MY ESSENCE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW

JERMAINE DUPRI SETS RECORD STRAIGHT ON DEF JAM EXIT

 

 

Über-producer Jermaine Dupri has the Midas Touch when it comes to making hit records. The music impresario has produced and written songs for the likes of Mariah Carey, Usher, TLC, Anthony Hamilton, and girlfriend Janet Jackson. Besides heading his own label, So So Def, the ATL musical wunderkind has served as president of the urban music departments at Virgin and Island Def Jam Records. Until recently, Dupri appeared to be anointed by his musical forefathers as one of the next frontrunners of the biz. That is, until industry whisperings began about his sudden disappearing act—the second in his brief presidency. ESSENCE.com caught up with the hit man to find out the truth about his abrupt departure from Island Def Jam records, his relationship with L.A. Reid and starting a family with Janet Jackson.

ESSENCE.COM: The blogosphere has been abuzz recently about your exit from Island Def jam Records as president of urban music. Why did you leave the label?
JERMAINE DUPRI: It was a situation where it felt very stagnant to me. As a person who is used to putting out new records and continuing to do that, it just wasn’t turning over as being that place to me where I should stick to it and see if it was going to turn around.

ESSENCE.COM: What would you say was your biggest problem with the label?
DUPRI: It wasn’t giving me the open door that I thought it was going to. It wasn’t aggressive enough and it was a big letdown for me. I thought I was going to a place that understood the times we were in as a music business and how aggressive we needed to be with putting out new projects and records. This is the reason I’m speaking out; not because I’m bitter, but because I owe it to my fans that see me every day on the Internet. I wanted to let them know because they’ve left a lot of comments on my YouTube saying, “JD, you talk about everything else; why aren’t you talking about this [label] situation?”

ESSENCE.COM: There’s hearsay that your brief tenure was plagued by meager sales and a lack of new talent which resulted in the label ousting you. Is that true?
DUPRI: Island [Def Jam Records] is going to say what makes them look good. They are not going to tell the truth and say, “He just stopped dealing with us on a daily basis.” If you don’t put out my records, that’s all I have as a person. I’m a record person, so if I give you a record and you don’t put it out, then basically you’re showing me that it’s really no business. I never got a chance to put the records out. I had Johnta Austin, Ninth Ward and Dondria. I read the blogs and I’m thinking, How can they say that I’m not putting out records when anyone who knows my track record knows I’m about making music? My biggest problem is that I’m still the youngest president to have this kind of success. Music is my life. I’m a person who continues to carve out my own way. Instead of watching things happen, I make them happen. If L.A. [Reid] gets fired at Def Jam (he’s 20 years older than me) where is he going to go? Many of the people at the label; if their bosses were to fire them today, they don’t have anything else to do. Their lives are over. I’m not that dude. Life ain’t over for me.

ESSENCE.COM: So do you think it has to do with this struggle between old school versus new school?
DUPRI: I’m dealing with a lot of jealousy and have been since I first came in the business. When you’re younger they don’t want to listen to you because they know you are keener and people listen to the younger person in the office. In corporate America, this is something that I started feeling a lot. I’m keener as to what is going on in the streets, the Internet and all over the place. In a room full of people, I’ll have more answers than anyone else because I’m out there and know what’s going on, so people start paying more attention to what you’re doing. And that’s another thing: the music business thrives on young music, young ideas, newness and freshness. We have a bunch of old guys running all the record companies and they get in these meetings and argue with these young people like myself about what we know and try to make us believe that what we’re doing won’t work. I don’t see them beating the streets to find any of the artists. Matter of fact, I never see these people out anywhere because they are still living off the old times. When you have a 10- to 20-year gap, that’s a big difference, and that’s a lot of what I’m dealing with. Bow Wow is 21 years old, which means he’s 30 years younger than a lot of the chairmen of these labels.

ESSENCE.COM: You have a proven track record and have run a successful independent label since you were a teenager, and Island created this position for you. Do you think this situation could have been avoided had you taken over Jay-Z’s position at Def Jam?
DUPRI: When they gave Shakir Stewart (rest in peace) Jay-Z’s job [as President of Def Jam], I never wanted to work for Def Jam. That’s why Island Urban Music was created from day one. I always considered my label, So So Def, a direct competitor to Def Jam when Russell Simmons owned the company. I was always watching them as my competition; trying to do what they did and to do it just as good. So working for another label would be like my automatic death situation as a label owner. Everyone was trying to get that position—Irv Gotti, everyone. I wasn’t calling L.A. because I wasn’t jockin’ for the position. My nickname is Anakin Sky Walker because I always felt like I was the next person to be one of the front-runners in the business. Then I saw “Star Wars” and saw exactly what had turned Dark Vader into who he is. He became who he is because they were supposed to turn him into a powerful Jedi, but they told him it wasn’t time yet. I think that’s what L.A. did with me. He showed me that I was only playing a role because [he didn’t believe] it was time for me to be a Jedi. I was working in a place where they didn’t want to give that role to a younger person.

