Y.W.A.: Youngstas With Attitude?! Believe it or not, during Kriss Kross' heyday in the early '90s, they were actually accused of dropping lyrics too gangsta for TV.
" 'Poppin' tops,' " Jermaine Dupri said, twisting the cap off of a bottle of Sprite as he recalled writing the rhymes for Kriss Kross' 1995 Sprite commercial. Dupri said executives at the soda company were leery about using the phrase in the commercial, which featured Kriss Kross performing inside a can of the bubbly beverage.
"I was like, 'This is what you do [with a bottle of Sprite], you pop the top,' " JD said. "It took me about a month to [write] that commercial. It's 30 seconds long, but every lyric I wrote in the beginning, it was like, 'It sounds like you're referring to something else, not Sprite.' "
Dupri's latest venture with Sprite has been a little easier. He and Swizz Beatz have been commissioned to remix Craig Mack's 1994 classic "Flava in Ya Ear" for a new commercial plugging Sprite's Berry Clear flavor.
"The beauty of a remix is that you can take what somebody already did and attempt to make it better," Dupri said. "[There] ain't really the pressure of, 'Will this record go to the top of the charts?' Hopefully, it already did something. Now it's like, refresh somebody's memory or make it better."
JD said he and Swizz ran into a roadblock during their joint remix when they couldn't get tapes of Mack's original vocals. "That's when it got a little difficult," Dupri smiled. "I said, 'Swizz, what you gonna do?' "
"I told him, 'Let's just do it old-school DJ-style and throw drums over it, just like a blend,' " said Swizz, who was seated next to JD at Manhattan's JSM Studios. " 'Chop it up and get creative with it.' He said, 'You sure you gonna do that?' "
"I wanted to make sure, so I ain't look stupid by myself," Dupri added. "I didn't want kids to say, 'What did y'all do?' "
A lot of kids today are praising Dupri and Swizz for helping to introduce the new MCs J-Kwon and Cassidy, respectively. "I'm delighted just to be here this long," said Dupri, whose long track record also includes work with Usher, Jay-Z, Da Brat, TLC, Bow Wow and Xscape. "Just to have people say 'JD got an artist that could possibly be the new rapper.' That's something you always dream about in making records, and it continues my tradition of bringing out new artists. Here we are in 2004 and I'm in the same position that I was in 1994" when Da Brat debuted.
"I feel my situation is a blessed situation," explained Swizz, who's known for his work with DMX, Eve, Ruff Ryders, Nas, Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z. "For Cassidy's album [to be the] #1 rap album, #2 in the [Billboard] Top 200 under Norah Jones, that's major to me."
Besides their Sprite commercial, Swizz and Dupri say there also may be a package tour involving acts from their labels (Full Surface and So So Def, respectively), with Cassidy and J-Kwon as the headliners. Swizz has new releases Mashonda and Yung Wun on the horizon, while JD is working on his next solo album and is about to release a remix of Kwon's "Tipsy."
"We just did a remix with Murphy Lee, Chingy and J-Kwon," Dupri said. "I almost put Nelly on there, but he's on a record off J-Kwon's album called 'IC IC.' I ain't wanna overdo it."
—Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway