Rihanna’s Anti went platinum in 15 hours. But before you think, “albums are back!” bear in mind a big caveat: Samsung bought one million copies of the album and gave them away. For Rihanna and Samsung, Anti going platinum is not about record sales — it’s about creating a moment that earns attention for two giant brands at a time when attention is currency, as Brian Solis has noted. There are many more moments to come, as prepares to launch her Anti World Tour, where the real money will be made.
What $25 Million Will Buy a Brand
A platinum album is certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as selling at least one million copies — a difficult feat to achieve in the digital age. Only three albums released in 2015 went platinum: Adele’s 25; Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late; and Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Adele, Drake, and Justin Bieber all earned their sales the traditional way: by releasing and promoting music for consumers to buy, stream, and download (with the exception of 25).
Samsung, in turn, gave away 1 million free download codes to its customers. Each of those downloads came with a 60-day free trial to Tidal, the high-end streaming service that counts Rihanna as one of its owners. The entire album was available on Tidal before any other streaming service could have access to it.
If you want to get a rise out of music legend Jermaine Dupri, ask him about the new Jagged Edge album, J.E. Heartbreak II. Dropping October 27, J.E. Heartbreak II reunites Dupri with the group he signed to his So So Def record label in 1997. And Dupri promises that J.E. Heartbreak II will deliver the kind of lush, harmony-rich ballads that helped Jagged Edge become an R&B and pop success 14 years ago.
“The new album is straight Jagged Edge,” he says in the following exclusive interview. “It’s what Jagged Edge does and what it has always done.”
What Jagged Edge has always done is create music that defines the sound of R&B and also succeeds commercially. When Jagged Edge emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jagged Edge songs such as “He Can’t Love U” and “Let’s Get Married” captured the groove-heavy romance of R&B and also ranked high on both the R&B and pop charts. Jagged Edge’s breakthrough album, J.E. Heartbreak, released in 2000, topped the R&B charts, made the pop Top 10, and sold more than 2 million copies. Throughout the 2000s, Jagged Edge remained an R&B mainstay, recording six albums (its last album was recorded in 2011) even as R&B began to lose its mainstream appeal.
Dupri also believes J.E. Heartbreak II may also serve a larger purpose: to rekindle music fans’ love of R&B, which Dupri believes has been kicked to the gutter.
“R&B used to be the most popular of all music,” he says. “Now you have to go seek out R&B artists on the right radio stations.”
Fourteen years have gone by since the massive success of J.E. Heartbreak. As Dupri discusses in our interview, J.E. Heartbreak II captures the Jagged Edge sound, which is to say the sound of pure R&B. All the hallmarks of Jagged Edge are evident in the recently released single off J.E. Heartbreak II, “Getting over You.” With J.E. Heartbreak II, Dupri seeks to draw attention to the R&B genre just as Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash reignited interest in country music through their collaboration in the 1990s.
Read on for more insight into a new collaboration forged in R&B.
How would you describe the new Jagged Edge album, J.E. Heartbreak II?
The new album is straight Jagged Edge. It’s what Jagged Edge does and what it has always done. Jagged Edge creates love songs. Jagged Edge sings songs like “Let’s Get Married,” or the new single, “Getting Over You,” which is not the kind of thing you hear in rap or hip-hop. This is a group that has a fan base already. This album will appeal to that fan base. J.E. Heartbreak II is for people who are wondering where are you guys been?
How did you guys get back into the studio together?
I was just doing what Jermaine Dupri does what he’s supposed to do: always moving. Always looking for opportunities to make great music. Jagged Edge was ready to make new music. Jagged Edge is part of my legacy. So working together was a natural and easy decision.
J.E. Heartbreak II captures the sound of R&B. How would you describe the state of R&B?
R&B is headed in the direction that country is in already: it’s a marginalized specialty music that you have to look to find it as opposed to a form of music that you listen to everywhere. R&B used to be the most popular of all music. Now you have to go seek out R&B artists on the right radio stations just like you have to find real country on specialty stations.
