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Life + Times Check The Credits: Jermaine Dupri

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Earlier this year, Jermaine Dupri celebrated 20 years of his So So Def imprint with an anniversary concert featuring appearances and performances from JAY Z, Mariah Carey, Usher, Ludacris,Monica and Young Jeezy. It didn’t matter that none of those names mentioned were ever signed to So So Def. That’s because JD has made a career of crafting game-changing or career-altering hits for just about every artist in attendance that night. For instance, at a time when even diehard Mariah fans were beginning to count the songbird out, JD stepped in and produced gems like “We Belong Together,” “It’s Like That,” “Shake It Off” and “Don’t Forget About Us” – propelling her comeback and continuing her reign as one of Pop music’s queens. In 2004, Usher’s Confessions established him as a true megastar. Three of the four number-one records from that album were co-written and produced by Dupri. And while JAY Z was already well on his way to becoming the King of New York, it wasn’t until linking up with JD for “Money Ain’t A Thang” that Hov’s takeover of the South began. Put simply, Jermaine Dupri’s contributions to popular music have been nothing less than astonishing and with recent sessions with Mariah Carey and Usher it can only mean one of Billboard’s Top 10 producers of the last decade is preparing for his next 20 years of hits. Check out Mr. “Y’all Know What This Is” as he gives Life+Times the stories behind some of the biggest records of the last two decades.


“It was the beginning of me knowing what it feels like to write a hit. I wrote this entire song in like 30 minutes. That’s the first time the lyrics just jump out at me. That became the thing for me to know when a record was going to literally jump off. The lyrics was just in the air somewhere. As soon as I created the beat the word “jump” and the putting their name in the record came to me. Usually somebody would over-think to do a record like that trying to put all of those pieces together, but with this song it happened so organically. It was also like the first time for me to know what it feels like to create a record at that pace. I had never wrote a song at that pace, that fast. It might have been a collaboration of the kids and me feeling their whole flow. It just came out of nowhere. It was super easy to record with them, because they were like sponges. They just soaked up everything that I did. They couldn’t believe it was their song, so they did it with much more excitement than I probably did in the demo. [laughs]

“Just Kickin’ It” – Xscape

“When I wrote the song Kandi didn’t really understand the format of the record, because I wrote the song from a man’s perspective. The lyrics say “every man wants a woman.” Women don’t talk from a man’s perspective. Most women don’t say stuff like “every man wants this.” It was written from a man’s perspective and said by a woman, so at first the girls didn’t really catch it. They didn’t really get it. Then getting Kandi to sing at a lower register was her trying to mimic me, because I was doing that demo in a lower register. I kind of wanted her to sound like me in some kind of way, but at the same time sound better than me. I wanted the record to be as cool as possible. It was kind of an experiment, because it was the first record I made with Xscape where I was actually giving them something to do. At the same time, I wanted to incorporate Hip Hop and singing at the same time, so that’s where I came up with the “kick off your shoes and relax your feet” part. And adding their name in the record is something I learned from the Kriss Kross record. The best promotion is if the record is gonna be played a bunch of times put the artist’s name in the record and everybody around the world is gonna know what the group’s name is instantly. Little things like that I learned from the Kriss Kross record and I put into their record. It went on to be the first number-one record of my label.”


“It was like the first record I ever rapped on. Me and Brat was in the studio going back and forth about what she was going to do on the song. I just started saying some lyrics that I heard in my head and she would say some lyrics she heard. I don’t know if it ever got to the point where she just didn’t want to say what I was saying, but she heard it and said I should just rap on the track. At that particular point I wasn’t really trying to rap. I was stuck on just doing the producer thing. She convinced me to do the rap. That became the second number-one record on So So Def.”

