Table of Contents
|The Life of J.D.||p. xxix|
|Fresh Azimiz||p. 1|
|Welcome to Atlanta||p. 9|
|Freaks Come Out at Night||p. 27|
|Lil'Boys in Da Hood||p. 41|
|Totally Krossed Out||p. 57|
|Money Ain't a Thang||p. 71|
|Every Time Tha' Beat Drop||p. 101|
|A Jagged Era||p. 135|
|Love on My Mind||p. 177|
|We Belong Together||p. 183|
|Beware of Dog||p. 199|
|Shake It Off||p. 211|
|Last Word||p. 261|
|Discography/Career Highlights||p. 265|
|Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.|
Back in the old days, 15 years ago, Atlanta's music scene wasn't in Atlanta at all. It was about an hour's drive north of the city in a suburb called Alpharetta.
A mostly white, affluent neighborhood in Fulton County, Georgia, ain't exactly what you'd expect of a mecca for all urban artists, producers, and musicians coming up in the South. But it was there, deep inside the Alpharetta Country Club, on an estate surrounded by golf courses and lawn ornaments, where Antonio "L.A." Reid bought his McMansion and set up studios for LaFace Records, the label he started with Arista and his partner, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.
That crib was crazy. Besides the house where L.A. lived with his then wife Pebbles and their kids, the compound had another huge building housing everything a music guy could want: recording and mixing studios, a dance rehearsal room, a hair salon, and a kitchen with a full-time professional chef to fix a lil' snack for the artists and studio engineers between sessions. L.A. designed the whole thing to be a place where he could develop artists from scratch. Their moves, their image, their voice training all went down inside those walls.
On any given day or night the driveway would be deep with Benzes, Bentleys, Beemers, Rolls-Royces, and Porsches. TLC, Goodie Mob, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, and Bobby Brown were just a few of the artists who passed through those doors. One day I was there waiting to mix a record and Toni Braxton was laying down vocals with L.A. in the next studio, Dallas Austin was in the kitchen waiting on some lunch, Babyface was at the piano composing a song, and Chilli and T-Boz from TLC were downstairs getting their hair fixed by Pebbles.
Back then, I never had any direct dealings with L.A. or Babyface myself. But like anyone in the ATL, I was well aware of who they were. Those two brought some real star power to a scene that was always being overlooked by the music industry in favor of New York or the West Coast. The fact that they were on our doorstep was creating some buzz.
They were the idolmakers of their day. Babyface was the guy who wrote hit songs for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and just about every other great female singer at the time. L.A. was the guy who signed all the talent.
Most kids hoping to make it in the industry beat a path straight to L.A.'s door. When I made TLC's demo tape they took it first to Pebbles. Anyone with aspirations and a shred of talent made the trek to Alpharetta. Usher auditioned there when he was 13. He walked in, introduced himself as LaFace's "next big star" and told L.A. he was gonna own that house some day. A few years and a couple of Grammys later, he did.
But I wasn't one of those kids. As far as I was concerned, I already had my shine on. It was 1992 and I was fresh off my success with Kris Kross. I was 19 and I'd just seen my first big check for $1 million. My act's single, "Jump" was dominating the charts. It stayed number one on theBillboard100 for eight whole weeks. No one had seen a kiddie sensation like that in rap music before.
There hadn't been a faster selling single in 15 years. My two stars, Chris Kelly and Chris Smith, were all over the TV, appearing onThe Oprah Winfrey Show, In Living Color, The Tonight Show, and dominating the videoplay on MTV and BET. In all, we sold eight million copies of that first album,Totally Krossed Out. As far as I was concerned, my career was already on fire.
Me and my best friend Eddie Weathers had a lot of celebrating to do. We were popping tags all over the place. After years making do with the sales rack at JCPenney we were flying up to New York and Chicago for spending sprees, buying ourselves diamond chains and gold watches. I was heading straight into my young, fly, and flashy days.
I bought my mom a shiny, new blue BMW convertible and the salesman talked me into buying another Beemer for myself. Meanwhile, I was shopping around for a nice big ranch house so we could move out of our tiny place in College Park.
I only went to L.A.'s place in Alpharetta because I needed to use his fancy hi-tech mixing equipment to finish up some production work for TLC. I was still working from my little bedroom on Judy Lane and relying on some cheap Radio Shack equipment. There weren't too many state-of-the-art studios around Atlanta at the time.