Why has R&B become marginalized?
Music has become so fragmented, and R&B is a victim of that fragmentation. R&B has become typecast as the kind of music your mother and father listen to. But, in fact, younger generations will listen to it and love it when they hear it. On my Twitter feed, which represents pop America, people are telling me how much they like what they’re hearing from the new R&B album coming from Jagged Edge.
Generations coming into the industry in the digital age are not learning about R&B, and artists with distinctive R&B sounds are being overlooked in the generic American Idol era. If Al Green were starting out today, he would not become a star because the record industry would keep his music in an R&B box. Here’s the problem: Al Green has a distinctive voice that helped him break through in the 1970s. But that distinctive voice would hold him back today. Why? Because he doesn’t sound like the kind of generic artist who American Idol has conditioned the public to hear. But the greats don’t sound like everyone else. Al Green does not sound like Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson does not sound like Prince. Prince does not sound like Luther Vandross.
Today it’s hard to find the separation of styles necessary to make R&B its own style.
What about Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake? They are not only considered R&B by Billboard, but they obviously have enjoyed breakthrough success
Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake are making more of a strand of R&B. They are not making traditional R&B. Beyoncé is kind of like Usher. She has defined a different wave of music that draws upon R&B. Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz are making more of a hybrid of R&B, rap, and hip-hop. Chris Brown is a pure singer. If he could clean up his act and present himself as an artist who wants to sing as opposed to a singer who wants to rap, he could become the biggest singer in the world.
What I’m talking about is traditional R&B. Go try to find it. You’ll have to look very hard. What’s going on is that artists who would have been R&B are instead rappers and hip-hop stars.
Did rap and hip-hop steal the audience for R&B?
A generation of kids that wanted to be in radio and wanted to run the record business all grew up in an era when rap became the most prominent music genre. The kids that are now growing up in the ranks, the A&R guys who find new music, first look for rap and hip-hop. They have no love for R&B. They don’t have a reason to love it because they don’t know about it.
But I know there is an audience for R&B. Young people who know about R&B are telling me, “JD, please bring back R&B because the music today sucks.” Fans want something different than what they are hearing today.
In the world of hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, building excitement for new music means creating his own rules for using social media to engage with fans.
Dupri, Mariah Carey’s manager and co-producer, has been a lightning rod for criticism from frustrated Carey fans who have wanted more information about her career moves (especially the status of her new album) than they have received. But instead of appeasing fans with social, Dupri acts like a boxer, sometimes quietly absorbing the blows, and other times trading stiff jabs and upper cuts as he did recently when engaging with impatient fans on Twitter. The way he sees it, frustrated fans are good business because they build anticipation for music.
“If you’re going to be a music executive in the digital era, you need to try different approaches for running a business with social media,” he reveals in an interview with me. “Conventional wisdom says you give fans everything they want when they want it, like all the artwork and information about a new album long before release day. Fans today are buying the promotion that leads up to the music, not necessarily the music. But giving away too much to fans can actually ruin the game plan for someone like Mariah Carey, who is very protective of her music, her brand, and her mystique.”
Applying social finesse is one of the rules that Dupri lives by as he reinvents the role of the music executive in the digital era. Music industry honchos who first made their marks in the analog era, as Dupri did, have famously struggled to embrace digital (hello, Napster). Not so with Dupri. In the 1990s, he exploded on to the music world by breaking successful acts such as Kris Kross and Da Brat before becoming CEO of So So Def Recordings.
The 1990s were a long time ago, though. Then, artists could make millions by dropping CDs like manna from heaven into the hands of hungry fans. Digital downloading was not a threat. No one had ever heard of social media. But unlike many of his peers, Dupri has made the leap into the digital era by making digital — especially social media — the epicenter of a career in which he plays many roles, including CEO, czar of his own social media community Global 14, a popular DJ, and manager of a certain diva who has sold 200 million records.
