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So So Def at 20: How it all began

Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, Kris Kross, Xscape, and Bone Crusher tell the story of the iconic Atlanta label's rise

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JUST KICKIN’ IT: Jermaine Dupri and So So Def’s iconic afroman.
  • Joeff Davis
  • JUST KICKIN’ IT: Jermaine Dupri and So So Def’s iconic afroman.
INSIDE OUT IS WIGGITY WACK: Kris Kross at the 1993 AMA in FRESH Magazine.
  • Courtesy So So Def
  • INSIDE OUT IS WIGGITY WACK: Kris Kross at the 1993 AMA in FRESH Magazine.

Mauldin: Jermaine had a song called "It's Me" that MC Shy D wrote for him. We tried to get Jermaine a record deal with that. And we actually had one from Jive, but it was a jive deal, so we never took it. It really was a jive deal.

Dupri: After Fresh Fest, I wanted to be a producer. I learned how to DJ on that tour and was just mentally into rap; I wanted to be everything in hip-hop. I was breakin', I was rapping, I was DJing, I was doing graffiti.

Mauldin: So So Def Productions probably came out five years before So So Def Recordings came out. Jermaine would make mixtapes with his friends on a little white cassette and started writing So So Def with a blue Magic Marker at Eddie Weathers' house. And Eddie, [aka] Skeeter Rock, who is Jermaine's best friend, would take them to school and sell them. And because everybody knew Jermaine was out on the road with all these acts, they did pretty good. Five dollars a lick, they were rolling.

Dupri: At the time, beats were the most fascinating part to me. Guys like Hurby "Luv Bug" [Azor] and Teddy Riley - Teddy Riley was killing it at that time. This was before the world knew who Teddy Riley was, but I was paying attention. Something about what Teddy was doing especially made me want to be a producer. So I found Silk Tymes Leather. They were dating Whodini, that's how I met the girls. They were those guys' girls and they lived in Atlanta. It was just a development group in the early days of rap. It was my first project.

Mauldin: Jermaine started working with them at his house in his basement. So they put the tracks together and we ended up signing Silk Tymes Leather to Geffen Records. Jermaine was 16, so he basically came out as the youngest producer pretty much ever to produce his own acts.

Dupri: Once I started producing Silk Tymes Leather, I created So So Def. The word "def" was the thing back then. So what could I add to my Def to be deffer? The afroman came later on. Once the company was actually a real record company, that's when my man Skip Smith drew [it].

Dupri came across the next group he would produce by happenstance.

Dupri: I met Kris Kross at Greenbriar Mall. [I was] shopping with members of Silk Tymes Leather. They were what everyone was looking at. I didn't know why people were paying attention to them. I wasn't really privy to teenage shows back then. I thought I might have been missing something. There were girls buying them cookies and girls in the store damn near giving them sneakers. It was like they were celebrities.

Chris "Mac Daddy" Kelly of Kris Kross: Me, Chris ["Daddy Mac" Smith], and my mom went to Greenbriar Mall so I could get some new sneakers. My mom had seen Silk Thymes Leather in Jet magazine, and recognized them walking around the mall. And Jermaine saw us, too. We got to the car and my mom said, "Y'all should get an autograph!" We was like, "Naw." But we went and asked them who they were. Everything just kind of went from there.

Mauldin: Jermaine was really producing music. And we got fortunate through the relationship that I'd formulated with a guy named Joe "the Butcher" Nicolo out of Philadelphia at Ruffhouse Records. I introduced a couple of beats that Jermaine did with Kris Kross. For whatever reason they believed me, even though it wasn't all together at that point. We got signed off on another tune that Jermaine had for himself that he never put out. We signed the Kris Kross kids. It wasn't long before Jermaine came up with "Jump."

"Jump" propelled the album Totally Krossed Out to sell 8 million records.

Mauldin: It was the fastest-climbing pop single to go to the top 10 on the Billboard chart in 15 years. Nothing like that had happened since the mid-'70s, so people were just blown away. We just started marketing [Dupri] as the youngest, most successful producer in the game.

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