Jermaine Dupri shot to prominence in April 1992 when "Jump," a song he wrote and produced for Kris Kross, topped the Billboard Hot 100. Kris Kross were middle schoolers, yet it was more remarkable that the architect behind the scenes was only a few years older and still a teenager. Within a year of achieving his first hit, Dupri established So So Def Recordings, an Atlanta-based label that launched and developed Xscape, Da Brat, and Jagged Edge. In addition to platinum releases with those acts, Dupri was soon behind number one pop hits for Usher and Monica, along with material for several other R&B and rap artists. By the end of the '90s, Dupri had a platinum album of his own, Life in 1472 (1998), supported by a Top Ten R&B/hip-hop hit with Jay-Z, "Money Ain't a Thang." The roll continued through the following decade. Dupri issued another album, Instructions (2001), and added to his stack of pop number ones with four more smashes headlined by Usher, a pair by Mariah Carey — including the Grammy-winning "We Belong Together" — and one by Nelly. Dupri was more in the background during the 2010s, though his presence was always felt, given that So So Def had been pivotal in securing Atlanta's ever-strengthening power in the music industry. Dupri's legacy was further assured toward the end of the 2010s when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The Asheville, North Carolina-born son of music executive Michael Mauldin, Jermaine Dupri Mauldin entered the entertainment industry as a youngster. In 1982, at a Diana Ross concert promoted by his father, he accepted the Motown star's invitation to dance on-stage, and for a moment became the center of attention. His crowd-pleasing ability led to an opening slot on Fresh Fest 1984 and an appearance in the video for Whodini's "Freaks Come Out at Night." Inspired to fully immerse himself in the culture, the younger Mauldin learned how to DJ, started rapping, and got into production. First was Silk Tymes Leather's 1989 single "Do Your Dance," credited as being written, arranged, and co-produced by Jermaine Dupri for So So Def Productions. Dupri's production partner on the track was Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo, with whom he continued to work on his commercial breakthrough. Charismatic middle schoolers Chris Kelly and Chris Smith caught Dupri's attention as autograph seekers at an Atlanta shopping mall, and shortly thereafter he signed their names to a contract with Nicolo's Columbia-supported Ruffhouse label. "Jump," Kris Kross' debut, entered the Billboard Hot 100 in early April and by the end of the month began an eight-week reign. Parent album Totally Krossed Out topped the Billboard 200 album chart and went quadruple platinum in less than a year.
Dupri had quickly become a major player. He soon had his own Columbia-distributed outlet, also named So So Def, and a catalog launched with Xscape's Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha (1993) and Da Brat's Funkdafied (1994), both of which were platinum debut albums. During this whirlwind period, Dupri still found time to produce or remix tracks by TLC, Run-D.M.C., Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Mariah Carey. During the latter part of the '90s, So So Def continued to flourish with emerging acts, though the roster also included some veterans, including Whodini, who released Six (1996), the majority of which Dupri produced. Gold and platinum certifications continued to be shipped to Atlanta for Jagged Edge's A Jagged Era (1997) and Dupri's own Life in 1472 (1998), the latter the source of the Top Ten R&B/hip-hop hit "Money Ain't a Thing," a collaboration with Jay-Z. All the while, Dupri-related releases outside the Columbia aegis seemed to arrive on a weekly basis. Most prominently, Dupri was deeply involved with Usher's My Way (1997), a blockbuster full-length boosted by "You Make Me Wanna," "Nice & Slow," and "My Way," all of which reached either number one or two on the Hot 100. Monica's "The First Night" (1998), produced by Dupri with a clever Diana Ross sample, likewise topped the chart before the decade was through.
Although Dupri's impact was felt deep and wide, the producer still had some of his most significant work ahead of him as he entered the 2000s. His second album, Instructions (2001), debuted at number 15 with Too Short, UGK, Pharrell Williams, and Clipse all part of the extensive guest list. He scored hits with another adolescent rapper, Bow Wow, and continued to have success with Usher, whose 8701 (2001) and Confessions (2004) quickly went multi-platinum with a run of number one Dupri collaborations consisting of "U Got It Bad," "Burn," "Confessions, Pt. 2," and "My Boo." Dupri was a catalyst behind Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi (2005) with "We Belong Together" another number one pop hit, subsequently a Grammy winner in the categories of Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Despite all his accomplishments with R&B artists, the producer was still thriving with rappers. Nelly's "Grillz" (2005) became Dupri's tenth number one pop hit. In fact, Dupri remained as invested in rap as he was in R&B, blocking out time for the likes of Dem Franchize Boyz, Jay-Z, and Fabolous between Janet Jackson, Usher, and Ashanti projects.
Less studio time was clocked by Dupri in the 2010s. Artists with whom he had deep history, such as Monica, Mariah Carey, and Jagged Edge, still sought him for input. In 2013, So So Def celebrated 20 years as a label with an anniversary concert. Dupri co-created and hosted The Rap Game, a competitive reality television program that aired three years later on the Lifetime channel. Dupri's achievements as a composer were acknowledged in 2018 with an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. A little later that year, Legacy, Sony's catalog division, issued So So Def 25, an extensive anthology put together with Dupri's involvement. ~ Andy Kellman