Jermaine Dupri Is A Songwriters Hall Of Famer And We Have The Playlist To Prove It

Jun 16, 2018
Originally published on June 18, 2018 7:43 am

Jermaine Dupri is a hip-hop and R&B hitmaker. His songs have sold millions of copies, topped music charts throughout the 1990s and early 2000s and helped launch the careers of Kriss Kross, Usher, Mariah Carey and many others. Now, the 30-year music veteran has been inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame. Dupri is only the second hip-hop artist to be so honored. (Jay-Z was inducted last year.) "To be mentioned in the same breath as people I admire means everything to me," Dupri says, citing Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. as source of inspiration.

According to Dupri, the key to writing a hit song is to focus on the hook as the driving force. That's what he did when penning his first big record, Kriss Kross's 1992 breakout single "Jump." Dupri says he wrote the song in 30 minutes.

"It's a thing that happens where you start writing a song, it's a burning feeling that you have to finish it. Once I had the first verse, you don't want to hear the song incomplete," he explains. "I've written other songs just as fast, but that was the first time I had that feeling."

For Dupri, this Hall of Fame honor is special because it highlights a talent he feels he doesn't get enough credit for. He remembers being at a pool in Mexico and watching a pool full of people sing Usher's "You Make Me Wanna..." never realizing he wrote it.

"Some people see Jermaine Dupri as a producer and they don't really know what the songwriting skills are," he says. "That's why I'm so proud about this induction because it makes you pay attention to me writing songs and sitting down and thinking of these stories that people fall in love with."

In honor of his induction, enjoy a NPR Music playlist of Jermaine Dupri's hits from the '90s until now.

Web editor Sidney Madden contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jermaine Dupri is a hip-hop and R&B hitmaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALWAYS BE MY BABY")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) Don't you know you can't escape me? Ooh, darling, 'cause you'll always be my baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT BURN")

USHER: (Singing) Let it burn. Let it burn - got to let it burn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WARM IT UP")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Warm it up, Kris.

CHRIS KELLY: (Rapping) I'm about to...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Warm it up, Kris.

KELLY: (Rapping) ...'Cause that's what I was born to do.

SIMON: His songs have sold millions of copies, topped music charts throughout the 1990s and early 2000s when he helped launch the careers of Mariah Carey, Usher, Kris Kross and many others. Now Jermaine Dupri has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the second hip-hop artist to be so honored. Jermaine Dupri joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

JERMAINE DUPRI: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let's start off with the reaction you posted to this on Twitter. I believe we can hear it here.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DUPRI: Man, look at God. Look at God. Look at God. Yo, I was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I don't know what else to say but (screaming).

SIMON: Excited, Mr. Dupri?

DUPRI: Very.

SIMON: What's the honor mean to you?

DUPRI: Everything - I mean, you know, to be mentioned in the same breath of people that I admired and watched to get to this place - it means everything.

SIMON: Who are some of those people you admired and watched?

DUPRI: Berry Gordy being one, you know, I hold Berry Gordy in the highest spot in my life just as a person that I watched and read up on and just wanted to have a record company like him and do things like him. And then to find out that he was also a songwriter and he cared about songwriting almost more than a record company, it was very close to how I am.

SIMON: So how do you write a hit song?

DUPRI: There's been times when people told me that great songs have amazing hooks. So if you think about, like, the Mariah Carey record that you just played, you know, "Always Be My Baby" is all hook.

SIMON: And a hook, for people who aren't in the business, is what?

DUPRI: The hook is basically, like, the title of the song and the same words over and over again. That's the hook. That's what I did with Kriss Kross, which was my first big record. I focused on the hook being the driver, which was "Jump," and it actually worked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUMP")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Jump, jump.

KRIS KROSS: (Rapping) Daddy Mac will make you...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) ...Jump, jump.

KRIS KROSS: (Rapping) Kris Kross will make you...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) ...Jump, jump.

SIMON: There's a story that you wrote "Jump" in half an hour.

DUPRI: Yeah.

SIMON: What happened? You had a vision or what?

DUPRI: (Laughter) It's a thing that happens where - when you start writing a song, it's a burning feeling that you have to finish it. And once I had the hook and the first verse, you don't want to hear the song incomplete. You don't want to listen to it back incomplete. You want to just go ahead and finish it. I've written other songs just as fast. But that was the first time I had that feeling.

SIMON: In an interview, you once said that people don't understand what you do.

DUPRI: They don't.

SIMON: What do you want us to know?

DUPRI: Some people see Jermaine Dupri as a producer. And then some don't really know what the songwriting skills are. And that's why I'm so proud about this induction is because it's, like - makes you pay attention to me writing songs and sitting down and thinking of these stories that people fall in love with and people sing along to and not really realizing that I wrote these songs at different ages in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU MAKE ME WANNA...")

USHER: (Singing) Before anything began between us, you were like my best friend, the one I used to run and talk to when me and my girl was having problems.

DUPRI: I was in a pool one day in Mexico with, like - you know, it's just a big pool. And people were singing the Usher record. And I was just sitting in the corner just watching. And it was, like, nobody ever said, yo, you wrote this song.

SIMON: They were singing your song.

DUPRI: Yeah. They were singing the song, but they didn't realize that I wrote the lyrics that they were singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU MAKE ME WANNA...")

USHER: (Singing) I think about a ring and all that things that come along with - you make me - you make me...

SIMON: You describe how you'll begin to write a song, and it grips you. You've just got to finish it.

DUPRI: Yeah.

SIMON: What other songs of yours have done that for you?

DUPRI: Yeah. "We Belong Together" with Mariah - she came to Atlanta. She wanted to finish the song that we created in four or five hours. And it was late. It was, like, 5 in the morning. She was catching a flight. Half of everybody that was in the studio was already sleeping. It was just me and her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE BELONG TOGETHER")

CAREY: (Singing) I didn't mean it when I said I didn't love you so. I should've held on tight. I never should've let you go. I didn't know nothing. I was stupid. I was foolish. I was lying to myself.

DUPRI: She was like, I need this one little part to finish this song. And she said, Jermaine, go ahead and write this part. And I was tired. And I was, like, nah, just leave it. I'll send it to you. And she was like, no. We have to finish this song right now. So that was that same burning feeling that I had with "Jump." And that song became song of the decade. So when you feel it, you feel it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE BELONG TOGETHER")

CAREY: (Singing) Come back, baby, please 'cause we belong together.

SIMON: Well, it could also be Mariah Carey said finish it now, or I'm getting on an airplane and you'll never see me again (laughter).

DUPRI: Nah, nah, nah. She's just like me. She doesn't want to listen to the song incomplete. And you just got to push yourself to go ahead and find the words that go in that space.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY AIN'T A THANG")

DUPRI: (Rapping) In the Ferrari or Jaguar switching four lanes with the top down screaming out money ain't a thing.

SIMON: Rapper, producer and 2018 Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee Jermaine Dupri...

DUPRI: Yes.

SIMON: ...Thanks so much for being with us.

DUPRI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JERMAINE DUPRI SONG, "MONEY AIN'T A THANG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.