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].
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?
I can tell you that she’s not working on an album. We just did the one song (“Nothing”) for the Why Did I Get Married Too soundtrack, which was released off of So So Def. Last time I heard she really didn’t want to do an album. She wanted to just do singles every once in a while. She’s looked at the marketplace—albums are not really doing what they usually do when you put all this budget out there. Janet is just trying to figure out her landscape. But the crazy part is “Nothing” is the biggest format record that I’ve ever had. It’s playing on seven different formats: gospel, AC, urban AC, urban mainstream, jazz and top 40 and rhythmic. I never had a record on a jazz station. I’m out here in LA and the biggest jazz station out here, The Wave, you know, that station when you go to hotels and you don’t know what station the radio in your room is on? This record is on that station [laughs].
How is Janet holding up?
She’s cool. She has a lot of work going on that’s keeping her in the right direction. The movie came out, which is the biggest Tyler Perry movie he has had thus far. It looks like her star power as an actress is still there. And she’s about to do the other movie (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf) with Mariah, Kerry Washington, Whoopi Goldberg and few others. They will be shooting that in June. And then she’s performing at the Essence Festival, so she’s rehearsing for that every day.
You recently re-launched your So So Def label as an independent imprint. One of those younger artists that you mentioned is pop R&B vocalist Dondria, who you discovered on Youtube.
Right now, Dondria is my main focus. I had her for two years going back to when I was at Def Jam. When I discover a new artist, I try to figure out their niche. And while Dondria and Whitney Houston are so far apart from each other in terms of their careers, Dondria wants to be what Whitney became. I believe that that lane is opening up. Dondria doesn’t want to be Mary J. Blige. She wants to sing that big record. It took me a while to realize it and then I went into the studio one night and wrote “You’re The One.” This is my first new artist and single I’ve put out for So So Def independent. It’s a top 10 record right now and it’s a top 10 ringtone. The video even made no. 5 on 106 And Park. I’m excited to see it all happen. I’m really promoting her grassroots and making sure that everyone understands what she is about. She came to me with two million people watching her on YouTube. I had to connect both worlds.
How much of an adjustment has it been going independent?
It feels incredible. But it also makes me question what I was doing in my career before I went independent. Because now I’m really working. Niggas see me living the life and playing around. But to do this independent thing and to have it work, my life is completely different than it ever was. I’m doing everything. I do the blogging shit for real…I don’t have anyone writing it for me; I write up my own press releases so that people can get the right information about my artists. I shoot all these videos that you see on YouTube. And then I wake up every morning and do all the paper work. I’m spending my own money and talking to people I never used to talk to. It actually feels good.
Wow, sounds like a real 9 to 5…
[Laughs] I’m really working. At 16-17 years-old dealing with Columbia Records, I thought I would be doing what I’m doing now. I was working, but it was nothing like this. I rarely get two hours of sleep now. But it’s all worth it. To have Tyler Perry, a person of his caliber trust my instincts to put his soundtrack on So So Def. And then for a legend like Janet to do the same thing? I dreamed of having So So def becoming the Motown of my generation. If I can keep on doing what I’m doing, I believe that’s what I’m going to get to. I’ve proved to myself that I could put out records without the majors.