When it comes to assisting in the launch of the careers of young artists, Jermaine Dupri's success rate is that of legend. Kriss Kross, Usher, and Bow Wow are just a few of the pre-adult acts, who under the tutelage of the Grammy Award-winning songwriter-producer, went on to be world-renown superstars. With a big homie like JD, it's no wonder his latest protege, Miss Mulatto, has her sights set high. “My thing is just being a boss,” says the 17 year old winner of Lifetime’s 'The Rap Game,' when asked what her plans for the future were. The show - which pit several talented young hip hop artists against one another for a shot a record deal with So So Def Recordings - was executive produced by the So So Def head honcho, as well as Queen Latifah, and featured the likes of special guests Usher, T.I., Ludacris, Da Brat, and others offering key advice to the group of emerging artists with big dreams. During a recent trip to New York City, Jermaine Dupri and Miss Mulatto sat down with CNNCTD to talk working with each other, the future of So So Def, and what defines a star.
CNNCTD: Miss Mulatto, after eight weeks of “hip hop boot camp,” how does it feel to be the winner of the ‘The Rap Game’ competition?
Miss Mulatto: A lot of hard work has paid off. I've been doing this since I was 10 years old, and I'm 17 now. Also, with me being from Atlanta on top of the fact that I'm a kid, being with somebody like Jermaine Dupri is the perfect situation. It's like it's meant to be.
CNNCTD: I was watching the behind-the-scenes footage from Miss Mulatto’s "No More Talking" video. There’s a moment where she has on a pair of boots and JD, you walked in like "she's suppose to have the black Timbs on." How important is it for you to be hands on?
Jermaine Dupri: Very important. And I'm not doing it from a power mindset. It's just that I know more than the artist. I think a lot of people don't understand that when you get into this business, you're challenged as if it's a competition. If you're going to be challenged as if it's a competition you should have a team that prepares you for the competition, right? A lot of the times when people see me or see what I'm doing they don't view it from that perspective. I'm here for the artist to be better than the next artist. That's really what it is. It's just me helping. I can sit back and say nothing and let her stumble, but that ain't really what I'm suppose to do. My role is just to give people the knowledge and stuff that I already have. If the artist has some of that already, then they can help me in places that I don't have something. The majority of the time the artist is new to this business or they're young and I just give them as much input as I can.
CNNCTD: Is that your approach with any new artist or is it mostly, because she's not only a new artist, but she’s also young?
JD: No, that's with every artist. Every artist has their beliefs, but then there are those real industry beliefs. She's been doing this since she was 10, but now she's in the real music business. The music business does things the same way, and I've been dealing with this business since I was 16, so ever since I was her age I've been dealing with these people who she is about to start dealing with now. It's just different. The majority of the people that come in the business haven't encountered the stuff that I have, so I do it pretty much with everybody, but I do it according to what level the artist is at.
CNNCTD: You guys seem to have a pretty dope relationship, but this is still Jermaine Dupri. Miss Mulatto, do ever feel the pressure of living up to JD’s legacy?
MM: What makes this weird is the fact that it was a tv show. There are still some adjustments to be made, because still in the back of my mind I was thinking about the cameras, but it's not like that as much, because the tv show is over. It's weird, but I think it's more because of the tv show, because pressure - I can handle pressure.
CNNCTD: JD, how does Miss Mulatto and what she brings to the table represent the next era of So So Def?
JD: The way that I view my company is that I want us to be the most known company throughout people's lives. Just with me being affiliated with Mulatto it actually takes So So Def into a younger sphere. Kids wanting to be on So So Def from this point on are going to want to be on So So Def because of her. It's not because of Da Brat or Jagged Edge or Bow Wow. She gives the label different legs than it already has. Younger kids who think So So Def is the label to be on, will feel that way because of her. That's how I want it to be. I want So So Def to be how Def Jam was to my group of people. We thought you had to be on Def Jam.
