September 18, 2018

Jermaine Dupri - Life In 1472: The Original Soundtrack (July 21, 1998)

I truly believe that most producers and CEOs in hip hop are content with their behind-the-scenes roles, happy to let the artists invade the public eye while they quietly count all of the money. There are obvious outliers, though: folks like Puff Daddy aspire to be just as famous as their young charges, if not infinitely more so. Typically when a producer or label head becomes a star in their own right, however, there’s a field in which they lack: for example, Puffy doesn’t write any of his own rhymes, and the vast majority of his production work is outsourced to his team of Hitmen. Dr. Dre and Timbaland work with multiple collaborators, sometimes all on a single track, and tend to accept full credit when they don’t really put in any of the work. Or you’re Kanye West. But these names represent but a small percentage of beatmakers within our chosen genre: not everyone wishes to hog the spotlight.

Today we’re going to focus on someone who definitely believes he earned his time to shine: Jermaine Dupri. And he may be correct.

Jermaine Dupri is a producer-slash-rapper whose career has taken him down some interesting avenues. As a teen, he used to dancer for the likes of Whodini, Run D.M.C., and Grandmaster Flash. He either discovered, formed, and/or pushed rap and R&B acts such as Kris Kross (whose rhymes he used to write himself, even though Treach may take some issue with that statement), Xscape, Lil’ Bow Wow, Da Brat, and Jagged Edge, while aiding and abetting the continued success of artists such as Mariah Carey, Usher, TLC, and Janet Jackson. He was even married to Janet for a time. He engaged in a ridiculous rap beef with both Dr. Dre and Timbaland at one point, as he claimed to be the best producer on the mic. In 1993 he founded his own label, So So Def Recordings, named after his own production company, and promptly went about making his parent corporation, Columbia Records, a metric ton of fucking money. Claiming Atlanta, Georgia as his home base, Dupri’s sound encompassed his surroundings, soaking up the bass, bounce, and trap music that bombard the city.

But, as everyone seems to believe all actors want, JD really wanted to direct.

Dupri had walls filled with gold and platinum plaques, and songwriting credits galore, but he wanted more out of his life, so in 1998, his debut solo album, Life In 1472: The Original Soundtrack, hit store shelves. It isn’t an actual soundtrack to any film, short or otherwise, so I’m going to go with the spine on the CD case and refer to it as just Life In 1472 from this point forward. The meaning behind the title is a reach: the ‘14’ refers to the initials ‘J’ and ‘D’, with the tenth letter of the alphabet and the fourth merging to become ‘14’. Sure, Jan. The ‘72’ is a reference to how Dupri was born in 1972. I don’t know why I’m going into this much detail here: none of this shit ever comes up on the album itself, so it really doesn’t matter.

Life In 1472 was not designed to be a production showcase for Jermaine, although he does work the boards on the majority of its fourteen tracks. (The number of songs on here is probably not coincidental, but again, never mentioned or explained on the album itself.) Instead, Dupri truly wanted to craft his own rap album, and stacked the odds in his favor, emptying his Rolodex to call in guests such as Jay-Z, DMX, Ma$e, Keith Sweat, Usher, Mariah Carey, and Slick Rick, among others, while ceding the few production slots he had remaining to the likes of Charlemagne, D-Dot, DJ Premier, DJ Quik, and one additional mystery name we’ll be getting to very soon. Dupri also filled out the ranks by bringing in artists from the So So Def stable, including Da Brat, who was already a proven success, and R.O.C., who was not.

Preceded by two hit singles, one of which was a goddamn monster, Life In 1472 sold over one million copies in roughly a month and a half. Dupri’s status of a hitmaker was confirmed, especially if he was able to Midas himself into a successful solo artist (one who never really performed by himself, but that’s neither here nor there). Life In 1472 put Dupri in the ranks with your Puff Daddys and your Suge Knights: powerful label heads who were just as famous, if not much more so, as their artists. And Dupri even wrote all of his own material, which has to count for something, even if he doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with his braggadocio.

I picked up Life In 1472 the day it hit Circuit City. What can I say: I was young, “Money Ain’t A Thang” was on the radio seemingly all the time back then, and it wasn’t exactly music that was thought to be especially challenging, which meant it paired well with driving around the city, whether the passengers were your friends or someone you were hoping to get to know better. Jermaine Dupri’s aim was to set himself up as a solo artist with an entertaining album, and to that end, he succeeded: hell, at least one of the songs on Life In 1472 still gets burn today on the radio stations around my way, so he’ll be eating off of those royalties seemingly forever.

