Before he was a So-So Def Boss and on the mic, Jermaine Dupri was a maestro on the turntables and still continues to do his DJ thing to this very day. VIBE chopped it up with JD down in Florida at Red Bull's Thre3style 2012 about quality DJs, embarrassing turntable moments, and his classic collaboration with Jay-Z on 1998's "Money Aint a Thang."
VIBE: You’ve been DJing even before you were a producer, before you’ve been blown up as a rapper. What do you still look for today in quality DJs? What still moves you, like when you see somebody that’s ill what makes you go “damn that kid is nice”?
JERMAINE DUPRI: Um…its funny, I'm a say style more than anything because there are so many different tricks that you can do to make mixes, and mixes I think still are really important. I heard a DJ last night play, actually DJSinatra, mix an old soul record, and it kept saying “…mercy” and he made it go into Kanye’s Joint. But he just took the word from an old song and it went directly into it, but you didn’t really expect for the song to come on because the one record was at like 130 beats per minute and Kanye’s joint is so slow. But that’s style and each individual DJ has their own type of style, especially now when you see so many people merging different musics like dub step into hip-hop and hip-hop into techno and dance music, so people try to find so many different blends and ways to get in and out of those records. It’s just a style. And actually, as a person that’s standing in the crowd a lot of times, can you keep my attention as a DJ? That’s really important you gotta really be able to keep peoples attention.
Especially now when people have the attention span of a 5-year-old.
Yea, but we all go to the club to hear certain records; we all have a play list in our mind that we wanna hear. You go to the club and your like I hope the DJ plays… In your mind your hoping this and you get there and the DJ don’t play that and you’re kinda disappointed.
I think it was interesting that you were saying how now so many musical genres are mixed today. You really started with the bass music, making that popular, and it’s kind of coming full circle now in hip-hop. Everybody wants to do house music and electronic…
Well, the club sounds like how my mind thinks, whether its R&B, or rap, or whatever it is that I’m thinking about. Now it’s like you get an opportunity to infuse all of it at one time.
So what about tonight? I think a lot of different DJs are going to be mixing, what are you really looking for that’s going to stand out?
That’s hard, what they actually have to do. 15 min. to play three different styles of music, that’s a verse of one song you know, two minuets, then two minuets… because right when you’re probably getting the crowd going with one style, you’ve got to switch the style and get them still excited about it. That’s one problem that I see a lot of DJs have. Say for instance the crowd likes hip-hop, and right when you got em going, you put on something classic like a biggie record, you switch to a dance record and they are like “huh?” That cant happen ‘cause if you get the “huh? What are you doing?” then that’s like loosing points in a fight, so it’s going to be difficult for them but I want to see what they do.
I think one thing I noticed last night from seeing them rock, a lot of the DJs now, like how you said everything is almost que’d up for you with the technology, a lot of them are kind of getting into the whole “dance along with records” and adding that extra stuff, not necessarily mixing. How do you feel about that when you see DJs kind of Djing but during their set they are dancing along with the music and have props they are trying to put up to get the crowd going, how do you feel about that?
It just depends. Each DJ has their own way of doing things. A lot of the dance DJs don’t talk on the mic. I’m more of a mic, get the crowd into it, more of an interacting type of DJ. So its kind of different, each person has their own thing it just depends on does it work if you do it, if you pull out a prop are they actually paying attention to it?
What was your most memorable DJ moment?
Well you know what as a kid I was scared to DJ for people. I mean I wasn’t scared to DJ for people really but I was scared of actually doing what I’m doing now. It’s almost like when people ask why do you DJ all the time, it’s like something that was built up in me, but I never actually used to go do clubs. I just used to make mix tapes and do it at my house. I got a club at the studio now and I DJ in the club and people are like “why don’t you DJ?” and that’s what people said before I used to do it. Now of days there are a lot of moments that are wow moments for me because clubs are different in different cities.
What are some of your "go to" records right now?
It’s interesting because it switches in every city. That’s one of the things I talked about in my interview for Red Bull and I was saying my tips are to get to know what records work in each city. Because if you come to these towns and you play records that you think are hot where you are they typically not. Like Meek Mills “amen” is not really going like it is in New York, everywhere else. I haven’t heard French Montana’s “Pop That” in any other city than New York.
Have you heard Chief Keef?
Yea Chief Keef is going really really heavy in LA, I played it in Vegas last week…people don’t really know it. I think the 2 Chainz record “No Lie” is just starting to get going. It really depends because these records are in a section where its like 65 beats per minuet, but there’s a section where its like the “Cake” records, and “Ima Boss” still is huge in the club, “House Party” is still huge in the club, “Teach Me How to Dougie” still is a crowd pleaser. A lot of the west coast records are really emerging right now like “Beat it Up”
What was your most embarrassing moment as a DJ?
I’ve had a couple of embarrassing moments…well they aint EMBARRASING moments but I have these charm bracelets that I wear on both hands and one night the die was hanging down, and it hit the speed button, so I’m scratchin away like “Oh I’m killin it,” and soon as I’m getting ready to drop the record I hit the speed button and changed the record to like 45 and the crowd was rockin! But then the crowd was like what are you smoking up there? 'And it happened twice too and I figured it out and was like 'Ok that’s not gunna happen again,' and four more songs later I did it again. I still DJ on turntables, so you almost have to let people know that these things are going to happen.
Like even a little piece of dust can mess it up.
Yea like I was in Vegas and Serato the program was messing up, just out of nowhere.
It would freeze on the computer screen or something?
Yea whatever happened with the program. So I was playing 50 cent "In da Club," and the record just stopped while the crowd was going crazy. And I was actually partying, like you said, I almost had my back turned to the dj booth and I turned around and everybody was looking at me and I was like aww man I gotta find something fast! So I had to come out of that record. So its not really embarrassing its like certain things, certain dj moments that are part of the game.
And it gives you experience so you know what to do when you mess up
You don’t really even learn what to do; you have to just figure out what to do. Luckily I talk on the mic so I can just grab the mic immediately and let them know or you could blame it on the sound man.
(Laughs) Yea, just blame it on the sound guy. Still today you can drop that "Money Ain't A Thang" record and everyone goes crazy and I remember when the video first came out and you had the ice in the girl's drink and everything. Do you remember recording that with Hov?
Yea yea we were talking to each other the whole time. I picked Jay up from the airport and I told him I had an idea that I wanna use, a line from his record, and I was going to sample it at first, I was just going to sample it from "Cant Knock the Hustle" when he said that but he was like I’m here, why sample it?
So he had no idea you guys were going to record that one?
He Knew. He came from Atlanta to do that song.
And it just took off.
I mean that’s what you call a classic.