I never even spoke to L.A. or Babyface except to say "hey." They couldn't have been more than 30, but to me they seemed old, like those Motown dudes who were more into soul and R&B. They'd both been in bands in the eighties, and their music credentials were real, but with L.A. especially I felt the generation gap. He always seemed like he is now: slick, polished, and corporate. I didn't think they were up on what was happening in the hip-hop movement. I respected them, but I reckoned they didn't have a whole lotta relevance to a young buck like me.
Then one day they threw a party. After a couple of drinks I clocked L.A. and Babyface sitting by themselves. They were on the patio off the recording room, where the studio engineers went out for smoke breaks. I decided to sit down and join them. My newfound success made me feel bold enough to take my place at their table, and I was curious to get to know the other players in Atlanta's budding music scene.
We talked for a bit about the business. L.A. threw me a few polite questions about how it was going with Kris Kross. I was proud of the fact that my act was still killing the charts and I guess I let them know, figuring they'd share in my excitement. I didn't mean to sound boastful, but I guess they saw me as a cocky lil' dude.
That whole time Babyface didn't say a word, but there must've been something about my swagger that bugged him. When he finally opened his mouth he cut me to the bone:
"Good for you that you've got your little song," he said. "But one hit doesn't count for much. You gotta have three or four hits before you can really call yourself a success."
That hurt my feelings. I didn't know what to say, so I slumped in my chair for a second. I thought to myself, "Hell, I haven't seen either of y'all coming out with no number one hits lately."
Plenty of people assumed I was just some nobody who got lucky, but my success with Kris Kross was no overnight fluke. I'd been working toward it for years, making mixtapes since I was 12; producing another group, Silk Tymes Leather, when I was 14; and struggling for almost two years to get attention from a record label that would help me break Chris and Chris. A lil' nod instead of a slap from my elders would have been nice.
Then I thought about it some more, "Maybe Babyface has a point. I gotta keep pushing myself if I want to truly be somebody in this business. I can't stop now."
I had two choices. I could have said, "To hell with it. I'm still just a kid and I'm gonna have fun on this ride while it lasts." I could have enjoyed my moment for what it was. I could have spent all the money from my check until it was gone, which I was already halfway to doing, and been content to live out my days as a one-hit wonder. Or I could decide that the life I really wanted would be all about me getting my grind on and slaving for the next hit, and the hit after that, and the hit after that. I guess it really wasn't a choice. I couldn't stop because I'd always want more.
Babyface's tough words were the best things that anyone could have said to me back then. They stuck with me so hard that I even programmed that philosophy into my pager. To this day, anyone who ever gets a message from me sees this tagline:
"When you win one time they call you a champion, when you win four times they call you a dynasty, when you win 21 times they call you So So Def!"
Yeah, that's right. Today I have more than 20 top hits and they keep coming. I should put one of those signs up like they have at McDonald's that says, "Over one billion served."
Because of guys like me, the music scene moved south on the Interstate to take over the heart of the ATL. To let people know we're here, I pay $8,000 a month for a big Day-Glo yellow sign by the I-85 that says, atlanta, home of so so def recordings. I was inspired by Berry Gordy's Motown billboard in Detroit that says, welcome to motor city, home of hitsville u.s.a. But maybe I should add a digital counter to keep track of all of those charts I'm slaying!
Not that I intend to rest on past success. I have to keep it turned on to keep turning out the hits. I wrote this poem three years ago to remind myself what it takes to win:
One that neva sleeps,
One that keeps his ear on the streets,
One that sets trends without tryin'
And all the time, no matter what, they shinin'.
One that looks and listens closer
Than other niggas.
Big, but constantly thinking of ways to get bigger.
One that's looked at to come thru in the clutch,
Highly talked about, but don't give a fuck.
Whether he plays ball, works in Corporate America,
Sings or produces,
If this person was to shut down shop
All hell would break loose!
Motivated by younger people,
That wanna be in his shoes,
Knowing how to do nothin' else but win,
But ain't scared to lose,
Cause a loss every once in a while,
Is what makes you turn it on,
And do what you do, but be twice as strong,
The best is a person that's out
To do shit that ain't neva been done,
This is my definition.
Don't know about you,
But I'm one.
I put those words on a plaque and stuck it on the wall of my studio for everyone to see. I'm not saying I'm the best, but I strive to be. There are plenty of producers, like Quincy Jones, who've had more hits than me. That's why I keep running. I'm a beast in the game who won't quit until everyone else is beat.
Excerpted from Young, Rich, and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul by Jermaine Dupri
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.