So So Def’s two decades in hip-hop can only mean one thing: Jermaine Dupri’s influence in the game is unquestionable and shows no signs of having an expiration date. As a rapper, producer, and label executive, Jermaine Dupri has touched nearly every facet of the music industry with his Southern beats and hooks. Celebrating 20 years in the biz has caused the mogul to take stock of his influence, his highs, lows and all of the reflection only has him hungry to churn out even more hits over the next 20 years.
“It’s all been a blast. The 20 years have all been amazing. Getting to this point has all been fun,” Dupri tells CocoaFab exclusively. One of the most standout moments wasn’t a platinum record or a huge tour, but it was what a music nerd really aims for: the top of the charts. “When I achieved something that I never thought I would achieve, which is that I had the number one, two, and three spots on the Billboard charts, the top songs in the country, I was shocked and surprised. I couldn’t believe that I did it and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.”
Nevertheless, aside from the accolades and the chart-topping hits, Dupri looks back over the past two decades, and is most proud of making music that the fans have appreciated. “I’ve been criticized for making young music, for being too southern, I’ve been criticized for different things, but I just want people to know me for just making good music.”
In a moment of candor, however, Dupri admits that often times his accomplishments and contributions to the world of music are overlooked. He’s never been on the Forbes list or on the cover of GQ and he doesn’t own a professional sports team. “If people ain’t respected what I did in these 20 years, then I’m going to go harder in the next 20 years to get that much more respect,” Dupri says matter of factly. “It makes me want to work harder instead of just swimming in these 20 years.”
Even when being compared to the Jay’s and Diddy’s of the game, he can still take major credit for putting Southern rap on the map when it came to radio spins and club popularity. He’s credited for helping break acts like Bow Wow, Da Brat, Kriss Kross, R&B group Xscape, and the list goes on. But his biggest score when it comes to an artist is, ironically, not a crunk rap group.
The artist he’s most proud of signing is R&B singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton. “I said this when I signed him, but I feel like he’s probably the greatest artist I will ever sign,” says Dupri. “Anthony embodies something that is not just an incredible voice, he has the potential to be one of the greatest artists that have ever been.”
While Durpi no longer has control over or input into Hamilton’s career, he could see him being the next Ray Charles. “Ray Charles did so many different types of albums and he had that talent where he could record and put out anything and you would fall in love with his entire catalog. Anthony has that for sure.”
However, just like there is a favorite artist in an exec’s catalog, there is undoubtedly one stellar artist who got away. For Dupri, the one rapper who he wished he had signed was Ludacris, and interestingly enough the loss was due to outside influences.
“I was going to sign Ludacris and people told me that his career wouldn’t turn into what it has. That’s one instance where I listened to people more than I listened to my own instinct. That’s one that got away. It’s crazy because as a person like me, I’m always listening to my gut, I very rarely listen to people around me. But on the one time that I want to be a businessman like everyone else and let the people in the office work, that’s when I lost Ludacris.”
Looking ahead, Dupri has learned a slew of lessons from his past and is looking to craft a new landscape of music. His goal is to turn the entire beast of music around and bring it to a higher level of creativity. “The music industry is in a bad space right now,” insists Dupri. “The creativity of the videos has gone down now. Everyone is doing the exact same thing in videos now.” And it’s not just the videos. “R&B music has to come back. It’s the backbone of life. Kids are made from these slow songs. We are neglecting a whole sound right now that a generation of people want.”
For those who know him best, it’s no surprise that Jermaine Dupri has very clear opinions about what needs to be done and how artists can bring back real music. And there are no signs of him sitting back and letting his hard work go to waste. “It’s all about the music for me and that’s what I’m focused on. Hopefully for another 20 years.”