Jermaine Dupri is an entrepreneur, rapper, songwriter, and Grammy-award-winning producer. Among his impressive list of credentials is founder of Global 14 and So So Def Recordings. So So Def Recordings has released more than 25 albums over the past few decades, many of those reaching gold (500,000 sold), platinum (1M sold), and double-platinum (2M sold) status.
From discovering, developing, and producing artists and groups including Kriss Kross, Bow Wow, and Jagged Edge, to being an accomplished rapper himself, his influence on the music industry has put Atlanta’s music scene on the map and turned his name into a household brand synonymous with music.
Jermaine’s entrepreneurial start came before music, as a landscaper. “When I was around 11 or 12, I used to go around the neighborhood to cut people’s grass and go house to house to cut a deal with them.” He may have gotten his start cutting grass, but his passion was for music.
When trying to make the cut in the music industry at the age of a 12, he didn’t have money or experience, but that wouldn’t stop him from pursuing his dream. “People always talk about the money they need to do it. I was always the guy who said I was going to do it.” With ideas, talent, and a passion for music, Jermaine saw an opportunity to bring his unique skills and vision to the music industry.
“If you see there’s an empty space and a slot open for you to be there – that should be your driving force to make you go harder to do what you have to do.”
He started borrowing soundboards and instruments from other Atlanta-area musicians. After recognizing his passion and work ethic, many of the people he had borrowed from encouraged him to keep the items as gifts. “My gradual gain of things that I needed to get to the places I was headed to came from my ambition and my attitude to do it.”
Lacking money and equipment weren’t the only barriers that Jermaine faced while trying turn his vision into reality. “When I wanted to make records, I was out here trying to get other people to make the music for me. I would go to producers and tell them things I would want them to do. Those producers couldn’t even translate what I was saying to (real) life, which is what drove me to be a producer.” He taught himself how to play the keyboard, work a drum machine, and learn the other parts of the business.
The music industry has changed. Artists can reach a large audience without a record label supporting them and build a fan base before they may be ready to properly handle their fame and brand as a whole. Instead of needing a distribution channel to get CDs inside of Best Buy stores, musicians can release full albums on SoundCloud and other websites directly to millions of fans. “Record labels are going to be at the mercy of artists now,” said Dupri.
Technology has impacted the music industry tremendously, but there are still executives at the top that are unwilling to change, and they are falling behind because of this stubbornness. “People in the music industry are still trying to fight what is (happening) on the outside of their doors as if they can stop it. It’s all going to die.” Artists like Jay Z and Dr. Dre are leaving the industry to pursue other ventures, which leads Dupri to believe the industry will continue to separate itself from fans and artists. “I believe the music industry is just going to disappear.”
As the music industry has changed, so have Dupri’s interests and efforts. Over the past decade, you’re just as likely to find him attending a tech startup event as a concert. Jermaine attends events to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and to learn about what’s going on in the tech space. “You should want to be a part of everything. Being in the space so you can see what’s missing is possibly the most important thing.”
Dupri has been overwhelmed with the support and kind nature of the people in the tech space. “The one thing I love about tech is that there is an open door policy. People are nice and willing to share their ideas.” Yet he describes the attitude in the music industry as “Me, me, me. Don’t let them know what we’re doing.”
The competitive nature of the music industry versus the collaborative attitude of the startup world have clearly made a strong impression on him. “If you sound like you have a (good) idea in the startup world, you can get a lot of people to listen to you. If you sound like you’ve got a great artist in the music industry, people still won’t listen to you.” Because of this and the attitudes associated with both industries, Dupri stated “Breaking into music is a lot harder than breaking into the startup world.”
Q: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
A: “I’ve always thought that I could create some kind of business. I’ve always had that feeling.”
For Dupri, it was always about more than just a feeling. He took his interests and passion and made it happen despite the odds. While diving into tech and the startup world, he’s once again creating his own path. “I don’t think I’m legendary yet, but when you create your own path, that’s the beginning of the road to becoming a legend or doing something legendary. When people start walking or driving down that path that you created, those are the things that matter.”
Additional Interview Highlights
– “When you have the talent to do something, and that something you want to do requires your talent – it’s easier than when you want to do something but you don’t have the talent.”
– “The creative process of life has gone out the window. I tell people when I brought Bow Wow to the attention of the world; he was 10 years old, (but) he didn’t come out until he was 12. (We underwent) Two years of artist development. There’s no longer artist development.”
– “Tech has put younger people in a more powerful space.”
– What’s been the most important factor to your success? “Being able to do what I’ve done from Atlanta.”
– What’s been the hardest barrier to overcome? “To have so many ideas and not be able to make them happen when you want them to happen or when you need them to happen. I struggle with wanting to do so many things at one time…there’s always something that prevents me from doing something that I want to do.”
Don’t settle for just the intro, listen to the full interview with Jermaine Dupri below!