ESSENCE.COM: Do you think there’s a need for the changing of the old guard?
DUPRI: There are so many people that want to make young urban music but don’t have the resources. I’m a threat because I don’t just sign artists—I find them, produce and have a marketing plan all in one. They are not doing that or paying attention to what’s going on because all they do is get in their cars and go home. They don’t take the time to understand the growth and where these kids are.

ESSENCE.COM: Was it an amicable parting?
DUPRI: I haven’t spoken to L.A. [Reid] in three months. I don’t know if it’s amicable [considering] that they claim they put me out. I feel like it’s not amicable. Don’t lie, be real about the situation. It goes back to their having the attitude of let’s try and do something that’s going to hurt this person, because if it hurts us we have nowhere to go after this, but he does and has at least another 20 more years in this business. Again, if L.A. [Reid] gets fired, there will be at least another ten people who will also get fired and we’ll never see them again. Def Jam is like one big clique.

ESSENCE.COM: Although it’s been three months since you’ve spoken to L.A. Reid, would you be open to reconciliation? 
DUPRI: I don’t know. I saw a side of him that I had never seen before and that to me was a jealous side. I don’t know if I should be around people who are jealous of me. Mariah Carey sold more records in that entire Def Jam building and all of that was through my singles; so I’m looking like the golden boy. I only started thinking about it after I left.

ESSENCE.COM: Does Janet support your decision?
DUPRI: We don’t get down like that. She’s Janet Jackson without Jermaine Dupri and vice versa. That’s how we met doing our own thing. I talk to her about some things but it is what it is. I have to stay in my own lane—that’s where Bobby Brown messed up. (Laughs.)

ESSENCE.COM: Gossipmongers speculate that your departure was inevitable after Janet Jackson left because you left Virgin Urban Music after Janet left to go to Def Jam. Did Janet’s departure from Island influence your decision in any way?
DUPRI: No, not really. For a while I had to figure out the bad part about Janet’s departure. She was on Island Def Jam and no one ever heard me speak on the situation. Here I’m still working in the building with the people that aren’t treating my girlfriend right, but I never let my business and her business get mixed up. She might have been upset about me still being around, but it was never a situation where I was like, “This is bad; I have to move because of this.” Janet was handled through L.A. He chased her because he wanted to get her on the label so bad, and when things didn’t go right he had a scapegoat for her whole album [not doing well]—me. But what people don’t know is that Janet’s whole album was designed and made by him. He picked every song. I produced two songs on the entire album. I had a better track record with her at Virgin.

ESSENCE.COM: When it comes to your passion for music you are strongly convicted about what you will and won’t tolerate. What happened with the Grammy Board?
DUPRI: The same thing happened—they let me down. I was the president of the Atlanta chapter. The Grammys chose not to have Janet on the show because of the whole Super Bowl incident. Now, here I am as the president, and you think when you’re in that position you can impact and change things. Once they showed me that being a president didn’t mean that, I left.

ESSENCE.COM: Will you continue to helm Tag Records, a partnership between Island Def Jam and Tag Body Spray?
DUPRI: I don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s the saddest part in dealing with these situations. They try to keep the group to hurt the person who brought these artists to them. The truth is, I can always find another artist but the artist can not find another me. I have to be in a forward motion. One of my biggest focuses is that if you want to do new things you can’t do old things. I can’t be around people that don’t motivate and that’s what happened: a slow motion of people living off checks with no excitement. I’m into excitement.

ESSENCE.COM: As one of the most respected producers and songwriters in the biz you are often the focus of many rumors; one of them is that you and Janet Jackson are expecting a child. Is that true?
DUPRI: That’s false. The media doesn’t care about publicists anymore. I had my publicist send out a written statement about it. No babies, nothing.

ESSENCE.COM: Do you and Janet plan to start a family?
DUPRI: Yeah, of course. That’s going happen. We have to keep our careers and get all the rigmarole out the way but yes, that’s something that will definitely happen.

ESSENCE.COM: And can we expect you and Janet to continue your musical alliance at another label.
DUPRI: Absolutely. We’re going to always do that.

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26 Comments

  1. Yo JD! Sound to like Prince is doing the right thing by not dealing with any major labels. And question why didn’t you show up to SHAKE’S funeral service and his so called mentor L.A Reid? And i know the truth Im his cousin i was there.

