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Jermaine Dupri Speaks on His Business Acumen and So So Def Recordings Turning 20

Jermaine Dupri
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

After founding So So Def Recordings in 1993, and building a resume replete with successful acts such as Da Brat, Kriss Kross, Jagged Edge and Xscape, super-producer Jermaine Dupri speaks with much trepidation when asked if he considers himself a legend.

“Nah, I don’t feel like a legend,” he tells with a laugh. “I think the only reason why that happens is because as much success as I’ve had, I had people trying to downplay [my success] so much that I’m always on the defensive side.”

As humble as Dupri appears the fact remains he’s made history under his own watch, namely with Da Brat, who became the first solo female rapper to have a platinum-selling album. Yet he offers a scenario that makes him question his indelible mark on the industry.

“BET Network aired a special [about female hip-hop artists], they acknowledged Da Brat as being an artist amongst all these other female rappers but they didn’t really give her no props for being the first solo female to go platinum,” he explains. “So when I see people do this, it makes me [question] did we really [make history] or am I just thinking this in my head?

“I’m all about my work, so if you don’t acknowledge it, I just try to come back with something else bigger the next time.”

Legendary status aside, in the early ’90s, Dupri’s Atlanta-based label enjoyed incredible success. He believes So So Def can become one of the top selling labels again.

“One thing about me is I never competed with these other labels, even the labels before me, and none of the new labels are even close to the competition that I had in the past,” Dupri states. “I was pinned up against companies that had full rosters of the best. Bad Boy had Biggie, Laface had TLC, Toni Braxton and Usher. So, it’s like if I battled with them companies then these new companies? That’s not even a thought in my mind.

“But, I don’t even look at it like that.”

At 40 years old, Dupri has plans to continue to distinguish his label from the current ones by continuing to build a roster of fresh new talent. “Last year, I dropped three new artists: Leah Labelle, Brandon Hines and Fresco Kane,” he explains. “A lot of people don’t even know these artists are a part of me. That’s how I move. I move through the music, not with me talking. I move through the artist and putting them out.”

While the Atlanta native is working towards that goal, don’t expect to hear any new music from his earlier acts. When Dupri approached Kriss Kross about doing a new project, the duo had a very valid concern; they believe new music would be compared to their old hit single ‘Jump.’

“If [Kriss Kross] came out with a new song right now, the first thing ya’ll gon’ say is ‘That doesn’t sound like Jump.’ [The industry] always pins the artist against what their biggest success was. [Kriss Kross] wants to make sure their legacy remains what it is,” Dupri confirms.

Although he has been spending most of his time branding his social media network, Global 14 and conjuring up plans for his 20th anniversary concert, he still makes time to mentor protege Bow Wow. In fact, Dupri says it was his decision for Bow Wow to take the hosting gig on BET’s ‘106 & Park.’

“I created the name Mr. ‘106 & Park’ [for Bow Wow],” he admits. “I was giving BET all this free promotion through his music. They weren’t paying me to say ‘Mr. ‘106 & Park’ is back.’ Bow Wow basically fueled that show. That show is his show; people know ‘106 & Park’ because of Bow Wow. His video is the only one that’s been the longest-lasting No. 1 video on ‘106.’

“It’s no limitation to him, it’s just adding to his repertoire. Bow Wow is a better actor to me in personality than he is a rapper.”

Tomorrow at the FOX theatre in Atlanta, Dupri will host a special 20th anniversary show alongside Da Brat, Bow Wow, Kriss Kross and many others. When asked if there will be any special guests, Dupri simply laughs. “Everyone keeps asking that,” he continues, “Everybody knows the music, so if you’ve heard someone on a song, then you should know that they will come to the concert.”

Watch Jermaine Dupri’s ‘Welcome to Atlanta’ Video

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