LOS ANGELES — Busy churning out hits for the likes of Mariah, Janet, Usher and many more, and with a horde of up-and-comers waiting in the wings, Jermaine Dupri seems to be finding little time for himself these days.
"I'm not makin' no more records," Dupri said of putting his own music career on halt. "I'm kind of off the market and in producer mode [right now], so I'm just in one studio to the next trying to mold artists. I've got so many that are in the stables, and they gettin' real antsy, like, 'Hey, it's our turn to go.' "
That comes as no surprise for the established hitmaker and Virgin executive, who in the last year alone has scored Mariah four chart-toppers (for "It's Like That," "We Belong Together," "Shake It Off" and "Don't Forget About Us"). It also garnered the singer eight Grammy nods, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "We Belong Together," as well as Album of the Year for The Emancipation of Mimi (see "Mariah Carey, Kanye West, John Legend Lead Grammy Nominees").
Carey may be the reigning performer of the moment, but 2004's breadwinner, Usher, is itching to reclaim his title. Dupri said he's already been approached by his good friend about returning to the recording studio.
"He called me like three or four days ago and was like, 'It's about that time,' " said Dupri, who ushered Mr. Entertainment to the top of the Billboard albums chart two years ago with Confessions and produced his smashes "Burn," "Confessions Part II" and "My Boo" featuring Alicia Keys.
"I think [Usher's] getting the bug again," Dupri continued. "It's kind of boring for him to just be sitting around. He wants to hear himself on the radio and see himself [back] on television."
Also eager to make her way back onto the scene after a brief hiatus is Dupri's main squeeze, Janet Jackson. The two have been working on her still-untitled forthcoming LP, which is set to drop later this year and whose first single is due out by the summer.
"We're in the studio every day trying to get her record together," said Dupri. He's teaming up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the famed production duo who catapulted the R&B singer to stardom when they helmed her 1986 album, Control, and have been staples on her records ever since.
"If I can give you anything to look forward to on her record, it's gonna have the greatness of Jimmy and Terry, and I guess you could say the greatness of me [and Janet] combined into one record," he continued.
Dupri said he's also considering a collaboration between Mariah and Janet, which would mirror Whitney Houston and Mariah's 1998 hit "When You Believe."
"That's been on my mind for a couple weeks now," Dupri admitted. "The hardest part is figuring out a song that fits both of them, because you have two different styles of artists, and the thing when you're dealing with divas is you don't want to overshadow either one, so if you were to do a song for them, it would have to work where both of them would feel they were on the same pedestal, or else someone's gonna have a problem."
In addition to Miss Jackson's LP, Dupri is also finishing up Monica's latest, Street Butterfly; setting up joints for LL Cool J, Ludacris, Da Brat and Bow Wow; and readying the sophomore disc from Dem Franchize Boyz, due February 7. All the while, Dupri's co-authoring his autobiography, "Young, Rich and Dangerous: My Life in Music" (see "In Book Proposal, Dupri Calls Em A Hater, Says Usher's Confessions Are Really His").
"I wanted to put a book out because I feel like I'm one of the leaders in the industry right now, and I think kids have been missing a person to follow," said Dupri, who cites childhood mentor Quincy Jones for paving his way.
One trick of the trade is to always be on the lookout for new talent, says the hip-hop producer, who helped bolster the careers of Usher, Ludacris, Kris Kross and even Kanye West, when he brought on one of the aspiring rapper's beats on his 1998 solo album, Life in 1472.
"You never know who's standing in the room with you," he explained. "Always check it out because that person could be the next superstar."
"For me to say I gave Kanye his actual start, that's history that goes down in the books," Dupri continued, "and I always wanted to be part of history. In everything I do, I try to make sure it goes down in some way people [will remember]."