Does it hold up as an album twenty years later, though? I don’t know yet – that’s what we’re here to find out.

After a self-serving intro on which our host proclaims that he’ll never fall off because that’s what you’re supposed to do as a rapper, the first beat of the evening kicks in, and it comes from a surprising source: “Intro / Turn It Out” has the distinction of being one of the earliest Kanye West productions to grace a major label project, although of course that combination of words didn’t mean anything to me back in 1998. Surprisingly, it sounds pretty much like the type of bouncy instrumental Jermaine Dupri would make for himself anyway, so at least ‘Ye knew his audience? Our host does spit a verse and part of the hook, sounding just like he always does (like a far more competent Puff Daddy), but this opening track belongs to Nas Escobar, showing his affinity for 1980’s-flavored instrumentals by sounding like he was actually fucking enjoying himself while in the booth. Not a great song by any stretch, but it was catchy.

I know I’ve written about this song in the past, when it was included as a bonus track on Jay-Z’s own Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, but I just looked back at that review, and it occurred back when my writing was much more sparse and dismissive, so the least I can do is expand on this one, right? Right. The biggest hit from Life In 1472 is a song that readers of a certain age will know the words to just because: “Money Ain’t A Thang” was so prevalent that you probably absorbed it through your fucking skin. Over a radio-ready Dupri instrumental, our host does an admirable job of keeping up with Shawn Carter, who was still in the working stages of his pop music takeover back in 1998. Some of you two will have clicked away from this write-up or thrown your iPhones out a window in anger, but for the rest of is, the good news is that “Money Ain’t A Thang” is still enjoyable as fuck today, as long as you’re in the mood for club jams, anyway. The quotables have grown a tiny bit tired over the years (“I’ve been spending hundreds since they had small faces”; “Now that’s what the fuck I call a chain reaction”; etc.), but regardless, this was pretty fun. Fun fact: it’s incredibly easy to picture JD promoting proper dental health during his “Y’all wanna floss with us?” line during the hook.

Dupri cedes production duties to Charlemagne and one of Puffy’s own Hitmen, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, former Kanye West mentor and permanent Madd Rapper, and it’s much darker than one would expect after hearing the first two tracks on Life In 1472. It’s also really goddamn good. Although D-Dot’s higher-pitched alter-ego turns in a more comedic performance, our host respects the instrumental, giving listeners a valiant attempt at some grimy street rap that at least sounds more convincing than those of Puff Daddy, the obvious analogue. But “Get Your Shit Right” is DMX’s show, and as one of the reigning Cameo Kings of the time, he steals the show with gruffness and violent passion, even though his actual words are eh at best. A banger that still pops into my mind every now and then.

The presence of storytelling rap legend Slick Rick on Life In 1472 shouldn’t surprise anyone who remembers Jermaine Dupri’s remix of his 1994 single “Sittin’ In My Car” (which I still believe to be the superior version of the track, don’t @ me). Ricky has never had a problem with sounding confident behind the mic, and to his credit, Dupri matches his guest’s energy, even though a good chunk of his bars feature him having anal sex with a woman he just met. The beat, credited to both participants, recalls “Children’s Story”, but somehow bouncier, if that makes any sense, and I’m pretty certain that’s an accordion in the background. “Fresh” is alright, but not required listening for anyone’s syllabus.

Something I didn’t know about “Sweetheart” until researching the album today: this is a cover! I always thought this song sounded okay, but my tendency to skip past it every time it popped up led me to never really pay attention, I suppose, but this is Mariah Carey and JD’s version of a Rainy Davis hit song from the late 1980s, which fits Dupri’s overall aesthetic. The beat, handled by both contributors, is poppy R&B in the vein of a lot of Carey’s work post-Mottola, and is perfectly pleasant, if overly saccharine, but her vocals sound just fine, and Dupri’s ad-libs and rapped verse could have been much more annoying. But odds are you’ll never listen to this one anyway, so may I suggest the far-superior “Heartbreaker” by Mariah Carey featuring Jay-Z and DJ Clue, of which “Sweetheart” reminded me a great deal?

