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Jermaine Dupri Defends Britney, Old School R&B and His Fans

Jermaine Dupri calls his new autobiography, ‘Young, Rich, and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul.’ It may be an apt title, at least for today’s very tame and media-controlled music industry, because one thing that’s clear when talking with Dupri is he doesn’t hold back his opinion. From his long history of collaborations with the likes of Jay-Z, Usher and Mariah Carey, to his views on what’s lacking with today’s stars, why Britney isn’t crazy and his supposed beef with Justin Timberlake (there isn’t one), Dupri is full of insight and opinions.

Are you a big reader in general?

I’m so much part of the Generation X-box, right, and I believe I understand why this generation doesn’t really read as much as they do, and I understand what they read. They read car magazines, Vibe, The Source, a lot of online stuff that’s going on with the people they like. They don’t really read what the older generation wants them to read; they read what they want to read.

Do you find you’re getting people who don’t normally read interested in this book?

I think the exciting part for me is that I’m going to show an older person that don’t really understand what’s going on in today’s world what you have to write in order for these kids to read, basically. When I talked to the publisher, I told her that was one of the important things about me doing my book, ’cause they wanted me to change the title. They thought ‘Young, Rich, And Dangerous’ was too long. [But] not only is this the X-box generation, it’s the bling-ling generation, too, which they have to see titles to excite them to pick the book up. It can’t just be “Jermaine Dupri, the music mogul, blah, blah.” That sounds too corporate for them.

With all of the focus now on behind-the-scenes stuff, via reality shows and online, it would make sense that kids today would want to be producers. Does that mean that the producers today are the stars?

Not really. The stars today aren’t as bright as the stars that we grew up on. And this goes into the Justin Timberlake part that’s in my book that everybody keeps complaining about and saying that I have a beef with him. I don’t have a beef with him. It’s unfortunate that I had to point the finger at him, but he’s one of the people that everybody looks at as one of today’s stars. And they’re comparing him to yesterday’s stars so much, and my opinion of that is he doesn’t have the appeal of the people they compare him to. And I think that’s where people get misconstrued.

If you were to compare Justin to, say, Stevie Wonder, who was one of the biggest stars of the ’70s, there’s no comparison.

I saw somebody compare him to Stevie Wonder because he played instruments, he played the piano, and I understand that. Believe me, I’m not knocking [Justin], but I just don’t understand how you can easily do that. And I say I give my opinion because I’m a record man and I create artists from scratch, and I don’t think people understand that about me. When I created TLC, we sat around in a room for, like, a whole day — me, Left Eye and T-Boz — and we thought about every little thing we could do that was gonna make that group successful, whether it was the condoms over the eyes, the cross-colored clothes. Even with Kris Kross, and I give you this on the inside of the book, when I told Kris to wear his clothes backwards I was thinking about image as well as music. Every superstar that I ever thought about, whether it even be Pat Benatar, they still had an image. If you was gonna dress up for Halloween and be Pat Benatar, there’s a certain way you’d dress up. If somebody they said they was gonna dress up as Justin for Halloween, I don’t know what they would go buy.

For you growing up, who were the people you paid attention to?

Teddy Riley was my hero when I was growing up because what he was doing, to a degree, was the most incredible thing in the world. He had more records on the radio at one time than anybody I’d ever heard. Then you had Hurby “Luv Bug” [Azor], who had Salt-n-Pepa and Kid ‘n’ Play. Teddy Riley was a self-contained producer that produced anybody, and what Hurby did was he created a team of people where they were all part of his team. So I decided to put those two people together. That’s when I said So So Def would become like a team, and all the artists were home under that.Then I looked at Berry Gordy as a record owner. I read his book … because I was interested to know how one man created Motown. As far as artists, all of the early MTV artists was all appealing to me because they had style: Prince, Michael, Stevie, Mick Jagger, Sting. Madonna took a lot of the hip-hop style and incorporated it with downtown Philly, New York, and came up with a style that was even more style than she has now. I believe that Britney Spears is headed in that direction, though. I don’t believe that Britney Spears is as crazy as people think she is. I believe that what she’s doing is creating an image for herself so that she can be the new Madonna of today’s world.

What makes you say that?

I don’t believe she’s that crazy to put on super-red wigs and get in her car and let the paparazzi film her. I believe she understands the power of who she is right now, and every time she’s out she’s giving us a different look, whether it’s a different wig, bald head, whatever it is. People that are crazy they don’t think about stuff like that. They just move and go on with their life. And to me she’s walking the line of what I would probably be telling her to do, because that’s artist development, because you are trying to find yourself. You’re not just looking like Jessica Simpson or Christina Aguilera. She is her own person now and she’s breaking away from everybody. When you see her, that’s Britney Spears, that’s what you automatically say. It seems like what she is doing is she believes she has to become bigger than what she’s been in the past and have more image and have [something] more Madonna-ish about her. I could be giving her a bit more credit than she deserves, but I believe she’s thinking about what’s going on.

Which three tracks do you feel represent you best?

Well, ‘Money Ain’t a Thang’ is one. Me and Jay-Z really clicked on that record, and I believe when two people that are of like minds come together in the studio, certain records hit you, and the flow of the record lets you and that person know that you’re on the same level mentally. ‘Always Be My Baby,’ me and Mariah, was the other one because it didn’t really feel like we were working, and we created one of her biggest records of all time. And then on the Usher standpoint it would’ve been ‘You Make Me Wanna.’ Or I would say ‘Nice & Slow.’ It really was the record that showed me and him that we were gonna have those songs later on in life.

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