(The Root) — To borrow a line from the movie Ray, when you “make it do what it do,” people will come out and show you love. And that’s exactly what happened for Jermaine Dupri during his So So Def 20th Anniversary Concert Saturday night at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
Dupri may not be as hot as he once was, but to overlook his contributions to the music industry would be erroneous. Reflecting on Dupri’s career, one may wander: Is there anyone this guy isn’t connected to?
Case in point: Dupri was clearly holding his own onstage while performing his 1998 hit “Money Ain’t a Thang” when, after a brief dramatic pause, pal and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z emerged from the shadows spitting his verses, sending an already hyped crowd into orbit.
The 40-year-old Dupri told The Root that when he released his 1998 debut album, Life in 1472, he wanted “Money Ain’t a Thang” to be the lead single, much to the chagrin of Columbia Records executives, who were somewhat unfamiliar with the song’s co-star, Jay-Z.
“The people at Columbia Records were like, ‘We think you should put out ‘Sweetheart’ [first] because Mariah’s a bigger star than Jay-Z,’ ” Dupri said. “Without me saying I saw the future, I saw the future of Jay-Z. I knew Jay-Z was going to be everything that he is today.”
That, of course, isn’t meant to take away any shine from pop queen Mariah Carey, who also took the stage to celebrate Dupri’s illustrious career. As a matter of fact, many who experienced the Dupri Midas touch turned out for him: Usher, Ludacris, Nelly, Young Jeezy, Monica, Lil Jon, T-Pain, Lil Scrappy, Pastor Troy and YoungBloodZ — and, of course, those currently or previously signed to Dupri’s So So Def Recordings label, like Kris Kross, Anthony Hamilton, Bow Wow, Da Brat, Bone Crusher, Dem Franchize Boyz, members from Xscape (now Scape), Dondria and J-Kwon.
“We had the opportunity to work with him early in our career, and with all of us being in Atlanta, we all supported each other,” Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of platinum-selling TLC told The Root.
As with Thomas and Jay-Z, Dupri was present during the early stages of a pre-solo-career Beyoncé Knowles when Destiny’s Child was getting its start. He produced and was featured on the group’s single “With Me” and remixed a version of “Jumpin’, Jumpin’ ” with his artists Lil’ Bow Wow and Da Brat. Dupri’s father, Michael Mauldin, a former president of black music at Columbia Records, oversaw the signing of Destiny’s Child.
Dupri also produced Carey’s chart-topping comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi. Alicia Key’s first actual recording, “Little Drummer Girl,” was on Dupri’s 1996 Christmas album, 12 Soulful Nights of Christmas, he said. Before rapper and producer Lil Jon was telling everybody to “Get Low,” he was So So Def’s A&R go-to guy. And Dupri produced several Usher albums, including My Way (1997) and 8701 (2001), and was a primary producer for Confessions (2004), which sold more than 1 million copies in its first week.
While Dupri’s not one for celebratory observances, the death last year of music-industry exec Chris Lighty inspired him to do this anniversary event. “[It] hit me so hard that it made me realize, like, ‘Listen, I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to celebrate with everybody amongst everybody, and it feels right.’ So it’s like, I gotta do this now,” Dupri said.