“In My Bed” (Remix) – Dru Hill

“I took it upon myself to say the guys needed to come to Atlanta and re-cut the record. When I told that to the president of the company I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I just felt like it was a ballad and I was trying to make the song uptempo. I didn’t know what sample I was going to use or nothing like that. Right when they was getting to the studio I was going through so many records and I found that “Gimme What You Got” record. People rapped over it, but nobody ever sang over it. At that particular point, if you could find a record that was rapped over a lot, but nobody sang over it then you pretty much had a good chance of people loving it. I found that loop. As soon as Sisqo and the guys walked in they started trying to figure it out. Also, this was a time when Dru Hill wasn’t as popular as they wanted to be. Even though they had a number-one record they still wasn’t cracked open. They came to the studio wanting me to rap on the record. I was still thinking about me as a rapper and I wasn’t trying to do no sappy rap about girls [laughs]. I just wasn’t on that flow at the time. The first thing I thought about was me flossing and stunting on the song. And it’s probably the only remix today where the rap part of the remix don’t got nothing to do with the song. It came out dope though. Ain’t nobody even pay attention to that. That’s an unorthodox way to make a record. All it took was one night for us to knock it out.”


 One day I called Jay and was like I wanted to do a song, so he came down to Atlanta. I picked him up from the airport and drove him to my house. We didn’t have no drivers back then. [laughs] I was listening to his first album on the way to the airport to pick him up and that’s when I heard the line in “Can’t Knock The Hustle” where he says “deep in the South kickin’ up top game / bouncin’ on the highway switching four lanes / screaming through the sunroof ‘money ain’t a thang’” and I was like “Wait a minute, he said he’s in the South in the song?” I had never paid attention to him saying that until going to pick him up. It seemed so ironic, because he said he’s in the South in the song and he was actually in the South right then. That’s what led to me choosing that line – the fact that he said “in the South.” If he wouldn’t have said that I probably wouldn’t have said “money ain’t a thang” and it’s crazy, because we didn’t even use that line in the song. As soon as he got in the car I played him his own-self and told him I wanted to sample that line. He was like “Nah we ain’t gonna sample it, we gonna say it.” Before he came to the studio I was already making the beat. As soon as he heard that beat his eyes lit up and his rap came to him so fast. I was like “What the fuck?!” He ain’t write no lyrics or nothing. I was like where did these lyrics come from? I was like this nigga must have already had this rap written or something. That was my first time being in the studio with him and witnessing the way he writes. He don’t write no lyrics, so that was the first time I saw that and the last time I wrote on paper as well.”
“Where Da Party At?” – Jagged Edge feat. Nelly
“It was an attempt to follow up the remix to “Let’s Get Married” with Rev. Run. That remix created so much momentum for Jagged Edge on pop radio, on commercial radio, on mix-shows period. For such a time they had only been a ballad group and the remix to “Let’s Get Married” took them to another place and they kind of wanted to stay in that world. They came wanting to make something uptempo. I wasn’t really sure what we were gonna do, but I knew we’d figure it out. They already had a song called “Where Da Party At?” It was the same song on another beat. It was almost like I was remixing their song, so I just went in and made a whole new track. Once they started singing to it I knew it was it. It sounded like something new. We just had to figure out who to put on the record. At that particular time they wanted someone that was gonna make them as commercial as possible. Nelly just happened to be one of my best friends and they wanted Nelly on there. It was like a couple of weeks before we got Nelly on the song. Then we sent the song to Columbia and Donny Inner heard the song and he loved it, but he felt the record wasn’t finished. He felt it needed another part after Nelly’s verse. I wasn’t sure what was missing, but the song was called “Where Da Party At?” so I tried to find something that goes with a party. The “Do the east side run this motherfucker” part is straight party stuff, so we just started throwing chants that happens in parties. That took that song to the next place for him. That was like the first time I had taken a record and went back after someone told me it wasn’t finished, so it was a cool experience to have to go through that. But that song actually took a little longer, because I didn’t actually write the lyrics. That was more Jagged Edge. It was more like a remix to a song they already had written.”
