janet Jackson; why he deserves more praise than the Neptunes and his outspoken views on major labels. This is Jermaine Dupri, unfiltered.
VIBE: How surprised were you when you beat out Irv Gotti in VIBE’s Greatest Hip Hop Producers of All-Time?
Jermaine Dupri: In the beginning, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I go into all this stuff thinking that niggas don’t fuck with me [laughs]. So I went into the contest like, “Ain’t nobody paying no attention to me.” You have some people who say that I helped contribute to Jay-Z’s national success when I produced “Money Ain’t A Thing.” But I have been fortunate enough to make [history-making] records such as the Da Brat being the first solo female rapper to go platinum as well being the first person Jay-Z actually made a record with from the South. People in the South say it was the beginning of them actually knowing who Jay-Z was. It’s not like I just make beats. I make movements. I can even go back to Kriss Kross as being the first kid hip-hop group that we will remember. And 10 years later, I did it again with Bow Wow. Then I ushered in the snap music era with the Dem Franchise Boyz. Things changed when you heard these records.
Do you feel like you get enough respect as a producer in hardcore hip-hop circles?
No. I’ll always get the “Oh, he’s not DJ Premier.” I can’t even get into that conversation. If I see my name with Premier, I’m already thinking I’m going to lose [laughs]. In our world, if you are super commercial going against someone who is super hip hop, a different card is played. And I expect that. I was surprised that I even beat Irv Gotti [in the VIBE Producer Tournament]. Then me and Timbaland were going head up. I just knew I was going to be out of this one fast. And I know the Dr. Dre conversations are out of the question [laughs].
“I have to ask [Usher] ‘Am I the executive producer of your next album?’ That’s disrespectful to me”
You seem unusually self-effacing about all of this.
Well, I’ve gotten past the whole, “JD doesn’t get the respect he deserves” thing. If niggas don’t pay attention to what I’ve done and how long I’ve been doing it, they will someday. But it’s kind of weird because Billboard named Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” which I produced, as Song Of The Decade this year. That’s an accomplishment that no other producer had on the charts. But then Billboard names the Neptunes producers of the year? The accolades don’t even go with each other anymore. That’s why I never get my hopes up. I’m just happy to still be in the game.
There was some talk that you were going to executive produce Usher’s latest album Raymond v. Raymond. Why didn’t it happen?
Well, I didn’t really want to be executive producer of Usher’s projects after Confession. Me as a producer, it’s kind of hard for me to go back into people’s projects when I gave you your biggest album ever…you sold more records than any other artist in this decade based on that album and now I have to ask you am I the executive producer of your next album? That seems disrespectful to me. Obviously, I’m looking at something different than everyone is looking at it whether it’s the label, the artist, management… whoever it is. I’ve had this same conversation with L.A. Reid, because I’m doing Mariah Carey’s album right now. And on her last album, I didn’t have one song on there. But I did Emancipation of Mimi and she sold more records than she sold in the last five years. What part of the game makes y’all not call me? But I’m not going to keep sticking my neck out. But I don’t feel like I’m supposed to ask to produce anymore. People are supposed to come to me and tell me that I’m the executive producer. That’s why I get more kicks working with younger artists.
Were you disappointed when the Def Jam-distributed TAG label, a place you envisioned where young artists would be able to get a shot, collapsed?
It just came down to me leaving Def Jam. It was a brilliant deal, but there were too many people trying to take the money and do different things with it. There were a lot of things happening that caused it to not go the way it was supposed to. I was invested in breaking new talent. But the label wasn’t really invested in breaking new talent. For most labels, they find it hard to break new acts. So they get a company like TAG, but spend the money on artists that’s already there. It became a tug of war situation. I’m sad that it didn’t work out.
Will you be involved in Janet Jackson’s next project?