The sound of Atlanta has been the defining sound of hip-hop and R&B for quite a while now. And perhaps no one has been more influential in molding that sound than songwriter, performer and superproducer Jermaine Dupri. We caught up with JD, who returns to his DJ residency at Tao and Tao Beach this week, to talk music and more.
You just finished the So So Summer tour with some of the performers from The Rap Game. What was that like? It was pretty amazing, 17 cities with nine kids from The Rap Game where they got to perform in front of their fans. It was a dope show. We got a bigger response than we actually expected, because the kids that came out were really true fans. I think the most expensive tickets sold out the fastest.
You’ve developed so many artists over the years, but The Rap Game is different. It’s easy, because on TV you don’t see me actually working, you see me putting them through tests to get to me. I don’t work with them hand-in-hand, so TV is definitely easier. But I’ve been doing it for so long and I choose my battles—I know which [artists] have that it factor that is going to make my job easier. If I see someone and just gravitate to them, I feel like it won’t take long for me to develop that person into something this industry needs.
Artists from Atlanta are once again on top of the charts. Do you think Atlanta’s influence is bigger than it’s ever been? It can’t be bigger, because people are not buying music and selling records the way they were years ago. The biggest ever? We’ve probably seen that era. But it’s just as vibrant. That earthquake of artists that came before, we sold so many records and created so much culture that the ones you hear about now are almost living on the fumes of all that. Ludacris, Jeezy, Usher, TLC, Toni Braxton, Xscape, Jagged Edge, Kriss Kross, Lil Jon, Goodie Mob, OutKast—these artists all came out in the ’90s, all of this amazing talent. The city still moves off what was already laid down.
And yet Atlanta doesn’t really get the respect of cities that have also been formative and influential in this genre. It’s hard for Atlanta because people still treat LA and New York the way they do. Ultimately, Atlanta has always been fighting to be as respected as both of those two coasts, and it’s never really happened, and we’ve had bigger artists. I don’t know if LA has had R&B artists as big as Usher and TLC. And it’s been running rap for a minute—Atlanta has the most artists when it comes to rap music.
What is it about Atlanta than cultivates originality? It’s just a city that strives to be accepted, to be recognized, and when you do that you end up with something different. The majority of the music industry is people claiming they want to do something different but really they just want a shot to do something that’s already been done. Atlanta artists seem to come out doing something different than what we’ve seen, if you think about, for example, the way Andre 3000 was dressing. It was so odd, just completely different.
At this point in your career, how do you feel about producing versus performing? I do it all at the same time. I performed on the tour. I like writing and having those artists go out and get praise and people loving those songs. And then at my shows, people scream when we come out and I get that, too. It’s the same thing when I come to Vegas to DJ. It’s interesting when I DJ because maybe half of the crowd wants me to perform as Jermaine the artist, so I have to try to juggle when is the right time to play something or perform.
It’s the same thing if you ask me what I’m working on right now. I don’t know if you’re talking about the TV show, or an artist, or my own music. But I get enjoyment out of all of it.
Which JD tracks are the most requested when you’re trying to DJ and they make you perform? Probably “Welcome to Atlanta,” and “Money Ain’t a Thang.” In Vegas you’ve got the Mariah [Carey] residency, so fans come out and request Mariah records, which is funny because that’s not what I’m playing. I did the Super Bowl when Atlanta was playing and I started the set with “Welcome to Atlanta,” and the response was obviously crazy. It always just depends on how I feel. I DJ from feel, I don’t really have a set I do every time.
So I don’t want to ask what you’re working on now, but ... what are you working on? I’m starting on Usher’s new album. I’m staring with Bow Wow. I’m working on more records from Nova, who won the show last season. A lot of stuff. Jermaine Dupri at Tao at Venetian, July 13 & August 3; at Tao Beach, July 15 & August 5. –Brock Radke