Rodney Jerkins Interview...
Big Name Singers Lining Up For Producer
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
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
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 1719, releases its debut single, "It Ain't My Fault," to radio in
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."
NEWSFILE: 26 APRIL 2000