Here are Jermaine Dupri’s rules for reinventing himself as a digital executive:
Beatrice Brigitte doesn’t like to follow formulas. The 25-year-old singer rejects the lush production and auto-tuned, anthemic vocals that rule the pop charts in the American Idol era, in favor of a simpler, more organic sound. On many of the songs she writes (such as “The Day”), her voice floats like a ghost through spare, quiet string arrangements.
Brigitte paints textured landscapes that combine a dreamy, otherworldly sound (think Mazzy Star) with lyrics exploring dark themes such as fear, personal betrayal, and suicide. In these themes the listener can detect the imprint of one of her influences, Jim Morrison (“Ode to End,” which contemplates suicide, thematically evokes the death wish of “Yes the River Knows” by the Doors).
I discovered her music on Global 14, Jermaine Dupri’s social community where members share interests ranging from music to sports (and it’s an excellent platform for emerging artists). In the following Q&A, Brigitte shares her story and provides a glimpse into life as an emerging artist. Make sure you experience her music on Soundcloud and get to know her on Global 14 and Facebook.
Let’s talk about your background — who you are and how you got into music.
Who am I? Well . . . I’m me. An entrepreneur, an artist, spiritual-being, a wife, an old soul; I have many roles.
To me, music is more of an art form than a way to be famous. I come from two artists who were both painters, and I love painting. I was born in Berlin. My father passed away a month before my seventh birthday, and my mom moved me to San Diego, where she remarried. I grew up in sunny San Diego for most of my life, but my parents moved to Phoenix while I was in high school. At age 17, unlike your conventional rebellion as a teen, mine was discovering music and using it as therapy. I never partied, drank, or did drugs growing up. I was that kid who would be at each concert and festival, standing there in awe.
I have been writing forever, but I did not always want to pursue music. The turning point was watching the band Brand New live in Phoenix. The performance by their lead singer, Jesse Lacey, blew me away. His music was honest, with no bullshit, and very bold. The band’s guitar riffs were very emotional. The experience changed my entire perspective on music.
At age 19 I moved to Los Angeles to work for a tech start-up, which I was working nonstop. I was making a lot of money but not doing what I really wanted to do, which was making music, finding my true self. My first day off occurred when I was 21. I asked, “What the hell am I doing?” I realized how blinded I was by social constraints, and that I can’t be a follower.
I began my journey as a musician by experimenting with being in bands and creating an alter ego, and then concluding that I just have to be a solo artist . . . just to be me, not to hide behind a band or an alter ego. It’s been a great journey and growth process.
Who are your musical influences?
A long time ago, I was really into Jim Morrison. I went into a whole Doors phase. He was into writing poems and turning them into songs, not writing lyrics in the conventional sense. And he has hidden meanings and analogies in his songs, which is how I write. I also enjoyed the melodies and organic pop style of the Spice Girls growing up. And Winston Churchill is a huge influence on everything I do. Yes, Winston Churchill. He was not only a leader — he was an artist, too. Did you know he was a painter?
Welcome to new music release day 2013, when the deployment of social and mobile technology by the artist is as important as the sharing of the music itself. The era of expecting the unveiling of a record album or song to carry the day ended a long time ago. On November 11, two artists, one a veteran of the analog age and the other a scorching hot digital native, illustrated the realities of sharing new music in the fractured music industry: making an impression is all about continuously serving your superfans with engaging, personal content.
On May 7, music mogul Jermaine Dupri and I were fortunate to have a byline published in Fast Company concerning four tips for successful co-branding. Co-branding — or sharing your own brand with an outside brand — is an increasingly popular way for celebrities like Justin Timberlake and major corporations such as Budweiser to generate awareness and to promote launches of products and services. The following post contains the unabridged version of our byline in case you’d like to have a bit more context about how my employer iCrossing has successfully built a co-brand with Dupri. Our bottom line: don’t co-brand to create hype. Focus on co-creating value.
To build your brand, sometimes you have to share your brand. And increasingly, big companies like Budweiser and Harley-Davidson choosing to co-brand with celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Kid Rock through relationships that range from sponsoring each other’s activities to the celebrity taking on quasi-roles such as strategic counselor or creative director.
