The music creative talks shedding tears for LeBron James, receiving inspiration from Cam Newton and gives tips on flying private
It’s impossible to soundtrack the 1990s and the early 2000s and not have Jermaine Dupri creations in heavy rotation. Back then, the executive and producer dubbed artists signed to or affiliated with the So So Def record label as “The New Motown” — appropriate given that the music of Xscape, Lil Bow Wow, Da Brat, 112, TLC, Usher and Jagged Edge dominated soul and pop radio stations, as well as homecoming jams and barbecues everywhere.
Dupri’s reach was further widened, as he began producing and remixing tracks for artists such as Jay Z (1998’s Grammy-nominated Money Ain’t A Thang) and his ex-girlfriend, pop superstar Janet Jackson (2006’s Call On Me). All of this, plus the eternal and resurgent 1995 track My Boo from Ghost Town DJs. And his work with Mariah Carey (1998’s Sweetheart, 2005’s Get Your Number, plus her 2005 No. 1 pop hit We Belong Together, which Dupri co-wrote and co-produced before it went on to win the Grammy for record of the year).
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, and raised in Atlanta, Dupri created a lot of phenomenal music over the years, and the beat is still going on. Dupri — or JD, as so many refer to him — is starring now in two reality TV shows: Lifetime’s The Rap Game and BET’s Music Moguls. Plus he’s still making music, and is still kind of the mayor of the ATL.
What’s your primary social tribe? Are you a Twitter person? Snapchat? Facebook? Instagram?
All of that. It’s [all like the] barometer. It’s basically the same as me putting out music. I can see the reaction of people instantly. My artist from The Rap Game, Miss Mulatto — I remember when I first started posting her [music] after she won. She probably got 900 likes or something like that on Instagram. Now, when I post Miss Mulatto, she gets 3,000 to 4,000 likes. That’s an indication that the people know who she is, that the people care about who she is now. It just helps me better my business … because it’s a true indication of what is actually going on.
Why do you love sports so much?
I just love to see people compete. I love to see how far you can take competition. It’s funny, because right before you called, I looked at Instagram and I saw this message from [Carolina Panthers quarterback] Cam Newton that says, ‘I have the beast in my eyes, like I’m Tyson.‘ And I thought about it, like, ‘Wow, I never say anything like that about my posts.’ Right? And I think that’s a [sports] attitude: ‘I have the beast in my eyes.’ I have that same beast in music. I’m very competitive and that’s what sport does for me.
Is there such a thing as being too competitive?
Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I’ve been trying to compete with people that don’t even pay attention to me — they’re not even thinking about me. So then it’s like I’m really not competing with them, you know? It’s only a competition when you’re actually competing with somebody that’s going to push you a little bit harder and they’re playing the game.
What real sport do you play?
Basketball. Point guard because I’m so small.
You have a full court in your studio. Why basketball, as opposed to having a tennis court or a swimming pool?
It’s the most competitive. You can’t really cheat in basketball. Basketball is like … You take a shot, the ball goes in the hole. If it doesn’t go in the hole, you lose.
How do you find out about new music?
I have a social network called Global 14 that I started about five or six years ago. My love for social media goes way deeper … I created my own social network.
What’s the last show you binge-watched?
Your favorite throwback TV show?
Probably The Jeffersons.
Who is the face of the NBA right now?
[Cleveland Cavalier] LeBron James. He did something that people didn’t believe could happen. They didn’t believe he was gonna do it. Him bringing the championship back [to Cleveland] solidified him as the face of the NBA.
What’s your current fashion obsession?
I’m in the era of suits right now. I have to do so much business suit stuff, [and] I’m loving getting dressed up. I feel like when a man puts on a suit, he gets more compliments. It makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it a lot more.
I know you’re a big Atlanta Hawks fan. Are you excited about Dwight Howard joining the team?
I’ve been saying that for the longest. I thought the Hawks should have hired me a long time ago to be a person in the front office! [To say,] ‘Hey, we should have Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Lou Williams playing for the Hawks.’ They’re from Atlanta. We need the hometown love and I think that if we had the hometown players playing for us, it would bring out more hometown people. Dwight coming back to Atlanta, being from Atlanta, is going to put people in the seats. Atlanta’s that type of city where, if you’re from here, you support what’s from Atlanta. You might not even like it, but you still support it. Do something the way you see LeBron doing it. LeBron being from Cleveland … that’s what gets Quicken Loans [Arena] a lot more packed than it probably ever was — they have a hometown guy bringing people out.
What’s the first concert you ever went to?
I was probably 3 years old, and it had to be the Jackson 5 or something.
What was the last stamp in your passport?
What’s your advice to someone flying in a private plane for the first time?
Have a lot of fun. Talk on the phone, do everything that you wouldn’t do on a normal plane. [On commercial flights,] they tell you to put your seat belt on and they tell you to push your seat all the way up when you’re about to land. Is it a safety thing? I think it is, but … I’ve been on planes where I’m sleeping in the bed and completely laying down, the plane lands and it didn’t do anything. I didn’t move out the bed, I didn’t fly across the room. It made me realize, a lot of times when I’m on these commercial flights … it’s a little much. I’ve fallen asleep on private planes with my phone completely on, all the way from Atlanta to wherever I went, and no interference. Nobody ever came and woke me up and said, ‘No!’
What will you always be a champion of?
I’ve always been a champion of overcoming. I cry when I see people do things that I can feel others saying is impossible. Take LeBron winning the championship, I shed a little tear for him. I’m always going to cheer on and champion people overcoming … just overcoming — period. If it’s something that’s been in front of you, and you figure out a way to move that, or go over it, or go around it, I’m always going to champion that.