It was a great ride: After two decades of churning out bubble gum rap and crafting memorable hits for such artists as Bow Wow, Kris Kross, Xscape and Da Brat, music producer-turned rapper Jermaine Dupri has come full circle.
The pint sized former rap mogul now finds himself staring at an uncertain future as he starts over at square 1 with a downsized version of So So Def, the independent label that made him a household name.
The 90s were heady days for Jermaine Dupri who struck gold and then platinum with a mixture of pop-rap that Atlanta has become known for. But few people knew then that JD, as he likes to be known, did not craft those hits himself.
Like fellow Atlanta producer Dallas Austin, JD kept a team of virtually unknown producers on his payroll, and they did most of the work for him.
That’s not unusual in a music industry that is dominated by narcissists who routinely take credit for other people’s work.
Big name producers, such as Diddy and JD, are often up all night clubbing, and making it rain on botoxed strippers who they share champagne breakfasts with in random hotel rooms at 8 in the morning. All the while, the unknown producers, who make pennies on the dollar, craft the hits that earn the big name producers their Grammys.
This explains why “producer” Sean Combs put out so many hits early on in his career, but he couldn’t make a hit now if his life depended on it. The same goes for JD who took his So So Def label independent last year after being dumped from Island Records.
According to Creative Loafing, JD is bitter now that he has no major label to call home. No longer able to splurge on the exorbitant $8,000-a-month rental fees, he took down his infamous “Afro man” billboard alongside I-85 downtown. The one that greeted out-of-state visitors driving into Atlanta from Hartsfield airport.
Dupri, 36, also laid off (or fired) most of his staff and now operates So So Def out of his Southside studios in Buckhead with a skeleton crew of 3.
Gone is the big money label budget and all the perks that went along with being signed to a major label. If you don’t have a major label budget, then you can’t pay producers. This is when a producer’s weaknesses — and lack of raw talent – is exposed for the world to see.
Also gone is the main reason why Dupri’s name stayed on everyone lips for so long: Janet Jackson. Sadly JD is in denial, refusing to admit that their relationship is over.
According to Creative Loafing, JD seems to deny that the pair have broken up, despite numerous reports to the contrary last year. “That’s an assumption,” he says.
The failures began multiplying, culminating In 2008, when JD executive produced his then girlfriend Janet’s Discipline album. The album failed to go gold and Janet’s contract was not renewed at Island. Some say JD destroyed Janet jackson’s career by selfishly elevating his own career above hers. Even if that wasn’t true, others took notice of his failures.
In an interview with VIBE magazine, JD struck out at longtime pal Usher, calling him “disrespectful” for not letting him executive produce his album after the success of Confessions.
Insiders accused JD of being too cocky for his own good. They said he was behind the times because he continued to glorify the bling lifestyle, lavish spending and material wealth, while record sales continued to plummet.
JD bristles at such criticism that he is behind the times. He points to his use of digital technology, such as YouTube, to discover the next big thing. For the past few years, JD has focused his efforts on making singer Dondria a star. Dondria is a sassy, immature artist who sounds like a young Whitney Houston, but without the pipes.
After years of sitting on the shelf, her debut album, Dondria vs. Phatfffat, will finally drop on August 17. The Creative Loafing article says the label “didn’t even so much as listen to Dondria,” which explains why her debut album has been delayed for so long.
Also on the back burner is an album from Trey Songz’s rumored condom tester, Brandon Hines. Nowadays JD reminisces on the way things used to be back in the champagne and caviar days when he was really living the life:
“The city’s strip clubs are no longer reliable testing grounds for new music,” he gripes. “That’s been destroyed with payola. Now [a DJ] will play his man’s new song, or a record somebody paying him to play.”
Meanwhile Dupri, who fancies himself to be a reborn club DJ, spins records in local nightclubs run by club promoter Alex Gidewon of AG Entertainment Group. JD mainly plays his man’s new song, or a record that somebody pays him to play.