Producer and record label owner Jermaine Dupri brought southern Hip-Hop to worldwide audience 20 years before anyone realized the future of rap music was in the south. He then added select blends of the smoothest R&B sounds around with a platinum-adorned roster that featured Da Brat, Kriss Kross, Xscape, Jagged Edge and Bow Wow. Today the label features Fresco Kane and Anthony Hamilton as two of their most recognizable talents, as well as a stable of musicians who are just a hit away from being a household name. While Dupri has been notoriously fickle regarding when, and with whom, he choses to do interviews, I was able to speak with one of music's preeminent producers regarding the upcoming So So Def 20 Year Anniversary Concert, to be held in Atlanta on Saturday, February 23rd.
I asked JD whether there was a specific moment at which decided to bring his current and former signees together to celebrate 20 years of So So Def.
"I was almost trying to figure out if I was going to do it," admits Dupri. "The 20 year anniversary was going to happen regardless of whether I was going to do something about it or not. This year marks that 20 years. It was like, do I pay attention to it and take advantage of it or do I wait, thinking it will become more legendary, then do it?
"A good friend of mine, Chris Lighty, died last year," he continued. "That struck me to the core and said 'Jermaine, you should take advantage of a lot of things that you have done or can do because you never know what will happen'. You can't control what's going to happen to everybody. The fortunate thing about this concert is I get to do the show right now and everybody is healthy, alive and ready to go. People want to see them and they want to be seen. It was bad it had to be sponsored by something sad, but I consider that a wake up call."
There once was a time when Jermaine Dupri's name was mentioned among the elite players in the rap game. Those old enough, and wise enough, remember those times and still hold his abilities in extremely high regard. However, a skill that is often overlooked at many labels is logistics. Like most successful men, Dupri is a marvel at figuring out the "hows" and "whens" of a situation relative to his resources. I asked Jermaine if he thought this trait is appreciated within his realm of influence.
"Creating good music and bringing talent into the music business. I think that's what I will go down in history as the person who brought a lot of people that you know of into the music business," explained Dupri.
"I make it look really, really easy. I make it look as if it's not as complicated as it really is. There are certain people on this earth that people talk to, and people say things to, and they don't even believe that you've been through any tough times and nothing is difficult for you."
"For example, some of my homies were talking about who we should bring out on the show," said Dupri. "They're like 'Oh, if you don't have Hov there' and all this and all that', and I'm sitting there thinking 'Y'all guys are not really paying attention to the fact that it has been an everyday thing for me to get all my artists to perform'. For them to say 'Oh, you gotta get Ludacris' as if things of that nature are never impossible. It's not impossible but it's a task to pull all this shit together. It's not an easy thing. I definitely feel people overlook some of the things I'm able to do, and make look easy."
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In January Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed was in attendance as Jermaine Dupri made the official announcement for the tour. Initially I felt it was a bit strange for an elected official to have anything to say about a rap concert. But I soon reminded myself of how much of an ambassador Dupri has been for the city since day one.
"All I've ever done was try to get people to come to Atlanta, try to direct people to Atlanta and try to get people to understand why Atlanta is the best city in the world," said Jermaine. "For the most part, you know that I've been pro-ATL. So, it's only right that we get that kind of attention from the city. I'm prone to not bother people, and just do things that don't involve a lot of people. Because you can get caught up. I am that type of guy that avoids certain things, going all the way around them without bringing people in. But its been so many times when people say 'Jermaine, why you ain't call us?' So So Def 20 year anniversary only happens one time. So, I had to make sure the Mayor was involved. There were certain things that had to take place."
And what can fans expect from a concert that is being described as contemporary urban music's answer to Motown 25?
"Well, the one thing that people can expect is to come to a concert and hear hit after hit after hit," he explained. "People talk about this but you will go to this concert and never hear any filler. The one thing that you can expect is to come to the concert and hear all the hits from everybody. We're not going to play around with doing stuff just to have a concert. It's too much music to do that."
Just when the interview was whizzing along at a comfortable pace, I had to go and get inquisitive. I mentioned that dreaded word that makes industry vets cringe: relevant. How does Dupri remain relevant?
"The funny part about this music business is people use that word relevant kind of loosely. If you create as much as I've created it's hard not to be relevant," he quipped. "Today, people use that word relevant to mean you have to be a new rapper. But a new rapper is trying to get to a place where you like them for more than just one song. It's crazy, because I don't even know that I care to be relevant like that. Relevant rappers only have one or two songs to perform. They don't really have anything you can really hold on to or remember them for. It's hard not to be when you've created this much music."
For those who still are cramming to understand the true impact of So So Def, Jermaine put it this way.
"If you elevate yourself and get to a certain standing in life, you are that person until someone breaks that barrier. Michael Jordan is still relevant until this day and he hasn't played in 10 years. The reason why he's relevant is, for one, nobody has come out with a better basketball shoe than he has. Second, nobody playing now has more rings than him. Kobe's close but it doesn't look like he's going to get it this year. I live by that rule. Usher's 'Confessions' album, for example. Nobody in urban music has surpassed that many records yet. Until that happens it's hard for me to say that I'm not relevant because people are still chasing things that I've done. I'm chasing after those producers that came before me and I still haven't caught them. That's how I play the game."
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Not long after the concert announcement was made former Xscape lead singer Kandi Burruss was asked would she perform to which she no, citing her own business dealings as the reason why. Burress, who has recently embarked on a gospel career, is also alleged to have slept with Dupri while a member of the group-marking the begining of the end for a very successful music group.
"I don't know nothing about it, personally. I heard what I heard, but there's so much positivity about this concert that it's hard for me to even pay attention to that," said Dupri of the Kandi fling allegations.
"My analogy is this: So So Def is like a high school and everybody goes to the high school then they graduate and go on about their life. I look at it as all these kids went to So So Def High and they have the chance to participate in the class reunion if they truly understand what the class reunion is about. The majority of them do, some of them don't. Some I had to talk to longer than others to get them to understand what it is that we're doing. If you heard anything about anyone not being in the show it's because they don't know the importance of it. That's partially what's wrong with America right now. A lot of people don't know the importance of life and they don't take advantage of things they should. You have to teach them to, what I mean? I'm not the type of person whose not going to take the time out to see somebody. I'm down to show anybody how important this concert is."
"I stopped doing interviews. I said I would never do interviews again because I felt like it's redundant. People twist what I say and start asking these questions that have nothing to do with what I'm trying to sell. So, I stopped doing interviews. Then I put myself back on the interview block for this concert because that's how important I feel it is to me. I feel like I can't let this happen without everybody in the world knowing about it. I want people to know that we're doing a show that nobody else in the music industry can do. Not Bad Boy, not Death Row, not Cash Money not Def Jam. This hasn't been done since Motown 25."
So So Def's 20 year Anniversary Concert Saturday, February 23rd at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. A 20 song "Best of So So Def" compilation is currently in the works as well.