“One night Usher was at the studio and he was on the phone with his girl at the time. She was giving him the blues. He couldn’t focus on what we was doing. Nothing about what we was doing was staying on his mind. When he came in the room I was like “You got it bad yo. Who goes through this?” He left the studio and when he left that was the one thing that kept going through my mind. I was thinking if he had it like that there had to be others that had it like that too. It became a double meaning thing for you as yourself, but also the “U”, also meant Usher.
“Burn” – Usher
“That was Usher’s idea. He told me that he wanted a song called “Burn” and he wanted it to be about a relationship where you gotta let it go and how bad it hurts when you let it go, but how good it feels when you let it go. “Burn” being the burning of it going away and the burning of it hurting still, so it was another record that had a double meaning to it. I had to just sit there for a minute and just think about it. He left the studio again to go chase some girl [laughs]. When he came back I had pretty much most of it written. It was all based on his concept, so it didn’t take him long to fall in love with it. As soon as he started singing the song I knew this record was a hit. It’s certain songs that when you get into this pattern you just start knowing and this was just that one. I remember I called Big Jon and told him “Yo we got this one song for Usher album that’s crazy!” That song became the second number-one song off of that album. The simplicity of that song and then the fact that it sounded like “U Got It Bad” or “Nice & Slow,” I knew that’s what people wanted to hear. They wanted to essentially hear an extension of those records. I knew if I pulled it off it would be great. We pulled it off where it sounded nothing like those two songs, but it felt like it came from those two songs and that was really one of the things that I was trying to do. I felt like “U Got It Bad” was so big, so we had to give the people another one of those. That one took probably about a day for me to finish, because he came back to the studio and me and him wrote some more, but for the most part the blueprint of the song was finished in like a night.”
“It’s crazy, because the version which y’all ended up hearing was [Confessions] “Part II” and “Part I” was the real version of the song. “Part II” wasn’t even going to come, but one night we were listening to “Part I” and Usher said we had to make a second part. I asked what the second part was and he was like “You get a girl pregnant.” I was like “Oh shit, I know this story!” [laughs] That was my story, so when he said it I just needed a beat. I start making this track and once I start listening to the track I knew it was going to be crazy. The words for “Confessions” came to me like nothing. It was like sitting in a room and I just had to pull them down and put them on paper. That song happened probably in like an hour as far as putting it together. When doing a concept like that where you know all the words, and you know all the pieces to the puzzle and you know exactly where they go, you just want to get the song done so fast so you can hear it. We were in there racing trying to finish it, so we could hear it and see what it sounds like. We didn’t even expect it to be big. We just thought we was doing something that men would like.”
“My Boo” – Usher feat. Alicia Keys
The song ended up not making Confessions, because we didn’t have the person we wanted for the record on the record. Confessions became so big that they wanted to re-release the album and add some more songs. Usher called me asking what other songs we had. I mention “My Boo.” Then me, Mark Pitts and everybody said lets put Alicia on the song. We put Alicia on the song and it was instant. Alicia fell right in with the record. I had this whole concept in my mind that Usher and Alicia should do a whole album like Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye, but nobody got what I was saying. I was like “Y’all can make this one record and this could be the beginning of y’all making eight more songs. It’ll be a platinum album. And you ain’t got to go on tour. You ain’t gotta do nothing. Just shoot one video.” They didn’t get the concept. But that song went on to be another number-one song for her and Usher. It was crazy. For that record I just wanted Usher to be able to make more records than the type of records we were making. I wanted to give him a sample record that had a lot of love in it. We just had to find a way to make it work.”
