Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins –“R&B is on its Way Back!”

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, Destiny’s 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 Gaga’s 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.

      Having

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 Darkchild’s musically diverse

productions will undoubtedly play a major role in its development.

      When

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. “It’s not about a beat. We have a lot of beats and it’s

easy to go in there and make a beat, especially now because of the technology.” 

After all, as he quite correctly points out “beats don’t 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.

      In

1999, inspired by music he had heard in a club while working with the

Spice Girls in Europe, he created Destiny’s Child’s 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

a smash.”

      ‘Say

My Name’ soon went from being a cut that very nearly didn’t make

the final tracklist for The Writing’s

on the Wall to arguably the quintessential Destiny’s 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 I’d say to

any producer or songwriter is never give up on something that you believe

in. If I hadn’t have listened to myself I wouldn’t have won a Grammy

for that song.”

      A

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. “It’s only one artist emerging every year, like last

year was Lil Wayne’s year and this year is going to be Drake’s year.

It’s 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?”

      Interestingly,

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 you’re 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 weren’t

quite able to achieve that with their 2007 collaboration ‘Beautiful

Liar.’ “It didn’t 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 wasn’t a crazy smash, it wasn’t a concept that

everyone was like ‘whoa!’”

      According

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,

they’re beefing, you know? You’ve got 50 Cent and Fat Joe; they’re

just beefing back and forth, back and forth,” he elaborates. “Get

on a record together and do it, then we’d 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 someone’s album as a feature is just pointless

to me,” he adds. “If you’re going to do that then make the best

of it. That’s all I’m 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 “I’m

working on Janet Jackson’s album and I’m planning on creating an

event record. We’re working on something right now.”

      The

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 you’ve 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. “I’m 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.” 

      Jerkins

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 Verse’s Island B sound beginning to make some waves in the industry,

2010 should prove a busy year for Jerkins and Darkchild Records. “I’m

constantly working. I’m in the studio almost every day with different

artists. I’m just trying to stay focused on all of the music that

I’m working on,” he explains. “I’m just focused. I want my 2010

to be a great year.”

      With

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 “won’t 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 it’s at, but I think it’s 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; I’m a fan of Lil Wayne.” He then jokes, “It doesn’t

matter because once I do one; they’re 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 genre’s finest.  “Any Hip-Hop

people, I’m here and ready for a number one, so you need to get at

me! I can almost taste it.” 

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