So So Def Recordings Ceo Jermaine Dupri has been cranking out chart-toppers from his Atlanta-based music factory for more than a decade now. The rap and R&B mogul was just 19 when he discovered the preteen rap duo Kris Kross and put his machinery in motion. He groomed the two, landed them a deal with Ruffhouse Records, and wrote and produced their debut album, Totally Krossed Out, which featured the hip-hop hit “Jump.” The album sold seven million copies—a major success by any standard. That was back in 1993 when it was rare for a rap album to garner that type of pop music success.
“Jump” enabled Dupri to strike a joint venture label deal with Columbia Records to the tune of $10 million. Under the deal, Dupri, 29, formed the So So Def label, home to artists such as the teen sensation Lil’ Bow Wow, R&B group Jagged Edge, and female rapper Da Brat. In fact, Dupri, who is also a rapper, producer, and songwriter, is one of his label’s top acts. He has recorded two successful albums: 1998’s Life in 1472 and his current release, Instructions, which includes the hard-driving southern anthem “Welcome to Atlanta.”
The rap impresario’s hit-making abilities have made him one of the music industry’s most respected entrepreneurs and positioned him among the vanguard that is pushing the boundaries of hip-hop. In the process, he has helped redefine popular music. Dupri’s jack-of-all-trades approach to music is hardly atypical in hip-hop circles. He keeps company with the likes of Percy “Master P” Miller, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, and the eclectic rap duo Outkast (Big Boi and Andre) among others. All wear multiple hats as producers, performers, and independent label executives. And their efforts have made significant contributions to major record labels’ profit margins.
Says Elektra Entertainment CEO Sylvia Rhone, whose joint venture with rapper-cum-entrepreneur Missy Elliott has resulted in multiplatinum sales: “An association with the right independent label or production company can provide an important cachet to us. They can help us reach a community that it might take longer to connect with.”
In this third installment of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s series on the Hip-Hop Economy, you will discover how rap is creating a bevy of entrepreneurial and financial opportunities for the artists who produce and perform the music. While joint ventures have furnished this new generation of music entrepreneurs with huge financial rewards—can you say “bling-bling”—the true prize is ownership of their music. Can they use their influence to secure the type of decision-making power that they seek? That’s the next big step for Dupri and his peers.
WRITING A NEW TUNE FOR THE INDUSTRY
The music created by producers such as Dupri has long been the primary voice of hip-hop culture, and that voice has gained substantial economic influence on both domestic and international fronts over the last 10 years. It comes as no surprise then that major record companies need hip-hop artists as a part of their roster of talent. The music has