Rodney Jerkins Interview...

Big Name Singers Lining Up For Producer Rodney Jerkins
Twenty-two-year-old studio alchemist has spun music into gold for Whitney Houston, Brandy and Monica, Jennifer Lopez.
Contributing Editor Corey Moss reports:

One could call wunderkind producer Rodney Jerkins the Prince Midas of pop, but the soft-spoken son of a preacher man prefers the nickname Darkchild.

Jerkins, 22, may not yet be a household name, but most people are familiar with the songs he's produced. Jerkins has manned the boards for Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player" (RealAudio excerpt), Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine", Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and Jennifer Lopez's "If You Had My Love" (RealAudio excerpt), to name a few.

"Four years ago, Babyface was the guy everybody was talking about. ... Right now is kind of like the era of me and Timbaland." — Rodney Jerkins, producer

"Every three or four years comes somebody with a special gift," Jerkins, a New Jersey native, said. "Four years ago, Babyface was the guy everybody was talking about. Before him was Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Before them was Quincy Jones. Right now is kind of like the era of me and Timbaland."

Pop artists are lining up to work with him. This year, he'll produce tracks for Michael Jackson ("The songs we've done are going to shock the world," Jerkins said), Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Toni Braxton and soul legend Lionel Richie.

"He's an amazing young talent," Richie said of Jerkins, who also is running his own imprint, Darkchild Records.

"While you have it, you have to take advantage of it," Jerkins said. "You gotta try to remain hot. Stay hip to the times, not being like some of the other ones who get lost when the sound changes. Right now, I'm actually changing my whole sound up. ... I feel like if I don't do it soon, it's going to leave me behind. Somebody else is in the basement thinking like I'm thinking, and they're going to come up with something great."

As his nickname suggests, Jerkins is prone to dark melodies and subtle beats. He also has a knack for using strings, as heard in the infectious opening to "The Boy Is Mine."

Jerkins, who nabbed the Billboard Hot 100 Producer of the Year award in 1999, has garnered a reputation as somewhat of a cleanup hitter. Braxton, Lopez and others have called on Jerkins near the completion of their recent albums to write and produce a radio single.

"It seems like I always gotta be the savior of a project, which disappoints me sometimes," Jerkins said. "Why didn't you call me from the beginning? Let me build the album. That's why I love working with Brandy, 'cause I got the chance to build the whole album. And then when you do the whole album and it sells 8 million records, it really makes you happy. When you do one song, it makes everyone else happy. But I don't mind making hit records."

Jerkins, who recently remixed No Doubt's "Ex-Girlfriend," said his phone line is open to artists of any genre.

"I will work with anyone that is different because it's a challenge," he said. "That's what I'm really all about. I know I can sit down and create a dance record. I can do that all day long if I'm put to the test. But everybody calls me and says, 'We need a great uptempo.' Nobody ever says we need a sad ballad."

Jerkins got the chance to "build the whole album" with So Plush and Bennett, the first two acts signed to Darkchild.

"It's a great project," Jerkins said of So Plush. "It's me. You get to feel me, hear me, see what I'm thinking of." So Plush, a teenage female quartet ranging from 17–19, releases its debut single, "It Ain't My Fault," to radio in May.

Jerkins described Bennett as the next Whitney Houston — who reportedly has asked to duet with the young singer.

"Everybody always talks like they have the new Whitney, but I'm going to prove to everybody that we have it," Jerkins said. "Nobody's ever going to be Whitney, but if you had to compare someone to her, it'd be [Bennett]."

Darkchild is a subsidiary of Epic Records, which Jerkins said has caused a few headaches because he thinks the label is too cautious with his management decisions.

"If they would just let me do what my vision is, I know I could blow it up," Jerkins said. "But sometimes they don't get it. I have a strong vision. I didn't just become successful for nothing. They have to trust me with those things. I'm just trying to make records that everybody can love."

Jerkins said he plans to quit producing in three to four years and expand into writing, directing, scoring and producing films. At press time, Jerkins was negotiating an exclusive deal with New Dimension/Miramax Films.

"When you start doing Whitneys and Michael Jacksons, there's nobody left to do — unless I build the next biggest star to ever hit the planet," Jerkins said. "So I have to find something to keep myself busy. I've had other [film] companies come to me, but I wasn't ready for that yet. By the time I'm 25, I think I'll switch."

Before he leaves music, Jerkins has a list of goals, including winning a Grammy for producing and writing five #1 singles in the same year.

"Sometimes I walk around and think, what would I be doing if I wasn't making music?" Jerkins said. "I wonder what life would be like if I tried something different for a couple of weeks. I probably would hate it."




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