But for co-brands to endure beyond the superficial level of a one-off press release, both parties need to stipulate realistic goals and co-create value. Those are among the lessons iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri have learned through an unusual co-branding relationship that has helped reinvent Dupri’s image as a technology leader, increased membership for his Global 14 social media community, and developed iCrossing’s image as a creative, socially savvy agency.
After forming our relationship in February 2012, within 10 months we boosted membership for Dupri’s Global 14 community by 43 percent, improved Dupri’s Twitter following from 381,000 to 620,000, increased iCrossing’s own Twitter following by more than 40 percent, and, most importantly, gave both iCrossing and Dupri recognition among mainstream influencers.
Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.
Define Realistic Goals
A co-brand starts with an understanding of what you both want out of the relationship before you start working together. And your expectations need to be realistic. In 2011, Madonna and Smirnoff formed the Nightlife Exchange with goals of building digital reach for Smirnoff and generating business for both Madonna and Smirnoff.
According to Christopher Swope of Live Nation, the relationship (which featured a special global dance talent search in 2011) has helped Smirnoff achieve double-digit sales growth in key markets (with the help of a specially branded Madonna VIP Access Smirnoff Limited Edition pack) and generate 1.8 billion media impressions. The relationship also helped Madonna make her MDNA tour the highest grossing of 2012. Not bad at all.
The relationship between iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri also started with agreed upon goals and a plan to achieve them. Dupri wanted iCrossing help to drive membership for his Global 14 community, which he launched in 2011 as a platform for young entrepreneurs and musicians to share common interests with himself and each other. He was already a music legend. He also wanted to develop his reputation as a technology and business leader.
iCrossing wanted build our reputation for thought leadership, creativity and social media by tapping into the convergence of entertainment and technology.
But our goals needed to complement each other, too. Had Dupri aspired to increase his visibility among the hip-hop community, he didn’t need iCrossing’s help. But iCrossing could definitely help him drive Global 14 membership through social media and content marketing. Conversely, iCrossing needed to define goals that Dupri was in a position to help iCrossing achieve, such as increasing awareness for our own social media and thought leadership expertise.
Co-creating means co-developing products, services, and ideas. U2 and Apple ignited the flame of celebrity/corporate co-creation in 2004, when they collaborated on the launch of the iPod U2 Special Edition, housed in a special black case, and laser-engraved with the signatures of each band member on the back.
As part of their co-brand, Apple and U2 also made U2’s single “Vertigo” exclusively available on iTunes as well as a first-of-its kind digital box set of U2’s catalog. What made the arrangement special was that two icons were sharing their most prized assets to create specially branded products, a model that we’ve often seen emulated, a recent example being Kid Rock and Harley-Davidson agreeing to offer limited-edition, co-branded Rebel Soul merchandise featuring a line coined by Kid Rock: “I can’t hear you over the rumble of my freedom.
By co-creating content, we are both developing a product to support our goals — akin to Justin Timberlake and Budweiser actually making a beer together. Co-created thought leadership is important because content consist of iCrossing’s product given the work we do as an agency.
iCrossing also acts as a co-publisher, relying on our own social spaces to disseminate our ideas and Dupri’s among Fortune 500 influencers — our own clients.
Find Natural Areas of Interest
A hip-hop mogul and a digital agency. The mogul runs a record label. The agency helps companies like Coca-Cola build connected brands. What do they have in common? Well, it didn’t take long to find out. Dupri loves social media and technology; so does iCrossing. Dupri hustles content ranging from his blog posts to Instagram photos. So does iCrossing. We’ve defined a credible intersection of our shared pursuits that makes sense for our brands.
Finding common passions makes for a more authentic relationship. For instance, Dodge Ram and country musician Zac Brown have successfully joined forces around a common interest: community goodwill. In 2010, Ram and Zac Brown launched the Letters for Lyrics partnership to deliver 1 million letters to U.S. soldiers, and in March Brown and Ram joined forces to put up for auction his own Ram truck in order to benefit Camp Southern Ground, which provides programs for children including those with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. The relationship is no gimmick — Ram has a history of working with country artists to support charitable causes, and Brown founded Camp Southern Ground. Theirs is a relationship centered on a true passion for both brands.
