Jermaine Dupri is a man with a legendary history in the music business. He began in the mid-1980s as a pre-teen dancing on stage during the Fresh Fest, the first hip-hop arena tour. Starting in the early 1990s, he began discovering, writing for, and producing hit acts like Kriss Kross, Xscape, Lil Bow Wow, Jagged Edge, Da Brat, and many more, most of them through his So So Def label.
But this act of Dupri’s career is focused on television. He currently has two shows on the air. The Rap Game, on Lifetime, has just entered its second season. It is an unscripted show inspired by the years of artist development he put young acts like Kriss Kross and Lil Bow Wow through. On The Rap Game, several young performers are mentored by Dupri and a group of guest stars like Mariah Carey and Timbaland as they compete for a record deal at So So Def.
Dupri’s other show, on BET, is Music Moguls. The show follows Dupri, Snoop Dogg, Cash Money Records head honcho Bryan “Birdman” Williams WMB +3.86%, and Dame Dash around as they build their empires.
I caught up with Dupri at the New York office of Big Machine Agency, and he gave me the scoop on his move from the recording studio to the small screen. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Shawn Setaro: What can you tell me about Season 2 of The Rap Game?
Jermaine Dupri: The education of the culture is much, much higher on this season. The do’s and don’ts of wanting to be a rapper are more prevalent. This is a look at people that think they’re ready, but learn that they’re not. That’s the biggest lesson that people need to learn about the entertainment business. There’s a lot of people out here who think they’re ready. They get in, and they might even have a hit. But they’re still messing up and doing stuff that makes you wonder, how did they get a record deal?
SS: What’s the difference between them and successful artists? Is it going through the kind of artist development you did with your acts?
JD: Yeah. It’s really mostly having a crash course like The Rap Game. Every time I have an artist that I’ve had that people didn’t document, I had them a year before they actually came out. So it was The Rap Game process for Bow Wow and Kriss Kross before their records came out.
S: Bow Wow has managed to transition into an adult career as an actor and as a rapper in a way that Kriss Kross wasn’t able to. What’s different with him?
JD: Bow Wow’s an actor more than he is a rapper. That’s a natural thing that’s in him. He can do any role that you throw at him. Kriss Kross, they were more or less into being cool kids.
Bow Wow didn’t know how to dress when I met him. Kriss Kross knew how to dress. They were fly. They was doing stuff that I was stealing from them. Bow Wow was different. Clothes weren’t his thing. It was a character inside that body, and that’s what came out.
SS: How has Music Moguls been received so far?
JD: So far, so good. I think it’s something that people have been wanting to see on TV for a long time. People are sitting back and looking, and praying that different moments like me and Dame are going to happen on the show [on the show’s first episode, Dupri and Dame Dash got into a heated argument over Dash’s business decisions].
SS: I’ve interviewed Birdman, and he is not the most talkative of people. How did you manage to have him be one of the main characters in the show?
JD: He was a part of the show before I even got involved. But at some point, we all are not talkative. I’m probably the most talkative of all four of us. But we all understand that we want people to see what we all do. Birdman wanted people to see that he knows how to create and make things happen.
SS: You’ve been DJing in Las Vegas. How’s it going? How does it pay?
JD: I’ve been DJing in Vegas for about nine years now. I was the first hip-hop artist to have a residency there. And it pays great! My next gig is August 11 at Tao. I was at the Wynn for probably five or six years. My new residency is at Tao, and it’s great. That’s probably the best place in the world to DJ.
Shawn Setaro ,
I write about the music industry.