Legendary hitmaker Jermaine Dupri has successfully been championing R&B for decades now. He’s been able to transcend generations by creating hits with veterans and younger artists alike.
His most recent example of the latter is when he scored one of his latest hit records by producing Ari Lennox’s “Pressure”. He followed that up with an executive producing role on DVSN’s new album “Working On My Karma”.
This of course comes along with continuing to help build out Usher’s next classic, while also celebrating his work on the 25th Anniversary of “My Way”.
We had a chance to catch up with Jermaine Dupri once again for an interview. During our conversation, we touched on the work he did on DVSN’s new album, carrying the flag for R&B music, his memories of helping to create Usher’s “My Way” album, working on the new Usher album, and a song he can’t believe he created.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We see many out there saying they are going to save R&B and they are bringing R&B back, but you’ve been a champion for the genre for many, many years now and keep carrying the flag. The work you’ve done with Mariah Carey, Usher, and more recently with Ari Lennox and DVSN. How important is that for you?
Jermaine Dupri: It feels like something that I’ve always been doing, so I don’t actually feel like I’m doing something heroic or anything like that. I feel like I’m just going with the process. I’m doing things that are a bit unexpected. I’m sure you guys never thought I’d work with Ari Lennox, and a lot of people didn’t know who DVSN was or didn’t know why I’d work with them. It’s just an unexpected energy. It’s definitely not planned, it’s just me trying to continue doing what I do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s cool to listen to songs you recently did like “Pressure” for Ari Lennox and “If I Get Caught” For DVSN. Because it’s not like you’re following younger trends, you’re actually bringing this younger generation into your zone and kind of giving them some of that vintage sound we’ve been used to from you.
Jermaine Dupri: I don’t think that I’ve ever subscribed to the older, or whatever that space is. I think that in a time when R&B took a turn, and sounded a lot older, and it sounded probably more musical than all of my music, at that time when it was doing that, I think I took a turn at that point. I went against what was happening in R&B when it was these pretty, pretty songs and I dealt with my groups not actually getting the full attention that they should have, because the music was a little bit darker than the records on the radio. Take for example Xscape, it’s funny because they were teenagers and they were kids when I signed them. The music that we were putting out, the radio stations were telling me that Xscape’s records were too young for where I wanted their records too be at. They sounded too young to be on Adult Contemporary Radio. When we did “Understanding” and “Tonight”, I thought these songs were going to be R&B killers. Oddly enough, the Adult R&B stations, they held these groups back. Then when I came back with Jagged Edge, the same thing. Then it just became that the So So Def label makes young music. They said it was too young to be Adult Contemporary. I personally feel like once they labeled me as that, I just stayed in that space and I never tried to make these “End of the Road” types of songs.
YouKnowIGotSoul: DVSN wasn’t really a group we had checked out too much before you were involved. You are an executive producer of their new album “Working On My Karma”. Talk about that a bit.
Jermaine Dupri: Me and Bryan-Michael Cox pretty much did over 50% of the album. We are executive producers of the album as well with DVSN. Pretty much the entire record is a take built by all four of us. They came wanting to carve out a space in R&B. This is something they said that they wanted. They wanted to be more prominent in R&B, they love records that we did, we talked about all of the Usher records. They were hoping that I could give them stuff, and I feel like even before the album came out, I actually kind of did my job with this project. I know people that know them now that didn’t know who this group was, and also I feel like as the collaborative effort, we did an amazing job as far as all of us working with each other.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Usher recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his “My Way” album, which you had a big part in creating. Talk a bit about what that album meant to your career.
Jermaine Dupri: The Usher record was pretty much the same thing. I was going into that coming out of my Xscape experiences. What many people don’t talk about or pay attention to, is that Usher was the first male solo artist that I’d ever produced. Going into “My Way”, I had Kriss Kross and Xscape energy and excitement, but I technically didn’t know what I was about to do! *Laughs* I didn’t know what was going to happen. All these records that I don’t know what’s going to happen, like “One Day You’ll Be Mine” on the album, which was the first song I did with him when we started. That’s just because I know that putting an R&B singer over another classical record or breakbeat or something reminds me of making a mixtape. It also was very hip hop. It creates this edge that I guess these Urban stations were saying was too young for me to get my other records played. I think that’s that’s kind of the pool that I was swimming in with that “My Way” record. I got deeper into it, but at first I had no idea what I was headed into doing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One more thing we have to ask about Usher, because you know everyone is waiting on the new album. We really thought he had a perfect roll out lined up when he came out with “Don’t Waste My Time” with Ella Mai followed by “Bad Habits”, which were both great songs. Did you feel that way?
Jermaine Dupri: No, not if he’s betting on me. *Laughs* I feel like Usher was basically in reverse, having the same thing happen to me, that was happening to me with Xscape and Jagged Edge. So in reverse of that, people were saying Usher’s music didn’t sound young enough to be on the Hip Hop stations. This same thing, I’ve been seeing this basically my whole career. But it was weird to see it be backwards when it came to Usher. We had to really, really take a real microscope look at this to understand exactly what was happening. Mind you, I’ve been here before, but I didn’t do it purposely to make it be like that. This one I had to fix purposely, let’s go back to what Usher really represents. By the way, “My Way” has been a very, very big inspiration for this album. That is the seed of who Usher actually is. We all had to take a step back and go back into that space. Usher has made so much music and so many types of records. He’s also made these big sounding songs that don’t sound like today’s radio. Even myself, I had to take a step back, and look at how we made “My Way”. I was such a hip hop guy back then, I was writing nothing but hip hop songs. Can I find that Jermaine Dupri somewhere in me? It’s definitely a process that needs to happen. It’s not something that we are forcing. It just had to happen like that because there was so much.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Looking back, what is one song you created that makes you say “Wow, I can’t believe I created that song!”
Jermaine Dupri: Yea I think “Always Be My Baby” would be that record because I don’t think people initially connect Jermaine Dupri to that song. I think that song actually defines the type of producer that I chose to be. I actually wanted to be like Quincy Jones, a producer that could do Jazz, and make Rap, and make #1 R&B records. You could almost not tell who the producer was on the songs. I feel like “Always Be My Baby” that I least hear people talk about in my discography. But when I hear people talk about it, they say it’s one of their favorite records of all time. It’s very deliberate too. I set out to try and do it. I also didn’t know what I was doing, I was scared, it was the first time in the studio with Mariah. I didn’t know how hip hop she was. It was almost like a song I was holding back from releasing all of my hip hop energy to her, but also releasing a lot of my melodic energy to her. So people are hearing more music, and the drum beat is not overly pounding, then I’m sure people thought I probably didn’t really do the song, that I maybe was just in the studio. That song in itself is one that I think people didn’t think I had in me. That’s how I wanted to be as a producer. I want people to understand my diversity, because I definitely believe that I can do it. Even the first single from Anthony Hamilton’s last album, I’m not sure people connect the fact that I did that song.