Dupri built Life In 1472 to appeal to every possible hip hop and R&B audience, and having already spent time in both the East coast and on pop radio, he takes a trip to his home base of the South for “Jazzy Hoes”, a tribute to the hos that are the jazziest, I guess, and weirdly invited Cali stalwart Too $hort in on the action for some reason. I understand Eightball (not yet 8Ball, I suppose?) and the YoungBloodZ, who were a year away from releasing their own hit singles, “U-Way” and “85” (my favorite of the two), and Mr. Black is one of Dupri’s own artists, so of course he’d try to push him on his own version of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. But $hort? I mean, he likes talking about women, sure? Anyway, this sucked and doesn’t deserve to be dissected any further.

When you think of Jermaine Dupri, your mind may travel to one of the many artists or groups that he brought to the masses, such as Kris Kross, Lil’ Bow Wow, or maybe the R&B group Jagged Edge. My mind, on the other hand, immediately jumps over to Chicago rapper Da Brat, so I feel it’s about goddamn time she popped up on Life In 1472. (Don’t fret, everyone: Shad Moss hadn’t even signed a record deal at this point in time, and Jagged Edge hadn’t scored a hit as of this release. I do wonder why Kris Kross weren’t invited to the party, though. R.I.P. Chris Kelly.) Dupri ventures into Southern bounce territory with two guests best known for not coming from the South, but Da Brat acquits herself nicely, while Krayzie Bone (is Bone Thugs-n-Harmony still a thing?) is pitched so low that you couldn’t decipher his lyrics even if you truly wanted to. Seriously, the music is much louder than he is, even during his actual verse. Dupri and Da Brat don’t share that problem. Curious emoji. Anyway, skip this shit.

I’m not ashamed to say this: I loved this song back in 1998, and I still find it to be catchy today. It’s one hundred percent because of the instrumental: Dupri samples Raydio’s “Hot Stuff” for a radio-ready “pardon me, madam, I wish to inquire as to your preference to bone vis-à-vis me?”-type track where the lyrics truly do not matter, but can be easily chanted anyway. This is the type of song Puff Daddy would want to record. Keith Sweat croons the hook and some ad-libs throughout, sounding just fine, and I’ve always felt R.O.C. should have been the Snoop Doggy Dogg to Dupri’s Dr. Dre: he’s kind of underrated for a guy whose career was doomed from the start. I mean, imagine a R.O.C. album. You can’t. But whatever, fuck y’all, I like this song. Also, kudos to Dupri for finding a different Ray Parker, Jr.-associated song to sample, rather than the obvious choice.

Dupri cherry-picks two artists from or adjacent to the Bad Boy empire for “You Get Dealt With”, another attempt at a bounce anthem that doesn’t gel, but is an admirable effort nevertheless. Both Pastor Ma$e and Lil’ Kimberly ape The Notorious B.I.G.’s flow from his “Notorious Thugs”, while Dupri’s instrumental is much faster than anything you’ve heard him on before. I guess it’s clear that our host had fun while recording this song with his guests, but all this made me want is to listen to “Notorious Thugs” again, and I don’t really even like that song all that much anymore. Speak on that, you two.

That title is still hilarious to me. Officially a sequel to the JD-produced-and-featured Snoop Dogg track “We Just Wanna Party With You” (from the soundtrack to Men In Black, of all things), “The Party Continues” swaps out Tha Doggfather for female soundalike Da Brat and, just for the hell of it, R&B singer Usher. I’m not aware of any difference between this “video version” and the original recording, so if any of you two have that information, I implore you, please keep it to yourselves and leave me be, because I do not care. This song is of the type that you wouldn’t go out of your way to turn off if it popped up on your Pandora station, but you’d also never seek it out on your own.

I do appreciate how JD was looking out for Da Brat during the recording of Life In 1472, as she has the most cameo appearances of a major label artist on here by far. (R.O.C. also has three feature credits, but again, “major label artist” qualifier.) LaTocha Scott from the R&B quartet Xscape, best known these days for being the original stomping grounds of T.I.’s wife Tiny, appears on here, but this D-Dot production (in association with Coptic) has got to go. I mean, it’s terrible, you see, so much so that it inspired a really tired pun on my part.

