So So Def’s two decades in hip-hop can only mean one thing: Jermaine Dupri’s influence in the game has no expiration date. The “Money Ain’t a Thang” MC stopped by the brand-new “RapFix Live” set on Wednesday to talk about his label’s storied history before the official 20th anniversary, which will culminate in a special concert in Atlanta on February 23.
“Every artist that’s ever had a big record on So So Def is performing,” JD told Sway. “Jagged Edge; Da Brat; Bow Wow; BoneCrusher; Dem Franchize Boyz; YoungBloodz; Anthony Hamilton; Lil Jon; me, Jermaine Dupri; Xscape. Ludacris, will be there; it’s gon’ be crazy.”
Dupri was joined via Skype by Kris Kross’ Chris Kelly and Da Brat, who both shared their experiences working with the So So Def CEO. Brat revealed that she had been working on new music nonstop since her release from prison in 2011. Kelly, meanwhile, addressed fans’ questions about a possible Kris Kross reunion, saying he was open to it, but that partner Chris Smith would be the deciding factor.
“Kris Kross wasn’t actually on So So Def, they was on Ruffhouse, which is the same label as Cypress Hill and all of them,” Dupri explained of launching rap’s first teen idols and how it established him in the game. “These guys at Ruffhouse gave me an opportunity to put out my first group and that was the springboard to get my company off.”
Twenty years is an eternity in hip-hop, making the mogul (born Jermaine Dupri Mauldin) a rare rap success story. On the set with Sway, he also reflected on his beginnings as a dancer with Whoudini at the tender age of 12, plus learning the craft of DJ’ing from Run-DMC’s iconic turntablist, Jam Master Jay. “I think a lot of people know that I started off as a dancer, then the dancing led to DJ’ing, just B-boy-ing all over, drawing, graffiti,” he explained. “That’s how I got my start from being around all those rappers on the tour.”
That tutelage from rap’s legends planted the seed for the young upstart to start his own imprint, So So Def Recordings, in 1993. By 2004, the writer/producer was helping to craft landmark albums like Usher’s breakout LP, Confessions.
“We sold 10 million copies of Confessions,” Dupri said. “And I think that what happens when you start selling records as an artist and a producer is the fans challenge you based on your success. If Confessions didn’t sell and we did another album and it sold, it would be a great thing. But if we put an album out now and he and I come back together and work and it doesn’t outsell Confessions, people are gonna say, ’They can’t do it anymore.’ ”
Whether or not he and Usher ever team up again, Dupri has built an empire that includes millions of records sold and careers made, including Da Brat, who’s debut album, Funkdafied, made her the first female solo rapper to sell 1 million units, as well as Lil Jon, who started out as JD’s A&R and branched out to become the pioneer of crunk music with the Billboard-charting, Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album.