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Ones that got Away: Jermaine Dupri

Veteran Atlanta rapper Jermaine Dupri planned to bring his So So Def 25th Anniversary Cultural Curren$y Tour to the Greensboro Coliseum. Those plans fell through, so the story I wrote after interviewing Dupri never got published. Here it is, with reflections by Dupri about his label’s long history, his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and his TV reality shows.

Jermaine Dupri
Jermaine Dupri

When Jermaine Dupri and the artists he has nurtured take the stage at the Greensboro Coliseum Oct. 25, the hits will come the same way they arrived over the past quarter century: one after another after another, in chronological order.

“The tour is designed the same way I put the music out,” Dupri said from his home base of Atlanta. “I want you to digest the concert the same way people digested the music when they bought it.”

He founded the So So Def record label when he was still a teenager. The So So Def 25th Anniversary Cultural Curren$y Tour reunites Dupri with a host of his one-time proteges: Xscape, Jagged Edge, Anthony Hamilton, Youngbloodz, Da Brat, Bow Wow, Dem Franchize Boyz, J Kwon and Bonecrusher.

“I didn’t break all of my artists off of each other, but I did break them off of one brand, that brand being So So Def,” said Dupri, who was born in Asheville in 1972 but grew up in Atlanta.

Kris Kross was another early Dupri success story: He discovered the duo in an Atlanta shopping mall in 1991 and produced their 1992 debut album, “Totally Krossed Out.” The song “Jump” topped the charts for eight weeks, the first time a rap single had such a long run at the top. The death of Chris Kelly from a drug overdose in 2013 ended the duo’s career.

The Source magazine called Dupri “One of Atlanta’s most imperative craftsmen” when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June. “Dupri shows no signs of slowing down as he continue to pen his way to the top,” according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s website.

His induction as only the second hip hop songwriter in that hall of fame signals a shift in American popular culture, Dupri said.

“People are acting like that’s so amazing,” he said. “It is amazing – don’t get me wrong. But it’s also time changing. It’s a time thing where I make hip hop and R&B music, and that has taken over the music business. So it’s only right for me to get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.”

Besides “Jump,” Dupri has had a hand in writing No. 1 hits by Usher (“My Boo,” “Nice and Slow,” “Confessions Part II,” “Burn” and ” You Got It Bad”), Mariah Carey (“Don’t Forget About Us” and “We Belong Together”), Nelly (“Grillz”) and Monica (“The First Night”).

Other hits on Dupri’s resume include the Jay-Z collaboration “Money Ain’t a Thang,” Carey’s “Shake It Off,” Xscape’s “Just Kicking It,” Da Brat’s “Give it 2 U” and Jagged Edge’s “Where The Party At.”

Dupri has been nominated for several Grammy awards, and won in 2006 for “We Belong Together,” the Carey hit he helped write and produce. The song was a number one hit on and off for 14 weeks, giving it the second-longest run at No. 1 in the history of U.S music charts.

The Grammy Museum just opened an exhibit called “Jermaine Dupri and So So Def: 25 Years of Elevating Culture,” an overview of the label in the context of Atlanta’s music scene.

The 25th anniversary of his label has inspired Dupri to reflect on its cultural impact and the history he has been a part of. Including “Cultural Curren$y” in the name of the So So Def anniversary tour is a part of that.

“People weren’t treating artists with longevity with the respect that I felt like they should,” Dupri said. “So somebody had to start making people realize what it feels like. Artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, they feel like money to me. I feel like I couldn’t breathe without a Michael Jackson record, I couldn’t live without Prince. It becomes as important to you as currency. As opposed to dollar culture, it’s cultural currency.”

The rap mogul has put his stamp on American culture in other media, as well. He and Queen Latifah teamed up to create “The Rap Game,” a hip hop reality series on the Lifetime network now going into its fifth season. The latest season of “Growing Up Hip Hop” features Dupri and his family.

He sees a divine purpose behind his success.

“I look at my career now and I feel like God put me in these spaces to make records with these people for a reason,” Dupri said. “It created the cloth of Jermaine Dupri. I made a record with Jay-Z before Jay-Z was the Jay-Z that you guys know now. I feel like these were heaven-sent activities. I definitely believe that God implemented a lot of these things.”