The stars in Jermaine Dupri’s universe couldn’t look more spectacular these days.
The producer’s handiwork on Mariah Carey’s latest album, including the Dupri-produced smash “We Belong Together,” has played a key role in her stunning comeback. Dupri was also responsible for three of Usher’s biggest hits last year, helping the R&B crooner make the leap to superstardom with the album “Confessions.”
Recently, he was given the task to revamp Virgin Records’ meager urban-music department into a black music powerhouse. And then there’s his personal life — he’s got Janet Jackson as a girlfriend, strutting around in a revealing stripper’s getup in his latest video, “Gotta Getcha.”
Yet despite all these accomplishments — or maybe because of them — the sometime rapper feels underappreciated.
“The thing I’m going through is probably like the same thing that Little Richard and all these other artists go through, that I hear about them, saying, ‘Oh damn, you ain’t gonna give me nothing till I die,”’ Dupri said with resignation. “I feel like I’m one of those type of great people that just going to have to wait till it’s all over with for people to really sit around and talk about it.”
While comparisons to the groundbreaking legend may be exaggerated, it’s true that Dupri’s decade-plus career as a hitmaker hasn’t garnered as much fanfare as other producing sensations.
Unlike Pharrell from the production duo The Neptunes, Dupri doesn’t have a sneaker deal or a producer of the year Grammy; even Lil Jon got more attention for producing Usher’s “Yeah!” than Dupri garnered for all the rest of Usher’s smashes last year.
“A lot more people get recognition for one or two songs, where I got to do millions of records,” the diminutive star griped during a recent lunch at a posh restaurant in Manhattan (where he divided his attention among a cell phone, a Blackberry and a sidekick).
‘We missed our opportunity’Particularly disappointing for Dupri this year was Usher’s loss to icon Ray Charles for best album. Charles’ posthumous “Genius Loves Company” swept the Grammys while Usher’s “Confessions,” the year’s biggest-selling album, failed to win awards in major categories.
“I don’t mind losing to Ray Charles, but at the same time, the way I look at things is, me and Usher might not make another better album than this. And if we don’t, we missed our opportunity,” he said.
“To me, people look at me like, ‘You’ll do it again, don’t worry about this time.’ No, I want it now, everything now,” he said with a wry smile.
While Dupri may not have everything, he seems pretty close. He recently opened a restaurant in his hometown of Atlanta, is negotiating to open a hotel, and is working on book, which he describes as a guide for kids trying to get into the business.
And despite his belief that he’s been denied accolades or attention, Dupri’s stock in the music industry has only increased — which is why Virgin Chairman Matt Serletic wooed Dupri to the label.
“It’s very rare that you have a guy who’s artistic and able to make great records, who at the same time understands the business and has a drive to win,” Serletic said. “I think he really has helped make us more competitive, from the artist roster to the demeanor of the staff, all the way through.”
A taste of what Dupri has in store for Virgin’s future was revealed this week with the release of the hip-hop compilation disc “Young, Fly & Flashy, Vol. 1.” It features not only Dupri but other artists soon to be rolled out on the Virgin label and his imprint, So So Def.
“I feel like I’ve done my first layer,” said Dupri. “The next layer is to release records and make sure that the records aren’t just duds when they come out and they do what they gotta do, and that I bring some stars in the building.”
Standing by JanetOne superstar already in the building has been struggling — girlfriend Janet Jackson. Her last album, “Damita Jo,” released after her Super Bowl fiasco, was a commercial and critical disappointment.
During the scandal that surrounded the incident, Dupri stood by his woman — he quit the Recording Academy when those in charge of the Grammy telecast wanted to keep her off the show that year, and remains irked at the suggestion that Jackson’s flash was planned: “What really made me mad about it was people, or the press, thought that Janet actually needed a boost in her career.”
Yet Dupri is candid about why he feels “Damita Jo” flopped: “The last record was a poor choice of music ... they just put the record out on the strength of who it was. I think the whole album was not done in the right manner.”
Dupri believes Jackson still has the potential to deliver another blockbuster album — even though at 39 she’s competing against younger artists.
“People wanna always count older artists out, just because. Mariah Carey for an example ... (Janet) has sold so many more records than every other (new) artist. ... That’s the way I look at it.”