How Hip-Hop Legend Jermaine Dupri Writes His Own Rules


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:

1. Build a Home Base

Dupri creates a flurry of activity on social every day, on sites ranging from Facebook to YouTube. One moment he’s tweeting information about a club appearance with Fabolous. The next he’s posting an Instagram of himself with Pharrell backstage at Coachella or a YouTube video about a moment with Mariah Carey and her fans.

“I create my own social whirlwind,” he says.

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Fresco Kane Delivers St. Louis Swag for So So Def

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.”

Jermaine Dupri

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.

Jermaine Dupri builds a real community with Global 14

Look at the headlines Facebook has generated lately: the company files for a multi-billion dollar initial public offering. Mark Zuckerberg spends $700,000 flying private planes in one year. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg begins building a new mansion in Menlo Park, California. There’s one important element missing from these stories: community. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about Global 14, a social community that music mogul Jermaine Dupri launched in 2011 – and the catalyst for a co-branding relationship that Dupri and my employer iCrossing announced on February 8. As a community of shared interests, Global 14 offers a model for brands and advertisers who might seek an alternative to the sprawling 850-million member country known as Facebook.

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