  2. J.D. man you solid as a rock …. man im on your side lol nice interview .

  3. The truth speaks…..ya dig!!! I’m with you on this JD and I can totally understand what you mean, those old heads ain’t trying to hear you……do ya thing like you been doing, can’t they see that’s why you are on top of the game!!!! They need to recognize!!

  4. WHAT’S GOOD JD? APPRECIATE YOU SETTING THE RECORD STRAGHT!

  5. That is how you do it JD. Tell it like it is. So many artist mess up trying to keep everything in their lives and music life all hush hush not giving anything to the people supporting their every move. All that can be resolved by simply keeping them updated on what it is. Not tell everything of course, but enough to shut their mouths. You put your own ish out there its like f what you heard on the blogs. Love your grind and especially your presence on the internet.
    Much Love and God Bless
    ~N

  6. Preach!!!!

  7. JD, how are you? Just want you to know I.m not that type to believe in that celebrity gosssip. I like hearing it from that person, and this site is a good thang. Keep doing what you’re doing, I live in St Louis MO, I’m 52n years old and im proud of my young black men doing positve things in life as you’re doing keep up the good work, and we’re watching you guys (smile) and proud of you. Take care

  8. Well, damn, now I know writing to Def Jam about putting out the records you make didn’t do anything.

    Anyway, it seems like you’re better off with that big manipulating, cheating, or lying Def Jam music industry thing.

    Keep working hard, and producing hot records Jermaine!

    PS. Give Dondria some better material, though. LOL. And I thought you produced Janet’s album, guess not!

    PPS. Check out Rin on the Rox on Youtube, they shoulda been signed!

    peace,love&music.

  9. WOW! This is a GREAT interview JD. You are so open and honest and I truly respect that!

  10. HEY JERMAINE, I’VE READ ALL THATS GOING ON WITH U IN UR PERSONALLY LIFE AND I ONLY HOPE THAT THINGS GET BETTER FOR U, THANKS FOR ALWAYS LOOKING OUT FOR US I DO TRULY APPRECIATE IT. WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT U IS THAT U ARE A TROOPER, AND U WILL BOUNCE BACK, JANET IS REALLY LUCKY TO HAVE SOMEONE LIKE URSELF IN HER LIFE I SEE WHY SHE SAID SHE LIKES THE WAY U LOVE HER CUZ IT IS SO OBVIOUS HOW U LOVE HER (YOUR SO OUTSIDE THE ORDINARY) ANYWAY GOD BLESS, KEEP MOVING FORWARD AND I HOPE U GET ALL THAT U WANT FROM THIS WHOLE MESS. I WILL SUPPORT U WHEREVER UR NEXT MOVE MAY BE (THAT I WILL ALWAYS DO) ANYWAY JD LOVE U LOTS, KEEP UR HEAD UP AND I WILL KEEP U AND JANET IN MY PRAYERS. MUAH!!!!! XOXO!!!!!!!

  11. jd keep doing you brah. you’ve been bringing the heat since sylk times leather and jack the rapper days,so you really have nothing to prove homey. be in Atl soon to search you out to hear some of our heat. continued blessings to you and yours.

    Lex Amazing
    Lex&Los
    Carlos and Daniel music

  12. cool JD!… gotta go thru the bad 2 get 2 da gud sometimes….i missin my gurl janet tho…hopefully we will be seein her soon…in somethin…peace!

  13. wat it do jd i read the article today on esssence and im glad u finally spke on the issue that u spke., it bout time people here stuff from the horse mouth instead of so call hearing the truth from some blog or some hater. Keep doin wat u doing! The industry needs to change and this is only proving y it is struggling now. Best wishes 2 u n 09! do the damn thing! T!

  14. As usual. very informative. Always good read. Esp with you becuz u seem to tell the truth
    alot wrather folx wanna hear it or not. i read the whole thing as well. Of course i have to get
    2 the part about Janet. Im so glad you are taken care of my baby. Im always proud and
    glad to see that she has good people in her corner and backing her. Im very proud of her.
    I also want to thank you as well. Ive noticed a changer in her for the betta since you 2 have been
    2getha. But like i always say, i was a fan of yours b4 her and ill be one after her. samething
    goes for her. I fux wit ‘chall. Janet already knows to keep her head up and I got her back. On the
    real. Oh yeah, hurry up and gimmie some babys! yall be slummin! tell janet hook dat freaky
    contraption up she had during the “Discipline” part of the show and get it on! LOOOL!

