The true definition of a super producer,
Rodney Darkchild Jerkins is the man behind some of the biggest
R&B songs of the last decade. Having produced hit singles for the
likes of Michael and Janet Jackson, Destinys Child, Jennifer Lopez,
Mary J. Blige, Brandy and The Pussycat Dolls to name just a few, the
industry veteran can boast more production credits and a far more impressive
resume than his mere 32 years would suggest. With his latest effort,
pop sensation Lady Gagas new Beyoncé-assisted single Telephone,
already climbing up the charts ahead of its official release, he seems
to be starting this decade with just as much promise as he did the last.
spoken with Darkchild as he was putting the finishing touches on Telephone
for Gaga, who he praises for her character and writing abilities,
his incredible knowledge of the music industry and love of creative
experimentalism became immediately clear. It really is no wonder why
this year seems destined to mark yet another chapter in his already
impressive success story. R&B is on its way back, proclaims
Jerkins passionately, his excitement clearly fueled by the plethora
of the pioneering projects that he is currently working on. The genre
is certainly taking a new direction and Darkchilds musically diverse
productions will undoubtedly play a major role in its development.
asked what he has learned from his experience working as a producer over
the past 15 years in the industry, he explains that he has learnt the
importance of creating well-rounded productions. I learned that at
the end of the day the one thing that matters is the song, he
elaborates. Its not about a beat. We have a lot of beats and its
easy to go in there and make a beat, especially now because of the technology.
After all, as he quite correctly points out beats dont sell, songs
do. Darkchild has dedicated his career so far to attempting to make
real songs and songs that have to stand the test of time. In fact,
rewind the clock back about ten years and it becomes immediately clear
exactly why some of his productions have become R&B classics. Jerkins
was already establishing himself as an innovative and experimental young
producer but few realized just how much of a mark he would leave on
the industry over the coming decade.
1999, inspired by music he had heard in a club while working with the
Spice Girls in Europe, he created Destinys Childs international
cross-over breakthrough hit. Say My Name incorporated traditional
R&B elements with the syncopated beats of 2-Step Garage, popularized
in the UK at the turn of the millennium by artists like Artful Dodger
and Craig David. After the group initially expressed their dislike of
the original erratic, 104bpm 2-Step beat, Darkchild returned to the
lab to rework the track but insisted on staying true to his original
concept, at least to an extent. The day that I fixed the song, I
listened to it and was like they were right, that beat is whack!
What am I doing? What was I thinking? he recalls. Then I changed
it and flipped it into 72bpm, created a whole new track and it became
My Name soon went from being a cut that very nearly didnt make
the final tracklist for The Writings
on the Wall to arguably the quintessential Destinys Child anthem,
even winning two Grammy awards in 2001. It has since been described
by Beyoncé as an amazing, timeless R&B record and one
of the best songs we ever had. Jerkins explains fondly that the track
is his favorite still out of everything because what Id say to
any producer or songwriter is never give up on something that you believe
in. If I hadnt have listened to myself I wouldnt have won a Grammy
for that song.
pioneer in the use of concept songs in modern R&B, Jerkins understands
the importance of telling a story and maintaining a plotline within
his songs, an art that sadly seems to be on a decline in the urban music
industry today. He also feels that there are not enough of these collaborative
event records, as there is not enough competition in the scene
at the moment. Its only one artist emerging every year, like last
year was Lil Waynes year and this year is going to be Drakes year.
Its not enough! he explains passionately. There should be no
reason why Beyoncé is competing with Beyoncé. He then reflects
with a hint of nostalgia, What happened to the day when you had Run
DMC and LL Cool J, two artists running it at the same time?
Darkchild was actually the man behind probably the most-successful event
record in R&B history. A co-production between himself and
Dallas Austin, The Boy Is Mine pitted R&B stars Brandy and
Monica against one another in a fictitious love triangle, exploiting
media assumptions of a rivalry between the two artists. The concept,
which seemed to capture the imagination of a whole generation, ensured
that the 1998 release was a great commercial and critical success. We
need more of that with this generation now, Jerkins suggests, before
adding, It has to mean something though. If youre going to have
a [release] with two people on the same record, then there needs to
be an event. As he then adds, even Beyoncé and Shakira werent
quite able to achieve that with their 2007 collaboration Beautiful
Liar. It didnt mean anything; it was just a record that they
both just jumped on, he explains. Two big, iconic stars jumping
on a song and it wasnt a crazy smash, it wasnt a concept that
everyone was like whoa!
to Darkchild, the Hip-Hop scene could also benefit greatly from more
collaborative event records, especially with the beef-culture in the
game today. Think of all the Hip-Hop artists that are going at it,
theyre beefing, you know? Youve got 50 Cent and Fat Joe; theyre
just beefing back and forth, back and forth, he elaborates. Get
on a record together and do it, then wed really be able to tell who
wins. He also feels that many features on Hip-Hop records tend to
lack any real meaning and therefore fail to enhance the song. To
have somebody just rap on someones album as a feature is just pointless
to me, he adds. If youre going to do that then make the best
of it. Thats all Im saying, make it into something special.
Making sure that he practices what he is preaching, Darkchild did confirm
that he currently has one in the pipeline himself, stating Im
working on Janet Jacksons album and Im planning on creating an
event record. Were working on something right now.
project is just one of many that Jerkins is currently working on, having
to maintain a balance between his productions and developing his venture
Darkchild Records. I think if you have a production company, the
next level should be your own record company, he explains, displaying
his signature ambition and entrepreneurial nature. If you can run
a successful production company, you should be able to take some of
what youve learned from that and turn it to a record company.
Darkchild is currently doing just that but is taking his time to develop
it properly rather than rushing into anything. Im in no rush to
just sign a bunch of artists tomorrow. I want to make sure I get the
right artists, he elaborates, before adding that his priority artist
Verse Simmonds is the right artist for me.
passionately describes Verse as a triple threat, explaining that
he was first attracted to his songwriting abilities and his unique sound.
Having grown up in the Virgin Islands, Simmonds describes his signature
blend of traditional R&B with a Caribbean flavor as Island B.
His infectious new single America, – a Darkchild production featuring
Pitbull – is the lead single from his forthcoming debut album Stories
of a Bachelor, which is scheduled for release this summer on Darkchild/Interscope.
With Verses Island B sound beginning to make some waves in the industry,
2010 should prove a busy year for Jerkins and Darkchild Records. Im
constantly working. Im in the studio almost every day with different
artists. Im just trying to stay focused on all of the music that
Im working on, he explains. Im just focused. I want my 2010
to be a great year.
everything he has already achieved, you would think that Darkchild would
be content with his success in R&B so far. He reveals, however,
that he wont be happy until [he has] a chart-topping Hip-Hop record.
When asked about his thoughts on the scene today, he answers I like
where its at, but I think its going to have to go back to real
Hip-Hop, you know like Nas, the Illmatic
album. When it gets back to that place, I think people will be excited
again. In fact he also expresses his desire to work with the Queens
veteran. I think I would want to work with Nas if I could. I like
Lil Wayne too; Im a fan of Lil Wayne. He then jokes, It doesnt
matter because once I do one; theyre all going to come anyway.
So, is a chart-topping Darkchild Hip-Hop production really on the horizon?
Jerkins believes it may well be; I want it! he exclaims before
adding an open invitation to the genres finest. Any Hip-Hop
people, Im here and ready for a number one, so you need to get at
me! I can almost taste it.