Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins: The Whisper Songs

Once every few years producer comes along and redefines music. From 1994 up until roughly 2001, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins was that producer. His Top 10 girl anthems read like a late 90’s Billboard chart and flips from UK Pop like “Holler” by the Spice Girls, to straight up sexy R&B like “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica. Every producer knows getting singles is almost as good as hitting the jackpot, but for Jerkins it was a more than just a run - it was a damn near marathon with record time.

Suddenly Darkchild, the producer that had every female R&B singer and then some sweet-talking his name on the mic, slowed down the pace. Even Jerkins admits that it appeared that he fell off the radar.

The truth is he didn’t fall off - not even close. He got married, lost weight and reevaluated his business priorities. While he was making us lose our breath with Destiny’s Child, he simultaneously created his own label Darkchild Records; became the new VP for A&R for Island Def Jam; and signed his own artist to Jive.

2006 has become the year that Jerkins got his groove back. Not only did he deliver Beyonce’s biggest hit to date, “Déjà Vu,” he gave us the Mary J Blige smash hit “Enough Cryin’.” We caught up with Rodney Jerkins to talk about the comeback - if you can call it that. Alternatives: What are you doing now? We hear you have your own artists.

Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins: I’m so glad you asked me that first. I have an artist called Natasha on Jive. I am telling you she has it. She’s a star.

AHHA: What took you so long?

Darkchild: You know what happened? I kept running into artists that would need three years to develop and by the time they were ready, the labels were not. I needed an artist who was ready to go now. That is why it never picked up before. Those artists weren’t ready - but now we’re ready.

AHHA: To the public it seems as if you fell off, although your production credits tell a different story. Do you agree?

Darkchild: Yeah, it’s a hustle. This is a business. No one is hot all the time. This is something that happens to everyone. Look at Koby Bryant. Everyone falls off sometimes. It was label politics too. The labels would tell me they couldn’t put out my artist because they had J.Lo, but J.Lo was nothing like my artist. I saw it, but they couldn’t.

AHHA: You have accomplished so much. What keeps you hungry?

Darkchild: I’m not there yet. I haven’t even started. I still have a long way to go. That’s why I keep reinventing myself. I’m going to be the best producer of this generation. I want people to know that I’m the best at doing this producing [thing].

AHHA: Tell us about Def Jam.

Darkchild: I’m now [Senior Vice President] of A&R over there. I just love what L.A. Reid is doing. He is a businessman. I’m 29 now, but when I’m 40-something, I want to be in the position he is in. I was to be running this, you know? I have a 40-song deal with them.

AHHA: How do you get so many singles?

Darkchild: It’s a blessing. Product placement is nothing. Getting your song on an album is nothing. If it is a big single like “Déjà Vu,” 200 million people are going to listen to that as opposed to five million who bought the album. That’s a big difference. As a producer, you want singles. I’m at a point where labels are calling me for singles. They aren’t calling me and saying “Can I get an album cut?” They are requesting the first single for the album. That is where it counts. You make more money that way, too.

AHHA: How do you get those hits if you are an upcoming producer?

Darkchild: I was telling this to an upcoming producer in Atlanta the other day - it’s all about who you surround yourself with.

AHHA: How did you come up with artists whispering your name on your tracks?

Darkchild: I invented that. It’s all about branding. [As a producer] you can have the biggest single of your career, and it doesn’t matter if nobody knows you. That is a career opportunity right there. Millions of people will listen to that song. I started shouting it out, but then I asked the artists to do it. For instance, I was in the studio with Michael Jackson and I asked him to say it. He was like, “No you say it” and I was like, “No you say it!”

AHHA: It worked, because I didn’t know you produced Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu”…

Darkchild: It’s not appropriate on all songs. However, look how it works. People don’t know I did “Déjà vu” because they’re used to hearing my name. And I’m versatile with my sounds now. I have three of the Top 10 singles in the country, and they all sound different. I want to make all types of music.

AHHA: It’s similar to how Diddy put himself in videos…

Darkchild: Yeah. I couldn’t do that before, but now that I’m in shape, you will see a lot more of me. I didn’t feel good about myself before. I just hated the way I looked.

AHHA: Why did you choose to get a gastric bypass procedure?

Darkchild: I didn’t get surgery. I don’t know why it’s all over the internet. I have my publicist looking into that. I lost weight by changing my lifestyle. I exercised and ate healthy. I still eat cake, just not all the time. I was in the studio all day and all night, eating and not getting enough exercise. Now I walk, I eat vegetables and grilled chicken. I feel better so I work better.

AHHA: Is there anyone who you want to work with?

Darkchild: Jay-Z and 50 Cent.

AHHA: Why 50 Cent?

Darkchild: I love his work ethic. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, he is the hardest working rapper in the business. He comes up with catchy hooks, and I can come up with catchy melodies. I think we could make hits.

AHHA: Are you working with Jay-Z now or sometime soon?

Darkchild: No, but we’ve spoken about it. Now that he’s out of retirement maybe it’ll happen.

AHHA: What inspires you to make incredible music?

Darkchild: The artist inspires me. Sometimes the label will say, “why wasn’t this song like that one?” It’s because I just wasn’t as inspired by the artist.

AHHA: What’s the one thing people don’t know about you?

Darkchild: I’m a billionaire.

AHHA: Really?

Darkchild: No, not yet! [Laughs] But I’m putting it out there!

AHHA: You can’t be a billionaire just through producing, right?

Darkchild: No, I know. I’m working on some other stuff. I have my own publishing company. Most people don’t know this. but I’ve never been signed to a publishing company. I have writers under my own publishing company.

AHHA: That’s crazy! All this time, and you’ve never had the urge to sign to a publishing company?

Darkchild: I was young when I started. I was 17. I had a Bentley by the time I was 19. I had million dollar houses in my 20’s. My mind just wasn’t thinking like that before, but now I have a different outlook on it. I’m thinking more maturely now.