The most bizarre collaboration of the evening, “Protectors of 1472” pits Jermaine Dupri against Snoop Dogg, Warren G., and his own artist R.O.C., ball over a DJ Premier soundscape that, while ranking nowhere near his classic production work, is still pretty good for what it is. Our host was clearly aiming for a more theatrical, epic style of track, which is awesome, as absolutely nothing else on Life In 1472 sounds anything like this, so shrug? To his credit, Preemo didn’t just give Dupri one of the castoff boom bap beats typically reserved for the likes of Afu-Ra, Truck Turner, or All City. For obvious reasons, though, the one guy who sounds best on here is Snoop, although JD attempts to give him a run. Warren G. seems confused by his surroundings, while R.O.C., who isn’t bad at all, sounds like an excited puppy. And yet I’d rank “Protectors of 1472” a few degrees higher than “curiosity piece”. An instrumental would probably kill on whatever the 2018 equivalent to the mixtape circuit is. There’s no reason this ever needed to exist, but the world is slightly better because of it.

After a brief interlude in which our host attempts to explain a new nickname for himself that never stuck, we enter the home stretch of Life In 1472 with “Lay You Down”, a Jermaine Dupri production that, hilariously, builds off of the music from the Beastie Boys classic “Paul Revere” (no, really, just listen to the instrumental carefully). Guest crooners Trina and Tamera, along with Trey Lorenz singing backup, try to extend their fifteen minutes of fame with a forgettable effort that, today, is only notable for that bit of trivia regarding “Paul Revere”. Interestingly, Dupri himself doesn’t really factor vocally, lending only ad-libs and a sort-of bridge, but no actual verse. Not like “Lay You Down” could have been improved with more of his bars, obviously, but you get the point.

Dupri enlists DJ Quik to produce the final track on Life In 1472, ostensibly a showcase for our host and his two most prominent drink coasters, Mr. Black and R.O.C. While the music was okay (it’s not Quik’s best work by any stretch, but I was happy that he cashed a check for this shit), none of the performances resonate with the listener, as they all cancel one another out. At least the album didn't end with an elaborate, self-serving outro, though, right?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Obviously Life In 1472 doesn’t hold up as a cohesive project today: I don’t really think it did even twenty years ago. But I don’t think it was ever intended to. Life In 1472 is purely a collection of singles designed to meet as many demographic requirements as was possible for Jermaine Dupri, and when he’s able to connect all of the dots, we end up with some pretty entertaining shit. I’m still a Jay-Z stan, so I’m going to like “Money Ain’t A Thang”, but “Get Your Shit Right” is a surprising shift in tone from our host, and Dupri doesn’t embarrass himself over DJ Premier’s out of place-but-still-enjoyable boom bap. Dupri’s experience as a producer even coaxes some great performances out of his guests, most notably DMX, Slick Rick, Keith Sweat, and R.O.C., who never lived up to the very minuscule amount of hype Dupri ever gave him in the first place, but at times on this project, he spits like an also-ran. Life In 1472 is essentially a much better version of Puff Daddy & The Family’s No Way Out, in that both Dupri and Diddy have huge egos, but only Jermaine was willing to push it to the side occasionally to let the guests have some fun. I like No Way Out much more overall (“Victory” shits all over everything on Life In 1472, as does “I Love You Baby”), but Dupri’s solo debut brought back some nostalgic feelings for 1998, feelings I never even realized I still had, probably because I’ve listened to No Way Out far more often in the last twenty years than I have Life In 1472.

BUY OR BURN? Hardened hip hop heads should give the tracks below a try – you may be surprised at how much they don’t suck. But there’s no need to listen to the entire album, and you should only pick it up at the store if it comes free with purchase of a gift card or a bag of frozen corn-on-the-cob or something.

BEST TRACKS: “Money Ain’t A Thing”; “Protectors of 1472”; “Going Home With Me”; “Get Your Shit Right”; “Intro / Turn It Out”



  1. Oddly enough, I actually really like "The Party Continues". Even though the beat is not unique, something about it really grabs me. Just feels very nocturnal in a good way.

    But yeah, this is a solid project for what it is.

  2. Max, I miss you shitting on albums people think (insert italics here) are great. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your output and enjoy your reviews but let's face it there's nothing like a good argument in the comments.
    On a separate note, I listened to Jay's The Black Album the other day - how the hell is that CD 15 years old? It hasn't aged well mind.

  3. So this is not a rap concept album about the life in the Americas in the pre-Colombian period? Well I'm disappointed.

  4. A bit off topic, kinda, but I actually like the track Primo did for All City (after it grew on me)... Am I in the minority??? Nevertheless, glad to see your still going at this 11 years later, Max.

    1. Do people not like that track?

    2. The All City song is okay, but not great. But I could have thrown in many other z-list artists who somehow secured a Preemo beat into that comment, so if you wish, feel free to swap them out.