I didn't make this album to prove that I can rhyme with a Nas, a Slick Rick, or a Jay-Z," says Jermaine Dupri (JD), discussing his solo debut album, Life In 1472. The idea of his own solo album as an act of artistic expression heralds back to 1984, when, at the tender age of 12, Jermaine first began to search out other groups to produce. "I felt like I knew in my head what the public wanted and I couldn't totally give it to 'em at the time. I didn't think I was a full-fledged artist like that."
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14 years later, he's ready.
Life In 1472 features a who's who of rap luminaries trading verses with JD on a wide variety of topics. "Turn It Out" is a lyrical manifesto with Queensbridge griot Nas rapping over a sampling of the hip-hop classic "Davy DMX." " Fresh" finds the incomparable Slick Rick and Dupri turning out ribald and raunchy freak tales with reserved flair, and "Money Ain't A Thang" is a Jay-Z-assisted exchange of high life boasts that moves back and forth like a well-paced tennis match.
But such stellar pairing is nothing new for the artist and So So Def Recordings CEO, who, at 26, has a production résumé including Usher, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, TLC, LSG, Aliyah, Mase, MC Lyte and Cam'ron; not to mention his own ultra-phenomenal, multi-platinum successes with Kris Kross and So So Def Recordings' Da Brat and Xscape. Dupri's accomplishments are truly awe-inspiring. This year, he's helped Usher sell 3 million albums (and counting), he wrote and produced "You Make Me Wanna... " and "Nice and Slow," the first and follow-up platinum-selling No. 1 singles from Usher's triple platinum album My Way. Last year saw JD's remix of Dru Hill's "Sleeping In My Bed" rocket to the No. 1 spot after Dru's original version dropped from the coveted position. In 1996, Dupri became the first producer to reach No. 1 on Billboard's Pop, R&B, and Rap charts with different singles. Going back a little further, JD's Midas touch transformed Da Brat into the first female solo rapper to achieve platinum status while his stardust magic helped Kris Kross sell more than 8 million records . . .
At the age of three, Jermaine Dupri would attend studio sessions of the seminal funk band Brick, with his father -- music industry impresario Michael Mauldin -- who then served as the group's road manager. Michael would also practice drums in the house. Soaking up his environment like a thirsty sponge, JD soon began to imitate his father's actions, smacking the sticks with a wanton abandon that showed much more than mere promise. JD was shortly given his own set on which to wreak tympanic havoc. By the time he was five, Jermaine could play the drum tracks for the entire Brick catalog.
Immersing himself in the urban phenomena mushrooming all around him, JD began to educate himself in the various disciplines of hip-hop culture. He won local talent shows by popping and locking his body in the kinetic Origami known as b-boying or breakdancing, eventually going on to perform with Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Cameo before becoming the opening act on the legendary Fresh Fest Tour with hip-hop superstars Whodini, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Fat Boys.
JD had yet to hit his teens.
Highly autodidactic and high off of his experience on the road, JD began writing rhymes and creating musical tracks in his room for days at a time. "I didn't even have any equipment," he recalls. "I had a drum machine. I would keep all the bass-lines and samples in my head, so when I got to the studio, I could just tell somebody to play it for me." He realized at this point that he was not quite ready to become a full-fledged solo artist. His focus changed, but his determination did not. "I was trying to pump the fact that I was the youngest producer in the game," he says. "I wanted the world to know that I was 12 years old and making records."
"I knew what I was doing," he continues. "I was determined to make sure that we got that deal signed. 'Cause when I was doing it, there wasn't anyone else except Hurby Luv Bug and Teddy Riley. They had a bunch of groups back in the day and I just said that's what I want to do."
But things didn't go as planned. Silk Tymes Leather met with little response in the marketplace. Yet, it provided an invaluable experience and a boost of confidence. JD now knew that others believed in him as much as he believed in himself. He also realized his penchant for finding raw talent. He saw Chris Kelly and Chris Smith in Atlanta's Greenbriar mall and transformed them into the übersuccessful Kris Kross. Around the same time, he saw a trio of young girls named Second Nature and knew they had enormous potential. Unfortunately, he was only able to focus on one group at a time. "I can't say that I was too young," says a reflective Dupri, "but I didn't think I could work both of them and get them both record deals." He decided to let Second Nature go. They eventually got a deal with LaFace Records under the name TLC.
Slowly but surely, the countenance of contemporary Black music has been reshaped by Jermaine Dupri's sounds --sleek and smooth, classy yet classical, lithe and slender, clean and crisp, yet always constructed with girders of jagged spontaneous soul. He creates pop ditties with soul, bone-hard joints packed with mainstream accessibility, and R&B tunes with one eye to the future and the other to the past. He scribes lyrics for the Jeeps and pens ballads for the fireplace.
Life In 1472 promises to be another monumental chapter in the book of Dupri's life. "I have no doubt that with the heavy hitters on my album it's sure to be one of the greatest albums of '98," he says. Artists on the album include Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Too Short and DMX with help behind the boards from Derek "D-dot" Angelettie, DJ Premiere and DJ Quik and Li'l Kim and Mase on the unrolling bob of "You Get Dealt With."
"Writing is just a hobby," says JD. "Right now, I got this gut feeling, this thing in my body that I gotta be on the radio. That's what a lot of people don't understand. Once the money's here, the money's here. Now you just gotta keep doing what you gotta do."
And what JD's gotta do is live life. Life In 1472.
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