Among underground headz, Jermaine Dupri (a.k.a. JD) completes the unholy trinity of so-called hip-pop production, along with the Trakmasterz and, of course, Sean "Puffy" Combs. The Trakmasterz, while veterans, haven't had the influence to earn the title of "the Father," but have no doubt -- Puffy is very much the Antichrist in many critics' theologies. That would make JD the Holy Ghost -- an apt analogy for a rapper/producer who, until now, has largely stayed invisible, despite having an obvious impact on hip-pop's evolution.
While Puffy has turned his image-making machine into a one-man cottage industry, JD has laid in the cut, letting Combs take all the blame for corrupting rap's rebellious spirit into street-level haute couture for the ghetto bourgeois (and their suburban counterfeits). No longer. With Life in 1472, Dupri is promoting himself as the next wannabe, big willie, playa president. In his own words, JD is now the "Don Chi Chi."
It is true that JD played an instrumental role in making hip-pop a hit. Dupri had his first big break in the early '90s, converting a pair of mall-rats into a national sensation: Kris Kross. Rappers Mack Daddy and Daddy Mack have thankfully faded into the dustbin of hip-hop history along with MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, but they did some serious damage at the sales counter in their short life. Dupri parlayed his fortunes with them into fronting another "kid" rapper -- Da Brat. With her, Dupri had yet another commercial success, one that marked him as a producer with the Midas touch, and he's stayed busy ever since. With his own solo album, though, Dupri shows that he's through playing with kids and is ready to grow up and jockey with the big boys.
Alas, what's immediately evident about Dupri is that he's just another man-child trying to claim maturity. From the very start, he registers enough talk about "bitches" to make even Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of "Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women") blush. And when he's not bragging about how many women he's slept with, Dupri's concepts are DOA, covering the same topical material as other rappers, i.e., money, power and respect. This should be of little surprise though -- no one's ever bought a Jermaine Dupri single for its conceptual worth.
As a lyricist, he's not bad, certainly on-par with peer Puffy. He won't blow your mind, but he manages to hold his own with clever lines and well-rhymed phrases, even with legendary MCs like Slick Rick ("Fresh") and Jay-Z ("Money Ain't A Thang"). That being said, his soft-pitched inflections almost make him sound effeminate, an odd effect for someone who spends a third of his songs trying to brag about his sexual dominance.
Backing him up, though, are JD's aces-in-the-hole, marquee MCs who give JD's album more legitimacy and sexiness than if he had gone truly solo. Nas turns in a fiery cameo on the album's first song, "Turn it Out," as the Queens, N.Y., street poet comes with a thuggish brutality, leaving Dupri struggling to keep up. "Get Your Sh*t Right" features the infamous DMX, who's had both a #1 rap album and a rape charge to his credit in the last month. Harlem's lispy lyricist Mase and his Bad Boy compadre Lil' Kim both turn in an interesting performance on "You Get Dealt Wit," as all three MCs try to flex a quick-paced rhyme scheme more commonly associated with Bone Thugs N' Harmony.
Among the album's few powerhouse jams (and believe me, they are few) is "Protector's of 1472," which brings together JD, Snoop Doggy Dogg, newcomer R.O.C. and Warren G. Apart from Snoop's typically laid-back slickness on the mic, the track stands out thanks to the production detail of DJ Premier, Gotham City's sonic architect.
It raises an interesting contrast, especially because the majority of Dupri's own productions are blander than saltines. Dupri built his fame on squeaky clean pop hits, but a lot of Life in 1472 feels muddled and predictably boring, even his next single, "Sweetheart" (featuring Mariah Carey). One of his few masterpieces is the current radio hit "Money Ain't A Thang," especially with the intense horn section on the hook. "You Get Dealt Wit" has a subtle intricacy all its own, while "All That's Got To Go" will likely be a club hit in the near future.
Life in 1472 is Dupri's self-indulgent coming-out party. While his string of hip-pop clichés shine prettily enough, the album's kind-of like a mylar balloon -- all glitter and no substance.