Defining common areas of interest also helps you rule out activities that don’t help us meet our goals. For instance, it does not make a whole lot of sense for iCrossing to promote Dupri’s gigs as a DJ. We are not in the music and artist promotion business. Nor will you find Dupri collaborating with iCrossing on a paid search campaign anytime soon. We’re focused only on the activities that make sense for us both.
One announcement does not make a relationship. A co-brand, like a garden, needs to be nurtured to grow.
Certainly Nike and Michael Jordan created the gold standard for a committed relationship between a company and a superstar individual brand. After launching their relationship in 1984, the two brands embarked on a journey that helped change the way brands and celebrities work together — and a journey that has endured highs (six NBA championships for Jordan) and unexpected turns (such as Jordan’s shocking but temporary retirement from basketball to play professional baseball). Jordan did more than collaborate with Nike on the launch of a line of shoe wear; he literally became a business partner. The Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, helps Jordan earn $80 million annually in retirement. And Nike has obviously benefitted, releasing its 28th shoe in the Jordan franchise in 2013 and commanding 58 percent of the shoe market in the United States according to SportsOneSource.
Jordan and Nike have provided a model for anyone who aspires to create a long-term relationship, including iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri. We have also stayed committed to achieving our goals for more than a year, investing our time and effort to brainstorm on ideas, adjusting our approaches when needed, and refining our messaging as Global 14 has evolved. We focused first on creating content on social media and then more actively brought event appearances into the mix, and we’ve also adapted our story to bring in fresh thinking, such as how a CEO like Jermaine Dupri can become more effective thanks to social media.
Relationships are going to experience occasional hiccups, such as the awkward moment that occurred when it was reported that Alicia Keys uses an iPhone after she signed a co-brand with Blackberry. No relationship is perfect, and you’re both going to need to be open to learning and growing together in order to succeed.
We believe that iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri are creating a model for co-branding because of our focus on creating content together. Stay tuned. We’re just getting warmed up.
From Down Under comes a shimmering new song by Vanessa Elisha, “Home to Me.” The song layers Elisha’s lush R&B-inspired vocals on top of a sexy chill-out groove to capture what Elisha describes to me as “that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.” Vanessa Elisha took time out of her recording schedule to answer a few questions about the song and her career on the rise, including how Jermaine Dupri and his Global 14 community has helped her. As you can see from the following Q&A, she’s understands the art of social. Learn more about Vanessa Elisha on her website here, Global 14 community here, and Twitter here. Meantime, thank you Vanessa for your gift of song.
What’s the inspiration for “Home to Me”?
Definitely a long-term relationship – that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.
The song has a sensuous chill-out feel to it. Do you consider “Home to Me” a chill-out song?
It definitely has that smooth feel that you can listen to and vibe to at any time of the day.
Who has influence your singing style? I hear an R&B influence.
So many people! Lauryn Hill, Monica, Keke Wyatt, Jon B and so many others. That ’90s feel is really what gets to me the most – that was real R&B, and it’s making its comeback with a lot of current artists.
The video is simple yet complicated: a straight-head shot of you but overlayed with fireworks, flames, fields, and mountains. What’s the story being told in the video?
I think that the video is open to interpretation, which is what I love about it. For me the projections signify the range of emotions that are felt throughout the relationship — they run smoothly with the lyrics to really enhance the story.
How are you promoting the song and building your own brand?
I’m really just trying to get my music out there! Twitter, Facebook, blogs – the bloggers have been amazing. They hold a lot of power in the industry, and the reception of my music has been amazing and unexpected!
How does Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 community help you?
Global 14 has been a great place to meet some amazing and talented people. The fact that Jermaine Dupri interacts with community members and has said he’s liked my music is an inspiration to just work that little bit harder. I love it, and the support I get on there is amazing.