“We had like two days a piece out of two weeks to do four songs. The first time she came to the studio we did “Get Your Number” and “It’s Like That.” She took those songs back to LA Reid – The Emancipation of Mimi was basically finished they were just trying to get a few more songs – and her and LA then decided she should make one more trip to Atlanta to see what we’d come up with. The second time she came to Atlanta it was for two more days. That’s when we did “Shake It Off” and “We Belong Together.” “We Belong Together” was a sparse, ghetto-ass track. That was me thinking I was gonna put Mariah on some hood shit and it not be a whole lot of music – just let her sing. I knew that people wanted to hear her voice, because it was at that point in time where people were saying “Mariah doesn’t sing no more. She don’t sing like she use to,” so I wanted to make a stripped-down record with her singing on it and the story being incredible. She started writing the story and it really started to sound crazy. I called Johnta over, who helped write the song. We all just started throwing in lyrics to go with it, because it was so many of us that had had this scenario happen to us. It was such a fun session, but it was crazy, because we only had one day and she wanted to finish the entire record in that one night. She had to catch her plane and the pilot had called saying that if they didn’t leave by a certain time they were gonna make her wait until later the next day to leave. We were rushing to get her to the plane, but at the same time she wanted us to be really serious about the lyrics, so it was like we was on a time clock to finish the song. It was crazy, because the very last piece of the record I wrote and I was trying to get her to go into the studio, but she didn’t want to do the demo. She wanted to do it the way that I did it. It’s funny to me, because she tried to mimic me. Every time I hear that song I’m like “This shit is real crazy.” [laughs] She’s mimicking me, but she can sing, so it sounds better. But there was a point where she schooled a lot of us and it became the song of the decade and we wrote that in one day.”
“Let Me Hold You” – Bow Wow feat. Omarion
“I got Bow Wow to a point in his career where I felt like it was time for him to transcend into more hip-hop and to get people to understand that he was a product of hip-hop. A lot of the records we were making in the beginning where a lot of kiddie-oriented types of records. Records like “Bow Wow (That’s My Name)” and “Bounce With Me.” It was more original material, but I wanted him to go into the world of samples, but I also wanted it to be unique. I had NO I.D. in the studio with me and we were talking about records and I was like “Lets play some samples.” He played the Luther Vandross record and as soon as I heard that one part “let me hold you” – I figured if I took the that part and we loop that we could do something else and try to figure it out, so me and NO I.D. – this is a song that me and NO I.D. actually did together – was playing around with it. I wanted Bow Wow to have a record that had a sample that went all the way through the whole time and have him create the raps to go around it. I was kind of experimenting with him to see if it worked. As soon as I got the loop going and the raps I felt it had to have a singing part to make that record that much bigger. Him and Omarion had just come off tour and I said we should put O on the song. We wrote “Let Me Hold You” in New York at Battery Studio. That’s one of the only hit records that I made outside of my studio.”
“Grillz“ – Nelly feat. Jermaine Dupri, Paul Wall, Bigg Gipp & Ali
“That was a very, very interesting record. One night Nelly called me and was like “You keep making all these number-one records for everybody. You ain’t never make me one. I’m coming to get one!” That’s the conversation we had, so he came to Atlanta and we start making this track and we start thinking. He’s a big LL fan – he even got the muscles and shit [laughs] – we take this LL part from “Candy.” People don’t really be reaching back. This generation don’t really know about that LL stuff like that no more to reach out and take it from him, but Nelly was taking that “Candy” flow and doing it to the beat. He was thinking about how – like in the beginning of ratchetness if you want to call it this – the girls was loving guys that had grills in their mouth. When we thought about it we knew we had to get Paul Wall on it. It was another one of those records where the artist wanted the record done right then and there. If the energy is right, they want the record cut right there. So we called Paul Wall and told him we needed to get him on the next flight to Atlanta. While we’re waiting on Paul to get to Atlanta we went to Club 112 and we get fucked up. I’m talking about twisted out of our mind. We went back to the studio and Paul was already there at the studio. He had laid his verse already and told the engineer to play it for us. We hear it and are like “Oh my god. This is it.” Paul starts pouring lean. He’s sipping syrup. This is the first time I ever had syrup in my life. I was like “I’m gonna drink it, because you [Paul] know how to make it. This the shit you on, so I’m gonna drink it for the first time.” I was out of my mind on that shit. I don’t even know how I got out the session I was so twisted, so when I hear that song that’s the memory that comes. That was my first time ever trying lean [laughs]. We went from the club, back to the studio, from the studio, to the club, back to the studio and got Paul Wall to fly in all in one day.”
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