SHERMAN OAKS, California — It's been said that Rodney Jerkins bought a mansion with the money he made from producing one Britney Spears song.
"I don't know, it could be true," the producer said as he took a break in the studio of one of his mansions. "That's all I can say."
The point is, a Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins track ain't cheap — as you'd expect from someone who's worked magic on songs for Destiny's Child, Christina Milian, Brandy, Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston and J. Lo, among many others. But that's about to change: Jerkins will soon be offering 11 instrumental tracks — for just $18 — that singers and producers can record over and manipulate at will.
"If a kid was to call me to do a track and they have no record deal whatsoever, they probably couldn't afford a Darkchild track," he explained. "So basically, I'm doing an album of instrumentals that they can buy and record over. It's a cool concept that we want to do: You get 11 tracks, which [normally] would cost over a million dollars, for about 18 bucks."
The instrumental album, titled Versatility, is due later this year and will be the first of several 2005 releases on Darkchild Records, the producer's imprint through Bungalo/ Universal.
Jerkins is also organizing a contest where aspiring rappers and singers can send their finished versions of the songs to him for the chance to be signed to Darkchild. He's toying with the idea of releasing an album of the best entries.
While Jerkins was a formidable force at the turn of the century, he's been laying relatively low for the last couple of years, getting married and overseeing soundtracks. Now, with his Destiny's Child track "Lose My Breath" at the top of the charts, he's mounting a major comeback. "It's funny, because I been in the music industry for 10 years and I feel like I'm just starting now," he said.
The producer, who has tracks on Fantasia's and Lindsay Lohan's recent releases, will also be heard on upcoming albums from Omarion, Whitney Houston and Jennifer Lopez (see "Jennifer Lopez Not Talking About Her Marriage, But Rodney Jerkins Is"), as well as newcomers B5. "It's five young kids that signed to Bad Boy and we did song called 'All I Do' that's a remake of a Jackson 5 song," he said.
Jerkins is also collaborating on at least half of Ray J's long-awaited sophomore effort (see "R. Kelly, Timbaland Help Ray J Bring The Heat On Raydiation"), although he really hopes to shine with Darkchild Records.
After Versatility, Darkchild will drop the second album from Joy Enriquez, Jerkins' wife. The couple has been recording with a live band for the LP, a departure for the producer.
"Right after we got married, we went on our honeymoon and it was so beautiful I was inspired to write," Jerkins recalled. "I asked permission, of course. I said, 'Baby, is it OK if I bring a piano in?' And so I began to write and the songs that I was writing were very soulful. I was so inspired by the marriage that I could have it no other way than for it to be live: I need the horns, live bass, live guitar. It can't be synthetic, it can't sound like a program 'cause it doesn't have that kind of feeling."
Also due on Darkchild is the debut from Asia Lee, a female rapper from California. Jerkins also just signed the New Jersey marching band he used on "Lose My Breath" and renamed them the Darkchild Marching Band. "We'll be getting a lot of rhythms from them and doing different things in the future," he said.
Jerkins said he developed a signature style over the past decade, and now he wants to toss it out and reinvent himself with each new project.
"I think music got away from music for a minute," he said. "People started focusing on just dancing, and that's great, but what about melody? What about lyrics? What about the things that you go through in a relationship? That's why I feel Usher is where he is right now and why he's winning — because he's giving you reality. He's giving you his situation. He's giving you music. And that's what I intend to do."