Recently, I sat down with Jermaine Dupri, to discuss how social media helps him be a better CEO of So So Def Recordings. As you might know, Dupri blew up the So So Def Recordings website and replaced it with his own social media community, Global 14. Dupri and I published the outcome of our conversation as a byline in Fast Company, available here. The byline discusses five ways social helps him run So So Def, an example being the way Global 14 gives him insight into up-and-coming musical talent. We also cite other CEOs who use social media effectively, such as Richard Branson, whose use of platforms like Twitter humanizes the Virgin brand.
If you are a CEO (or aspire to operate at that level), I hope our byline helps you embrace social, even if all you have time for is the occasional tweet. Just don’t blow off social.
His name is Fresco Kane, and he has all the swag of an up-and-coming rap star. As well he should. Fresco Kane just dropped a hot new mixtape December 4 and has captured the eyes and ears of Music Mogul Jermaine Dupri, who recently made Fresco Kane the latest addition to Dupri’s So So Def label. And believe it or not, a sentimental 1970s soft-rock song helped him break through.
Fresco Kane’s songs capture the classic bravado of St. Louis rap in the tradition of the many artists Dupri has discovered in the Gateway City — Nelly and Chingy among them — but according to Dupri, Kane brings his own distinct style and wordplay.
“All St. Louis artists have that something that stands out about them,” Dupri told me in an interview for Superhype. “Something fresh with a lot of slang and clever beats. They are students of what’s going on in the streets. But Fresco Kane has a confidence and feel for beats that is all his own.”
In a song like “Hot,” he combines his typically macho and confident word play with a rich production that includes random sound distortion, tumbling drum beats, a catchy synth overlay, and an angelic female vocal chorus that somehow works amid the aggressive ode to cruising in your car.
“Up in Hurr,” featuring Dupri, reprises the tumbling drum beats and smooth synth in a more melodious but raunchy exploration of the joys of sex and Ciroc. The song evokes “Hump Wit It,” a track produced by Dupri earlier this year for Kane and featuring Busta Rhymes.
Dupri met Kane in February after Kane’s manager Abe Givens arranged a meeting at Dupri’s SouthSide Studios in Atlanta.
Dupri’s first impressions: “He felt ready. I heard the music and knew he was someone I should be working with.”
What first caught Dupri’s ear was Kane’s use of a sample from, of all things, the soft-rock standard “I Go Crazy” by Paul Davis, in Kane’s song, “They Do.”
“I’ve always been thinking of sampling ‘I Go Crazy,'” Dupri says. “When I first heard the sample, I wondered, ‘What’s making Fresco Kane think like me? What triggered the use of that sample?” And beyond the music, Fresco Kane acted “like a mature-minded artist” from the start.
From there, a relationship was born.
According to Dupri, the two are collaborating on new music. “We work right off the top of the head,” Dupri says. “I create music for him to review, and he does the same for me. We might not even agree with what we are doing at first, but that’s how you start to get to know each other.”
Dupri adds, “Fresco Kane represents the younger generation of rap. It’s a whole different flow and mindset from the older generation. As I make more records that fit his mentality, he’s going to get better.”
In the song “Fresco Kane,” Kane name checks Jermaine Dupri (“Got me addicted to him like he’s cocaine”) and apologizes for the long wait. Apology accepted. Now bring us some more.
On November 1, I was honored to appear onstage with Jermaine Dupriat the PSFK Conference San Francisco 2012, where we discussed how Dupri’s Global 14 social networking site brings community back to social media. The entire conference featured designers, creative thinkers, and marketers who shared innovative ways to operate businesses and build brands. The underlying theme was that brands should seize the opportunity to do good, not just make money.
Global 14 helps emerging musicians develop their careers and creates an environment for all members to share ideas, not just social updates. (“We have lost communication on social networks and have become a social notifying world,” Dupri said.)
Regina Ellis of the Children’s Cancer Associationdelivered the most powerful presentation, which concerned the business of spreading joy. She opened her talk by describing the loss of her own daughter to cancer — an experience that Continue reading →