Just So So Stories

Choose life!: Atlanta R&B Svengali Jermaine Dupri

Jermaine Dupri
Life in 1472
So So Def

Life in 1472, the blockbuster debut album by Atlanta-based hip-hop and R&B producer Jermaine Dupri, might be packaged to look like an "original motion picture soundtrack," but it feels like a slab of high-priced pulp fiction. If a record's impact can be boiled down to a "feel," then the monstrously entertaining 1472 is the feeling of getting head while you change lanes at 125 mph. Or maybe this is how it feels to have your boy Usher on line 1, your accountant on line 9, and "crazy bitches" choking up lines 2 through 8. This album snorkels in Cristal, and it's as superstar-studded as the necks and fingers of the hoochies Dupri and his cast of playas--Naz, Jay-Z, Snoop, Mase, DMX, Too Short, Eightball, Slick Rick, Warren G, and the notorious Mad Rapper--get with and videotape for group viewing pleasure.

For 25-year-old Dupri this is all just desserts. His road of excess is littered with smash hits. He is the man who brought us the kid-hop phenom that was Kris Kross, the sex bomb that is Usher, and (in part) the deep, jeepcentric sound of the Dirty South. On Life, his goal is to be all producers to all people--romancing pap queen Mariah Carey in the squeaky clean, radio-gimme "Sweetheart," then tossing rap veterans Slick Rick and Snoop Dogg the best bones either has gnawed on in years. His reggae/dub track sticks as easily as his dappled trip-hop loops. And if this were a movie, the scene in which cocksure comer DMX stares down some chump in a club and patiently waits to relieve him of his dolla dolla bills would have the dolla-theater crowd at the edge of their seats.

So while it might seem timely to compare this summer's hip-hop blockbuster to Armageddon, this is Less Than Zero shit for sure. The album's lead single, "Money Ain't a Thang," gives us an image of JD and rapper Jay-Z "in the Ferrari and Jaguar switchin' four lanes/With the top down screamin' out, 'Money ain't a thang.'" The bass throbs, the horns blare, the egos swell: This is the sound of high rollers running on empty.

Life in 1472--No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the rap at last glance--will certainly catapult Dupri's So So Def label to the prominence of crossover syndicates such as LaFace and Bad Boy. "I work harder than all my artists," he recently told Request magazine. And undercutting Life's air of arrogance is a work-hard/play-hard ethos that typifies the buppie self-esteem enjoyed by JD and his rapper-producer-label-owner doppelgänger Puff Daddy. The record opens with an image of Dupri sitting in his studio, hanging with some ur-ho and contemplating his success:

Ho: "Nigga you gon' be all right."

JD: "True."

Ho: "But, don't burn no bridges because the same people you see comin' up is the same people you're gonna see comin' down."

JD: "Bitch! I ain't comin' down!"

That "Bitch!" is one of the lamer bitches ever to appear on a hip-hop record. Dupri can't rap, and while he covers his losses with cameo after cameo, he can no more hide his lack of charisma than Trent Lott can learn to love. JD's KRS-One impression halfway through the record is as flat as a 40 oz. left out in 90-degree heat. The singer in Pavement tries harder.

Dupri's weaknesses run deeper than that. He is so in love with relieving himself of his wealth, he takes pains to brag, "I don't even wear the same underwear two times." Likewise, amid Life's pre-req misogyny (and this record has some unseemly, unsettling examples), JD tells us that the only kind of ho worth holding on to is the "Jazzy ho/The type that makes a nigga spend all his dough."

But then karma has a way of settling these things, and what Dupri gets is a cameo by smut-hop princess Da Brat, a ho who wants to be his wife about as bad as she wants to be his maid. "All That's Got to Go" is the latest in a fashionable line of call-and-response tunes that are like R&B spin-offs of Jerry Springer episodes (that is, a nifty volley of gender salvos without the stupid white guy moralizing at the end). Last summer's classic was B-Rock & the Bizz's buoyant, beautiful celebration of the politics of parenthood and promiscuity, "MyBabyDaddy." This year's model is an irresistibly booty-simple, P-Funked synth-hop track on which playa (JD) and hatea (Brat) celebrate the politics of puttin' out. JD wants to hit it, but Da Brat ain't wit it, and their ensuing throwdown--idiotic, hilarious, true--says more than all the dick-heavy off-rhymes on the rest of the record combined. Nothing is better for the last weeks of summer radio than a pop throwaway that comes back to you like a boomerang. If it isn't the scourge of KMOJ by the time you read this, then I'm William Bennett.

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