    Love Yall. God Bless…

  15. JD U THE BEST MAN,AND LIKE YOU SAD,YOU CAN’T WORK WITH PEOPLE ACTIN’ JEALOUS OF WHAT YOU DO AND NUMBER ONE HATIN’ ON YOUR WOMAN.YOU A BOSS,SO BRUSH ALL THE NEGATIVE TALK OFF AND DAMN WHAT ANYONE SAYS,BUT YOU COULDN’T HAVE REPORTED IT ANY BETTA.JUST SO YOU KNOW AND I KNOW EVERYONE TELLS YOU,I LOVE THAT YOU AND JANET ARE A COUPLE,MY PRAYERS ARE WITH BOTH OF YOU.LOVE AND PEACE.

  16. It makes sense to move away from a stagnant situation in order to fulfil your obligation to society, which is to produce great music and put the records out with the proper funding and momentum from the label. I always wonder what happens to the very talented artist that have yet to get a chance to showcase their abilities. As you said, you’ll keep it moving without a limp in ya step, but what do Johnta, Dondria, and Q (even though I really only care for Johnta’s writing and dondria’s voice and energy).

    I think the old gaurd must give way to the younger generations way of staying ahead of the times. Growing up in this instant gratification society, as I’m only 22, where people’s attention spans are 30 mins long and devour music like junk food, I know as well as you and other young music people understand relevency and riding a way is very important in order to get the public familiar with a new artist. The format in which people get their music has changed its so much more than the radio and when these certain artist find their fan base, they should adhere to certain request. Gotta keep your ear to the streets (Youtube, myspace, blogs, lower level movements)

    I say that to say this… I feel ya kuz

  17. Very interesting JD.
    I’ve followed u thru ur whole career & it just seems to me that you’re better suited not being in some top level CEO position, where you have to worry more about the business end of things on the level that LA Reid does (per se), it’s just not your style.
    There must be some way that you can get your artists like Johnta’s music out without having to deal wit the B.S. and red tape that these record labels put you all through. Hopefully you can find a way through all this that is better suited for SOSO DEF as a whole before u get too fed up with it.Keep doin your thing and it wll all work out for the best.
    PEACE!!!!

  18. I never understood how and why MF’s continue to sleep on JD, everything JD just said in the interview I been saying a long time ago, especially when that bs with dr. dre went down. JD has a consistent track record for finding new artist, developing them, marketing them, & producing them. I mean MF’s act like emancipation of mimi was the only complete project he had that was successfull. not to mention record labels dont even do a&r the way they should, there is no more artist development outside of what JD does. Thats why theres so much garbage music and artist out now. Somehow some way people got Diddy’s ass waaayyyyy up on top of they’re list as the best of the best, but am i wrong wasn’t SSD around waayyy before biggie & craig mack??? I mean shit when it was just Brat & Kriss Kross Diddy was puffy & his ass was in college then or interning somewhere…..all these blogs be trippin me out sometimes, i wish my people would learn to read cd jackets or pick up a book……N-E-way…my rant is over, JD u BEEN at the top of my list since FUNKDAFIED people keep sleeping…………& she’s out!!!!!!!!!!

  19. JD do your own thing. You have to separate yourself for small minded people that don’t want to expand and try new things. Are you going to work with Boys 2 Men?

  20. Why don’t they understand? Old Coporate America just can’t let go. They will try to keep a younger person down because they feel they know better…i say that cuz it happens across the board. To JD, to Me, to Joe on Main Street.

  21. You know you remind me of an old cartoon, ( underdog). Just when you think your fading into the woodwork, you seem to save the day!!! Some how I know you wont stop! I’m loving your new truth site. Sweet and to the point, very informative. I am forty and living in a small town so one check at global and its just that GLOBAL!! What’s put on the table stays on the table, Do Them!!! Do Them all!!
    I’d like to see some personal pics from your fans when they leave their replies, can you make that happen? If Paris and Mickey ever get together I think it would be big! I wish you continued success in life and love.

  22. JD keep your head man, U a successful dude with a proven record whose still on the grind. Its crazy i tell people all the time you cant keep raw talent down. LA Reid seems to have a track record of battling with his artists. I hope 2009 is the year of Jermaine & Janet. shout out to Janet for the sickest tour of 2008……

  23. JD, why not just start your own label and get that poppin. I mean I know its a lot of work, and money, but then there will be no one telling you what you can and cannot do. You can make the music you want to make, and put out artist that you think are ready.

  24. jd do your own thing you deserve better . cause i don’t know why some blacks people they’re selfish like that .fuck them

  25. jd you deserve better . cause i don’t know why some blacks people they’re selfish like that .fuck them

  26. See, this is what I’m talking about. This makes sense. I am so glad that you did this interview because it was driving me nuts that people were saying the things that they were about the situation. Your fans really appreciate your honesty and your openness. You give up a certain amount of privacy to be in the situation that you are in but we just want to support you…and that helps when you have the facts from the person’s mouth. Keep doing you. When one door closes another opens. God Bless.

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