"CELEBRATING 25 YEARS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS"
By Gabrielle Alexandra Smith
Music Mogul Jermaine Dupri talks with Experience Reality about his successful So So Def Record Label turning 25. He relives some of his favorite moments and expresses the challenges presented in the music industry.
ER: This is an exciting year for you Jermaine. How does it feel for So So Def to turn 25? What’s going through your mind?
Jermaine: That we made it. It’s not something that when you first create a company or even before you have your own company that you think about. It was just a thought. I watched Motown 25 and that was dope. In the back of my head I always wanted to get to that same place.
ER: When did your interest in music start?
Jermaine: When I was 3. That’s when I got my first drum set. I used to copy music from concerts and try to play the drum parts. That’s when I got the music bug.
ER: Take me back to when So So Def was just an idea in your mind.
Jermaine: So So Def became a company about two years before 1993. I was making mixtapes that was called So So Def. I would write that on the tape when I gave it away to someone. That is why I named the record company So So Def because I was already in the midst of it. I had it written all over my room.
ER: Did you ever once think you would be a CEO of a successful record label?
Jermaine: Not really. My dream originally was to get a group. To be a successful producer not even on the level that I reached. Back then girl groups were the big thing. I really didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I was writing raps for them. I was really determined, though. I thought if I figured this out, I could do it. Interesting enough my group got a record deal.
ER: If you weren’t a legendary producer, where do you think you would be?
Jermaine: Probably a Snowboard Instructor.
ER: When you first started this label you were in your twenties, comparing to now, what have you learned as an executive and about music?
Jermaine: As an executive I learned to be strategic. The music business is no different than any other business. I look at the music industry like football. You always get four downs, but it’s on the third down that you have to do something serious to get another chance to make a move. You have to figure out a way to continue moving forward. What you start you have to prolong to continue it. If you create something that is amazing with an artist you have to figure out how to come back and do it again and again with that same artist.
ER: You have jump started a lot of artists’ careers. You’re viewed as successful a person that just gives and gives to help people do good. Do people help you how you help them?
JD: I was thinking about this the other day when I did the Trumpet Awards. I posted this tweet about how I was watching my artist perform and I cried when I thought about what I was going to write. Maybe I am not as good as people may say I am because I had the opportunity to find a lot of artists that make me look better than I might be. I was hit with that reality like three days ago. My artists have really helped me because they were actually good. I did a lot. I made the records and produced them. I can’t take anything away from those kids that I signed. They really could sing and rap. They really had charisma and stage presence for what it is to be an artist. The thing is, they all didn’t have that when I first met them, but after I worked with them they did.
ER: Being a CEO is not easy. A lot of people in the music business are here one day and gone the next. How do you continue to drive your motivation and not be forgotten?
Jermaine: That is one of the strategies I learned. People love to count you out as quickly as they count you in. That is probably one of the biggest challenges in the music industry. How do you continue? What are the ingredients to continue? I have always made it a point to think about how I can re-invent myself. Plus, I don’t celebrate my success long enough to get lost in it. When you start paying attention to the success, you are so lost in the success that it is hard for you to pull yourself out of it. When you start to pull yourself out of it, you can compare everything new to what you have already done. I’m always trying to start over. I don’t think people understand that about me.
I’m a true entrepreneur. When I first signed Kriss Kross I was not driving a great car. It was a raggedy little car. I would drive to get those two boys everyday on the westside of Atlanta and drive them back to my Mother’s house to work on music. Then I would drive them back. This was the mentally that we had. Inside of that car we would talk about our dreams. We would say “Man when y’all blow up” or they would say “If we get a record deal we’re going to do this.” We would talk about all these starts in this car. My mentality after Kriss Kross blew up was that every artist I put out I am going to get in that car. Now the money and the projects change, but nothing else ever changed. Yes, the car changes, the room in the car starts to become bigger, it might even become a truck. You should never let that change the mindset of who you are. Every time I get in that car it’s a fresh start for me and the artist with me.
ER: You’re known all over the world as a Music Mogul. Are you aware of your impact on the music industry through the years?
Jermaine: To some extent no and to some extent yes. In Hip-Hop I have been challenged so much in this game that it almost makes me believe that 80% of people in this world hate me, which is weird. Hip-Hop for the longest makes me believe that people don’t like Jermaine Dupri or So So Def. Every time I do an interview they say you know you are one of the most underrated guys in the music industry. I’m like damn, why does everyone continue to say this. At some point it makes me wonder did I actually have that big of an impact. Sometimes I lay in bed and say you know what, maybe God is telling me this so I won’t get comfortable. If I knew 80% of it was love I might not have the same drive.
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