CNNCTD: JD, things like longevity and surviving trends are nothing new to you. What advice do you give a young artist like Miss Mulatto in regards to building a lengthy career?
JD: We haven't really gotten to that yet. She's still learning who she is. Once she's established and people start keying in on who she is and how she looks then that'll start happening.
CNNCTD: Miss Mulatto, why was “No More Talking” chosen as your first single?
MM: "No More Talking" is basically self-explanatory. I'm not doing anymore talking. I won the show, and now I'm going to show you why I won and what I'm doing from this point on.
CNNCTD: You've been doing this for seven years now, but now things are a little more official. What was it like shooting the video for “No More Talking”?
MM: This was my first big shoot. It was crazy. Everything was so hustle and bustle. There were bigger cameras, bigger crowds, and more scenes to shoot, so it was dope taking it to this next level.
CNNCTD: JD, what defines star? Has that definition changed over the years?
JD: It definitely is different with each artist. Some people are just like 100% talent, but they don't have the quality to talk to people. They are just talent. Sometimes I see that in a person and I'm like we have to work on this, this, and this. It changes every time. Every artist has a different effect on me.
CNNCTD: JD, when you first was coming up in the music business the approach to finding artists was a lot different. The internet wasn't a place to look for artists. There were no reality competition shows. How has how you look for artists changed in this era?
JD: I can't really say it has changed the way I search. It's pretty much the same. I still find artists the same way I always have. It's my gut feeling that makes me pay attention to something. I don't go off of what your numbers are on the Internet, because you can't trust that. You can't tell if that's real or not until you are actually with the artist. I'm still into what my gut feels after listening to somebody.
CNNCTD: JD, in your opinion, what does an artist need in this era to be successful?
JD: I think the artists need to work and they need some kind of work ethic on their journey into wherever they think they're going. You have to have been doing some kind of shows. I can use myself as the blueprint. When I was 12 I was performing. I was on the Fresh Fest at 12 years old. I was opening up for Run DMC and Whodini. I had won every talent show in my neighborhood. I didn't know at the time, but my goal was to make sure that my name was circulated throughout the working circuit of Atlanta. Mulatto has that basically. Every time I see somebody or speak to somebody about Mulato it's clear that they know of her and what she does. That is the criteria to me for a young and new artist. That's way different than before. I probably should've put that on people, but before I didn't really think that that was something that had to happen. When I signed Anthony Hamilton, he was probably the most prepared artist that I had ever put out. I put his album out based off of the demo. I didn’t see any reason why nobody else hadn't signed him. I thought it was a joke or something. He had so many songs and had done shows. His fanbase just wasn't there, but other than that, everything else was there.
CNNCTD: Miss Mulatto, what are some of your goals?
MM: My thing is just being a boss. I want to be involved behind-the-scenes. I want to own businesses. I love the studio. I love writing. I love everything about music itself, so maybe owning my own studio is something I may want to do.
CNNCTD: You just mentioned your love of writing. How important is being involved in the creative process to you?
MM: Oh yeah, you definitely have to be involved in the creative process. Not so much writing every single lyric yourself, because with different input you can get a different product, but you definitely have to be involved with the creative process, so you can feel it. You relate to your own stuff and people will feel you, so you have to be at least 50% in there.
CNNCTD: JD, your social network site, Global 14 now 50,000 members. What made you start it?
JD: Well, it wasn't really my choice. Everything I posted I saw people trying to write comments that were almost like paragraphs. People wanted to say shit about what I was posting, so they were saying stuff that was intriguing to me to make me want to say something back to them. I started responding to them, but it was in the comments, so it wasn't a real back and forth conversation. I felt it could be better as I started paying attention to what was actually happening on the site. That's when I was like we should turn it into a social media site. I just pushed hard to create a social media site for someone into music, who had similar interests as I did, because I felt like Twitter and Facebook weren't for me. They were made for just any generic person. None of these places really care about us as artists, so I was just trying to create my own space to be in. That's how it came about.